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

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Food & Health Skeptic, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes and Tongue Tied. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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


31 October, 2011

More incompetent decision-making from Julia Gillard

QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce would have abandoned his decision to ground the airline had Prime Minister Julia Gillard returned his call and promised to intervene directly in the union standoff.

Qantas sources confirmed yesterday Mr Joyce waited until five minutes before his decision to ground the fleet to hear from Ms Gillard, after attempting to contact her three hours earlier.

It is understood that all it would have taken for Qantas to cancel the grounding was for Ms Gillard to declare all future industrial action illegal.

Sources said Qantas group executive Olivia Wirth called Ms Gillard's chief of staff at 2pm on Saturday and told him that Mr Joyce was standing by to talk to the Prime Minister.

Mr Joyce had intended to give Ms Gillard advance warning of his intention to announce that he was grounding the airline's entire fleet and leaving almost 70,000 passengers a day stranded.

Ms Gillard would then have had three hours to declare industrial action illegal, a move that would have resulted in Mr Joyce keeping Qantas flying.

But not only did Ms Gillard not take Mr Joyce's call, she did not return it and still had not spoken to him as of yesterday afternoon.

"We just wanted to force it to a head," a Qantas source said. "Everything would be fine right now if the PM made a declaration."

Qantas management have been pilloried for the decision but it was considered to be the only way to force the Government to act.

Ms Gillard was in an executive session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and was not available by phone. She was however informed of Qantas's decision.

It has also been revealed that Mr Joyce went to the Marrickville electorate office of Transport Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday, October 21, to warn of the crisis looming. He opened the books to Mr Albanese to demonstrate the urgency of the company's financial position if the unions continued their industrial campaign.

Mr Joyce's office was then in almost twice-daily contact with senior ministers' offices providing updates until the annual general meeting last Friday.

With the engineers' union warning of extending their industrial action into next year, Mr Joyce called an meeting of executives to consider options for negotiating with the unions. On Saturday morning, Mr Joyce convened another meeting with key executives to discuss lock-out options and a risk assessment for grounding the airline.

At 10.30am the Qantas board gave unanimous approval for his plan to give 72 hours notice of a lock-out of striking unions and to ground the airline at 5pm.

At 2pm Mr Joyce called Mr Albanese, followed by Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans. Mr Albanese was reported to have told Mr Joyce the move was "aggressive".

At 3pm, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority was notified.

After the announcement Mr Albanese and Mr Evans, Ms Gillard and three other ministers called a crisis cabinet phone hook-up where it was decided that instead of calling an immediate termination of the dispute, as allowed under the Fair Work Act, a request for termination or suspension would be taken to Fair Work Australia.


Qantas costs are too high

At the very pointy end of those huge Qantas flagships, the Airbus A380s, the senior captain has a lot of training, experience and responsibility. He is also earning a lot of money - up to just under $540,000 a year - a healthy 40 per cent premium over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's $386,000 salary and allowances.

This is one reason why Qantas International is losing $200 million a year and will never, ever, make a profit again under its present cost structure. The international operations are being subsidised by the domestic carrier Jetstar, the frequent flyer program and freight operations.

Why bother keeping Qantas International going when it is no longer a viable business? The international airline is burdened by rigid, outdated industrial relations practices and imperial legacies it can no longer afford. It is not built to survive long-term.

I'm not going to defend the blunderbuss tactics deployed by management, but the big question - why should Qantas run a loss-making international operation indefinitely? - needs to be addressed by the long-haul pilots and their representatives at the Australian International Pilots Association.

This question also needs to be addressed by Tony Sheldon, one of the architects of the union strategy of bleeding Qantas into submission with erratic work stoppages spread over months. Sheldon is national secretary of the Transport Workers Union and, as pointed out a week ago, is running for the presidency of the Labor Party.

It says a great deal that Sheldon thinks bringing the national flag-carrier to its knees is a credential he can use to become president of the ALP. This is not a cynical observation given the numerous deals made by a union-dominated federal government.

The context for the Qantas dispute is the Gillard government's transformation of industrial relations. Passing the Fair Work Act 2009 and setting up Fair Work Australia to replace the Industrial Relations Commission has re-empowered the unions. As well, of the 11 Fair Work Australia commissioners appointed by the Gillard government, nine are former union officials or union advocates. The other two are career bureaucrats.

Another big problem for Qantas is its main competitor, Virgin. A myth has developed that Virgin is a low-cost carrier and less unionised. Not true. It is just as unionised, but has more flexible workplace practices. The real gap between the carriers is international services, where Qantas is vastly bigger and has heavier costs.

Virgin's domestic pilots are paid only 4 per cent less than Qantas pilots. Its ground staff are paid only $1 an hour less than Qantas staff. Virgin has made job-security agreements Qantas is refusing to grant its workers. Virgin even pays its engineers more than Qantas does. It is committed to building a heavy maintenance centre in Australia. It has been around for only 11 years and is very much an underdog.

Without having access to the internal workings of this Qantas dispute, there had to be a more subtle way for Qantas management to end the intolerable process of attrition by the unions. The more prudent play would appear to have been to allow the operational losses to build until the unions appeared reckless and deviant and the government complicit.


Afghan soldiers disarmed after shooting diggers

HUNDREDS of Afghan army soldiers have been disarmed after a "rogue" comrade went on the rampage. Two of the three Diggers killed died instantly; the third was pronounced dead on being flown to a field hospital at Tarin Kowt. It is believed that because they were inside the base, in Kandahar province, they were not wearing helmets or body armour.

A critically wounded Digger will be flown to Germany for treatment.

Diggers reacted with anger and dismay at the second killing by an Afghan soldier of their Australian comrades: on May 31, army cook Lance-Corporal Andrew Jones was killed in the Chora Valley.

"This is it for me - I'm done," one soldier said. "We are over here risking our lives to help them (the Afghans)."

Families of the dead men yesterday declined to release names and photographs, because some relatives had not yet been notified.

The Afghan commander at the base, Brig Mohammed Zafar Khan, disarmed all 200 ANA soldiers there and confined them to barracks.

Mentoring Task Force 3 commander Lt-Col Chris Smith urged his soldiers not to let one ANA soldier's act detract from the mission.

"They will deal with a whole range of demons. They will struggle to trust them, they will lose confidence as a consequence of this," he said. "But I appeal to their sense of duty that at the end of the day the only true way to honour the memory of the three who died is to get back out as soon as possible and do the very job they died doing."

Australian Defence Force Chief David Hurley said: "It is difficult to find the words to express our profound sorrow and sense of loss at this time." He said it was too early to speculate. "Let's not jump to conclusions here.".


Darwin named among the world's best cities to visit in 2012 in Lonely Planet list

This is not as odd as it sounds. About 20 years ago, an American tourist was taken and eaten by a croc near Darwin. The result was an upsurge in American tourist arrivals. Excitement even of a dangerous kind is a valued commodity

DARWIN has been named as one of the best cities in the world to visit in 2012 by Lonely Planet.

Famous for its monster crocodiles, the Northern Territory capital has a lot more to offer, the travel guide says.

Darwin wasn’t the only surprise entry on the list. While London came in at number one, other lesser-known cities such as Muscat in Oman, Bengaluru in India, Cadiz in Spain and Guimaraes in Portugal also made the cut.

Described as “multicultural, free-wheeling and vibrant”, Darwin received a glowing review.

"With a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia's Top End," the book says. "It's now a hip city to visit rather than just the end of the road for lost souls."

Cities in the top ten list were chosen by Lonely Planet's in-house travel experts, based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor.

Lonely Planet’s Charles Rawlings-Way, one of the authors of the book, admitted that Darwin was an unlikely entry. But he said that Darwin has a lot to offer.

“It is a bit of a surprise for Australians in particular to see Darwin shaping up as a vibrant tourist destination,” Mr Rawlings-Way said.

The city has had a major face-lift in recent times, growing from a town full of fisherman, hippies and “redneck truckers” to a very young and energetic city, he said.

“In the 80s and even 90s it was pretty grim up there and its appeal was limited. Cyclone Tracey levelled the place and taken long time for Darwin to rebuild from that," he said.

"Darwin is gathering pace, it's not somewhere Aussies think of going for a holiday but its position is really interesting in the world."

As well as the famous Mindil Beach Markets, Darwin is close to a host of national parks including Kakadu, and is the closest major Australian city to Asia.

While Lonely Planet recommends a trip to the waterfront precinct and buying indigenous art, it warns travellers about dorms without air-conditioning, monsoonal rain and “over-boozed backpackers”.

If you’re after a bizarre sight then check out the 5m-long, 780kg stuffed saltwater crocodile called Sweetheart” at the NT’s Museum & Art Gallery.

Visitor numbers to the Northern Territory have dropped in recent times, with figures showing tourist arrivals falling by 9.5 per cent during the 12 months to June 2011.

NT Tourism Minister Malarndirri McCarthy said she was pleasantly surprised to see Darwin on the list, but she wasn't surprised people were impressed by the incredible sunsets, the markets, the nature and the historical sites.

"It puts Darwin certainly on the map as one of the best cities," Ms McCarthy said.

Last year Lonely Planet created quite a stir by putting Newcastle in the list, urging travellers to check out its beaches, night-life and art. Sydney and Melbourne have never made the list before as they are "too dull".


30 October, 2011

Bloody-minded unions set to make Qantas another Ansett

Ansett was once a major Australian airline but it went broke because its management failed to stand up to insatiable union demands. Alan Joyce was one of the executives at Ansett at that time. He is doing his best not to repeat the Ansett experience. His press conference speech yesterday below

ALAN JOYCE: A crisis is unfolding within Qantas.

Industrial action directed by the leadership of three unions the Australian Licenced Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) representing the licensed engineers, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) representing ramp, baggage and catering staff, and the Australia and International Pilots Association (AIPA) representing the long-haul pilots is aimed at applying so much pressure on Australian business, that we will give in to their demands.

In the 15 months Qantas has reached agreement with more than 10,000 employees represented by four unions on five Enterprise Agreements or one-third of the Qantas workforce.

Over the same period we have been doing all we can to reach agreement with the ALAEA and AIPA and more recently with the TWU. What makes these union negotiations different? Two things.

First, these three unions are sticking by impossible claims that are not just to do with pay, but also to do with unions trying to dictate how we run our business.

The pilots' union wants to force us to pay Jestar pilots on codeshare flights the same high rates that they get at Qantas.

This would set a wages precedent that would soon put an end to Jetstar and slash low-cost travel in Australia.

Our only alternative would be to remove Qantas codesharing for Jetstar which would have the effect of making some key Qantas routes uneconomic.

The licensed engineers want to bind Qantas maintenance to the past; to thumb their nose at world's best-practice regulations, including those endorsed by Australian's Civil Aviation Safety Authority; and continue with outdated work practices on the new generation craft.

The TWU was offered an exceptional deal but is sticking to its completely unrealistic claim that would prevent us from the sensible use of contractors.

These are impossible demands. We cannot agree to them because they could ultimately put the Qantas Group at risk.

The second thing that makes these unions difference is that they are running utterly destructive industrial campaigns against Qantas and our customers, hurting all our employees and undermining Australian business. The situation is unsustainable.

70,000 affected passengers

Over 600 flights cancelled

7 grounded aircraft

Nearly $70 million in damage

And $15 million in damage for every week that goes by

The unions' industrial campaigns are designed to scare away customers.

It has become impossible for Qantas to serve our third-party maintenance clients. They are trashing our strategy and our brand. They are deliberately destabilising the company. And there is no end in sight.

Yesterday two unions declared their intention to escalate industrial action further and over an extended period. As one said earlier they want: ``to back Qantas slowly''.

The pilots' union has also said they are considering escalating their industrial campaign. They talk about job security, but the unions are on a path that would diminish the job security of their own members.

Customers are now fleeing from us.

Key high value domestic booking on east coast routes are down by 25 per cent on the same period last year.

That's the most lucrative part of our flying business and it is bleeding badly.

International bookings have also fallen, with November bookings nearly 10 per cent down on where we expected them to be when Qantas International is already making significant losses.

Our customer research shows an alarming increase in people who intend NOT to fly with Qantas. In our domestic business that number has surged from a normal 5 per cent to 20 per cent. The intention not to fly with Qantas internationally has surged to nearly 30 per cent.

Virgin Australia is the main beneficiary of this campaign and has announced capacity increases. The great irony is that is pays less, is less unionised and does its heavy maintenance offshore.

Yet there is no union pressure on Virgin.

This is a crisis for Qantas.

If this action continues as the unions have promised, we will have no choice but to close down Qantas part by part. It goes without saying that this would have very grave consequences for jobs.

Killing Qantas slowly would be a tragedy for Qantas and our employees. But it would also have a terrible domino effect right across Australia, affecting businesses large and small, tourism, freight and families.

We have got to achieve a resolution to this crisis. We have got to bring this to an end. So I have no option but to force the issue.

I have to activate the one form of protected industrial action that is available to me and bring home to the unions the seriousness of their actions, and to get them to force sensible deals with us.

I am using the only effective avenue at my disposal to bring about peace and certainty.

In response to the unions' industrial action, I announce that under the provisions of the Fair Work Act Qantas will lock out all those employees who will be covered by the agreements currently being negotiated with the ALAEA, the TWU and AIPA. I have informed the government of this.

The only exception to this is that no employee working overseas will be locked out and all staff overseas will continue to be paid.

The lock-out will commence from 8pm on Monday night Sydney local time and will continue until further notice.

Because the pilots, ramp, baggage and catering staff and licensed engineers are essential to the running of the airline, the lock-out makes it necessary for us to ground the fleet.

However, I cannot wait until Monday to do so. This is a very tense environment. Individual reactions to this lock-out decision may be unpredictable. We are always conservative in our approach.

For this reason, as a precautionary measure, we have decided to ground the Qantas international and domestic fleet immediately.

I repeat, we are grounding the Qantas fleet now.

Obviously, those flights that are currently in the air will complete their scheduled sectors.

However as from now there will be no further Qantas domestic or international departures anywhere around the world.

Jetstar and QantasLink will continue to operate. Express Freighters Australia and Atlas Freighters will continue flying. JetConnect will also continue to operate Qantas services across the Tasman.

We are locking out until the unions withdraw their extreme claims and reach an agreement with us.

The great majority of our staff have played no part in this damaging industrial campaign. On the contrary they have stepped up magnificently to try and minimise the union-inflicted damage.

- Until the lock-out commences at 8pm on Monday, all employees and required at work and will be paid.

- Once the lock-out commences:

1) Those employees who are locked out will not be required at work and will not be paid; and

2) All other employees are required at work and will be paid.

We will be talking to those employees, their managers and their union representatives about how we best manage the impacts of this situation.

I urge the members of the ALAEA, TWU and AIPA to consider their own interests and tell their leaders they want to reach reasonable and fair agreements that will be good for them and for Qantas.

I want to say how sorry I am that this course of action has become necessary.

We will be doing all we can to care for our customers. For those who are mid-journey, we will assist with accommodation and endeavour to help with alternate flights, and any other support we are able to give.

We will provide a full refund to any customer who chooses to cancel their trip because their flight has been directly affected by the grounding of our fleet, and extend full rebooking flexibility for anyone wishing to defer their travel.

Our customer service staff will have my full support to assist our customers in any way they can.

We will have continuous updates on and that will be the best source of information. We will also be using our Facebook and Twitter feeds to keep customers updated.

This course of action has been forced upon us by the extreme and damaging course chosen by the leaders of three unions. It is now over to them. The ball is in their court.

They must decide just how badly they want to hurt Qantas, their members, our other employees, and the travelling public of Australia in pursuit of their destructive aims.


Every dark cloud has a silver lining

Parasites stranded too

Visiting prime ministers face being stranded in Perth because of the snap grounding of the Qantas fleet.

Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting media director Daniel Gleeson confirmed 17 heads of delegations had been booked to fly with Qantas and and that many had already been forced to make other travel arrangements.

Mr Gleeson would not confirm where the delegates were from but it has been reported Solomon Islands Prime Minister Danny Philip was among them.

CHOGM participants are expected to start leaving Perth this afternoon.

As well as the delegates, media representatives and police officers could be affected by the cancellation of all Qantas flights. About 700 of the 1200 accredited media personnel covering the event are from interstate or overseas.

Police officers from across Australia and New Zealand were flown to Perth to assist with security for the event.

Visiting prime ministers face being stranded in Perth because of the snap grounding of the Qantas fleet.


More overpaid and under-worked unionists determined to bleed the taxpayer even more

And I am a former teacher so I know all about teaching work -- JR

MOST of the state's 50,000 full-time teachers are expected to walk out of their jobs on Wednesday to attend stop-work meetings.

NSW Teachers Federation deputy president Gary Zadkovich said the stop-work meetings would force most of the 2230 public schools across NSW to close from 9am to 11am on Wednesday.

It's expected that 270 separate stop-work meetings will be held across NSW and that teachers would return to work in the afternoon and classes would continue as normal.

Mr Zadkovich said salary negotiations typically took many months, but the state government was yet to table an offer for teachers with two months left on the current awards agreement.

"If we get to the end of the year and there's no award negotiated and in place the government will be saving millions of dollars every week the process is delayed," Mr Zadkovich said, warning that further industrial action was on the cards before the end of the school year.

But Justice Frank Marks in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission told the federation the stop-work meeting was without justification.

Justice Marks said on Friday the stop-work meeting would disrupt many students for far longer than two hours and questioned why students needed to have their education interrupted when the government had offered to start wage negotiations this week.

"My best guess is ... that this strike action is not going to endear this government to this federation and it will only create even greater resolution to do what it can to win the ultimate war," he said.

Mr Zadkovich said they are calling for a fair and reasonable offer from the government.


Melbourne public hospital in cancer bungle

A HOSPITAL has been accused of failing to tell a man he had prostate cancer for three years - and now it is too late. The great-grandfather regularly attended the hospital and saw other medicos who were aware his records showed he had cancer, but no one told him or offered him treatment.

When a doctor finally mentioned it in passing, it was too late because further tests showed the disease had spread to his bones.

Jordan Ristovski, 80, of Eltham North, had attended the Northern Hospital with prostate problems for two years before prostate tissue was removed in March, 2007, and it was confirmed he had prostate cancer.

But he was not told, according to a statement of claim lodged with the Supreme Court. His lawyers, Maurice Blackburn, allege he attended the hospital several times without being told he had cancer.

The hospital wrote to Mr Ristovski's GP in June 2010, advising that he be referred to a private urologist but failed to mention he had cancer, it was alleged.

It was only in August, 2010 - more than three years after he was diagnosed with cancer - that the hospital told him his urinary problems were probably caused by his cancer.

Mr Ristovski said he was devastated because, had he been told of the cancer in 2007, he would have sought immediate treatment. "I feel angry and let down. I have lost faith in doctors and hospitals," he said.

"I have learnt that sadly you just can't rely on what you are being told because it isn't always right and even though you are going to hospital and telling them about your symptoms and pain, they might not look after you."

Maurice Blackburn principal Dimitra Dubrow said despite the test showing cancer, Mr Ristovski was "given the all-clear". The hospital declined to comment.


29 October, 2011

Vertically-challenged pornos seized in (short) customs raid

David Penberthy

One of the interesting features of modern public debate is the emergence of a small army of thin-skinned souls on permanent stand-by to be offended by pretty much everything.

And they call that entertainment.And they call that entertainment.

The way we talk, the jokes we crack, the way we describe each other, all these things are subject to such an increasingly prohibitive set of strictures that it is easier to keep your mouth shut for fear of upsetting someone.

While the scourge of mental illness is not to be taken lightly, and is something which has touched us all, it still puzzles me that one of Australia’s leading mental health organisations is spending its time vetting newspaper articles and sending letters to journalists asking that they excise certain figurative expressions from their writing.

My colleague Tory Maguire wrote a piece last year where she used the term “policy schizophrenia” to describe the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s inconsistency on border protection. She received a letter saying the term was an insult to schizophrenics everywhere and that she should not use it again.

If we take this approach we will end up with a language where ideas are never stillborn and pauses never pregnant, where movement can be impeded but not retarded, where we rewrite all of Shakespeare’s plays, and receive letters from the haemophiliacs association if we write a column stating the bleeding obvious.

One of the weirder examples of the new squeamishness came from an unusual source this week, those supposedly libertarian sensualists at the Eros Foundation, who issued a press release under the cracking headline “Customs seizes dwarf porn.” The press release was interesting not so much for the news that the films Midget Mania (Volumes 7 and 8) have been refused classification – well, that’s my weekend buggered – but more for the politically correct gymnastics the Eros Foundation used to tip-toe around the word “midget”.

The intro was pure gold: “The Australian Customs Service has set a new benchmark for the importation of adult films into Australia by confiscating two of the latest release US titles featuring vertically challenged people.” Eros CEO Fiona Patton said the ruling was “discriminatory to short-statured people and quite possibly offended the Federal Discrimination Act.” It will be interesting to see if it stands up in court.

It is in the area of racism where the trend is most pronounced. I received a yawn-inducing string of outrage this week after writing the most limp-wristed pro-republican column, which was barely republican at all, more a pathetic form of surrender at the fact that we all seem to like the royals so much and can’t agree on an alternative model that we’re stuck as a constitutional monarchy. In passing I noted that this was all a bit disappointing for republican ultra-minimalists who simply wanted an Australian head of state, and would also be happier if the Pommy flag no longer sullied our national ensign.

The use of the word Pommy sent several readers into apoplexy, no doubt because they were, you know, Poms.

From one reader: “Pommy flag? That’s a racist slur. Lucky it’s a racial attack against the white majority, otherwise, you’d be before the courts like Andrew Bolt was.” From another: “Getting the pommy bit off our flag are downright pathetic comments in fact they border on racist.” And another: “I have no interest in anything you have to say, it’s rude, tactless and uncivil…to talk about the pommy flag is just so rude I can’t believe you actually printed it.”

And so the whinge-fest continued. Another recent column, about the Andrew Bolt vilification case, was highly critical of his writing but said the judgment posed a threat to free expression as it put the onus on anybody to prove they were not racist should somebody take offence at their sentiments. Examples included declaring that the Serbs who disrupted the Australian Open should maybe bugger off to Serbia, the opinion that female circumcision by some African communities is barbaric and inhumane, the belief that Israel is a pariah state whose businesses should be the subject of a formal boycott. Several censorious folks wrote in saying that each of these opinions were potentially racist and should also be the subject of legal action under the Racial Discrimination Act. See you all in court, along with the people of short stature.

The stink over the performance of the Haka by the All Blacks in Sunday’s final was a double treat for those who enjoy being offended. First, there was there were claims that one of the Kiwis had made an apparently offensive throat-slitting gesture while performing the chant. So what if he had? This ain’t the chicken dance or the bus stop. The haka in its origins was a war dance performed by pumped-up Maori warriors shortly before they killed their enemies. The idea that it should be rendered more genteel is absurd.

After this kerfuffle it emerged that the French had not shown due deference to the haka by stepping forwards towards the All Blacks as it was being performed. This was also offensive and the team was fined, in keeping with the view that, out of respect for Maori tradition, opposing teams should stand there and do nothing. This too seems kind of absurd. If a bunch of blokes are sticking their tongues out and threatening to murder you, it seems only fair that opposing teams can respond, perhaps in a manner which is culturally appropriate –some mooning from the Wallabies, Morris dancing from the Poms, the French standing around waiting to be saved by another nation, in keeping with their historical traditions.

Meanwhile the Adelaide Zoo has cancelled its Free Rangas Day after complaints from redheads. Turn it up. Even Julia Gillard could crack a quality gag about her state of ranga-ness when she spoke to fellow blood nut Cameron Ling at the AFL Grand Final breakfast. Someone was probably offended by that too. Still what would you expect from a Prime Minister who wouldn’t curtsy before the Queen. Even though protocol says she didn’t have to, and did nothing wrong.

The whole thing is just offensive.


I'm an Australian, PM tells UK reporter

A reasonable response to a trick question, not that I agree her about the eventual demise of the monarchy

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has showcased her accent as proof she's a dinkum Aussie, when asked whether the Queen will be Australia's last unelected head of state.

At a press conference in Perth on Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Ms Gillard was asked how she felt on the republican question, given she was "born as a subject of her majesty in the United Kingdom".

Ms Gillard has made it known she believes Australia should become a republic but that it would be appropriate only after Queen Elizabeth II's reign ends.

In response to Friday's question from a British reporter, she said she was the daughter of a man from a Welsh mining village and a woman whose maiden name was McKenzie, but she had lived in Australia since she was four years old.

"So I am an Australian, so any of the perspectives that I bring on questions about our constitutional arrangements, I bring through the eyes of being an Australian.

"You don't get an accent like this from being anything else," she said to laughter from the press corps attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

Ms Gillard said ultimately the Australian people would work their way through changes to the country's constitutional arrangements.

"But there is not a great deal of focus on this in our current national discourse," she said, noting there was more focus during the last referendum on the issue.

Ms Gillard said the Queen had been received with a great degree of affection on her current visit to Australia, with thousands turning out to see her.

"So there is a sense of personal connection with the Queen which has been very on display, and I would have to say a sense of excitement about the young royals as well," she said.


Farmers in green protesters' sights next as fight against mining escalates

FRUSTRATION: Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the industry was frustrated with the contradictions of the State Government over mining exploration. Picture: Nathan Richter Source: The Courier-Mail

THE Federal Government has told environmental activists to get out of the way of mining and warned farmers are likely to be the next target of green protests.

But the State Government has also felt the wrath of the mining industry, with a survey showing that the worst thing about doing business in Queensland was dealing with the Bligh Government.

All those who stood in the way of mining faced a fierce attack yesterday, as more than 400 mining delegates gathered for the launch of the industry's scorecard in Brisbane.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told the function he accepted legitimate concerns about coal seam gas but environmental activists had to get out of the way of legitimate mining activity.

"Fundamentally, many of these groups are against economic development in all its forms and once they have moved on from protesting against CSG, they could very well have farmers in their sights as their next target over water access," Mr Ferguson said yesterday.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the industry was frustrated with the contradictions of the State Government.

He said they wanted the Government to become a leader in exploration but then it "turns around and declares more than 23,000sq km of southeast Queensland off-limits to exploration".

Mr Roche also took on the anti-mining lobby, claiming that the public was being fed a constant diet of inaccurate information about mining exploration.


Time for conservatives to do the right thing

By Mark Textor

Is this guy joking or is he just off his brain? The stuff he talks about below was all fixed in the 1967 constitutional referendum, which 90% of Australians supported

Australians, including conservatives like me, are perhaps about to face the most important referendum most of us have never heard of.

The government's expert panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples will soon recommend options that formally recognise indigenous Australians in our constitution, with a referendum on the issue possible by the next federal election.

Now is the time for fellow conservatives to get behind this constitutional change not only because it aligns with the principles of their main party, the Liberal Party, but also because it's the right thing to do.

Liberals believe in the freedom of self-expression, including the freedom in our strong democracy to vote and express oneself.

A core part of the Liberal platform is the belief in "equal opportunity, with all Australians having the opportunity to reach their full potential in a tolerant national community".

How can we say we have achieved this equality, when Section 25 of our constitution specifically references the ability of the states to prevent people from voting in state elections on the basis of their race?

Most people would be shocked by this, and all true Liberals would also be shocked to know that Section 51 of our constitution gives Parliament the power to make special laws for people based on race.

Far from suggesting that Parliament should pay no attention to individual differences and diversity, it should eschew a constitution which makes laws based on race and instead make them on the basis of such things as culture and need.

Some people think a commitment to these issues belongs only to the left of politics, but that ignores the proud tradition of conservative politics when it comes to Aboriginal affairs: the first Aboriginal member of any State or Territory Parliament was Hyacinth Tungutalum, of the CLP in the Northern Territory; the National Party's Eric Deeral was the first Aborigine elected to the Queensland Parliament.

The Liberal Party gave us the first Aboriginal senator, Neville Bonner, and the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt.

It was a Liberal federal government that introduced the Northern Territory Land Rights Act and a Liberal prime minister, John Howard, who put constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people back on the agenda before the 2007 federal election.

These Conservative achievements do not diminish the contribution of other political parties - this issue is not about left and right; it's about supporting equality of opportunity and recognition in our constitution regardless of your political persuasion.

Many Liberals respect tradition and the preservation of "Australian culture". One of the amendments being considered is to recognise the English language as the foundation stone of the Australian culture, and to acknowledge the importance of Aboriginal languages.

The Liberal platform recognises: "The Europeans who began to settle Australia more than 200 years ago did not come to an empty land. For tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had lived on this continent. Their contribution to Australia's identity has been, and will continue to be, a vital and enriching one."

So should our constitution.

Also at the core of Australian Liberal philosophy is a belief in the freedom to achieve success and contribute to society. My belief is that it's hard to be so aspirational if the constitution allows a person to be discriminated against on the basis of their race.

One of my Darwin school friends, Johnny Daylight-Lacey, is an Aboriginal street artist based around Mullumbimby. A talented and passionate musician and painter, he wants to share his culture with other Australians, but he is not always allowed to practise his art because of council restrictions. While the considered amendments to the constitution may not give him carte blanche they would give him much-needed encouragement not only to share his culture but also to make a living.

Conservatives are rightly fond of supporting "a hand up, instead of a handout". If one is true to this value then one must get behind a constitution that truly enables all Australians to achieve their desires.

Conservatives can be at the forefront of a debate to recognise the contribution of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and to abolish discrimination on the basis on race.

It's time to step up, my friends. For all of us.


28 October, 2011

Be prudent with climate claims

Cardinal George Pell, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney appeals to scientific facts, not religion, in his climate skepticism -- and notes religious fanaticism in Warmism:

SCIENCE and technology have already achieved considerable mastery over nature, and massive local achievements. But where is the borderline separating us from what is beyond human power?

Where does scientific striving become uneconomic, immoral or ineffectual and so lapse into hubris? Have scientists been co-opted on to a bigger, better-advertised and more expensive bandwagon than the millennium bug fiasco?

We can only attempt to identify the causes of climate change through science and these causes need to be clearly established after full debates, validated comprehensively, before expensive remedies are imposed on industries and communities.

I first became interested in the question in the 1990s when studying the anti-human claims of the "deep greens". Mine is not an appeal to the authority of any religious truth in the face of contrary scientific evidence. Neither is it even remotely tinged by a postmodernist hostility to rationality.

My appeal is to reason and evidence, and in my view the evidence is insufficient to achieve practical certainty on many of these scientific issues.

Recently Robert Manne, following fashionable opinion, wrote that "the science is truly settled" on the fundamental theory of climate change: global warming is happening; it is primarily caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide; and it is certain to have profound effects in the future.

His appeal is to the "consensual view among qualified scientists". This is a category error, scientifically and philosophically. In fact, it is also a cop-out, a way of avoiding the basic issues.

The basic issue is not whether the science is settled but whether the evidence and explanations are adequate in that paradigm.

I fear, too, that many politicians have never investigated the primary evidence.

Much is opaque to non-specialists, but persistent inquiry and study can produce useful clarifications, similar to the nine errors identified by the British High Court in Al Gore's propaganda film, An Inconvenient Truth.

The complacent appeal to scientific consensus is simply one more appeal to authority, quite inappropriate in science or philosophy.

It is not generally realised that in 2001 at least, one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report's workinggroups agreed: "In climate research and modelling, we are dealing with a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible."

Claims of atmospheric warming often appear to conflict and depend upon the period of time under consideration.

* The earth has cooled during the past 10,000 years since the Holocene climate optimum.

* The earth has cooled since 1000 years ago, not yet achieving the temperatures of the Medieval Warm Period.

* The earth has warmed since 400 years ago after the Little Ice Age three centuries ago.

* The earth warmed between 1979 and 1998 and has cooled slightly since 2001.

The following facts are additional reasons for scepticism.

* In many places, most of the 11,700 years since the end of the last ice age were warmer than the present by up to 2C.

* Between 1695 and 1730, the temperature in England rose by 2.2C. That rapid warming, unparalleled since, occurred long before the Industrial Revolution.

* From 1976 to 2001, "the global warming rate was 0.16C per decade", as it was from 1860 to 1880 and again from 1910 to 1940.

My suspicions have been deepened through the years by the climate movement's totalitarian approach to opposing views. Those secure in their explanations do not need to be abusive.

The term "climate change denier", however expedient as an insult or propaganda weapon, with its deliberate overtones of comparison with Holocaust denial, is not a useful description of any significant participant in the discussion. I was not surprised to learn that the IPCC used some of the world's best advertising agencies to generate maximum effect among the public .

The rewards for proper environmental behaviour are uncertain, unlike the grim scenarios for the future as a result of human irresponsibility which have a dash of the apocalyptic about them.

The immense financial costs true believers would impose on economies can be compared with the sacrifices offered traditionally in religion, and the sale of carbon credits with the pre-Reformation practice of selling indulgences.

Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots. To the religionless and spiritually rootless, mythology - whether comforting or discomforting - can be magnetically, even pathologically, attractive.

Whatever our political masters might decide at this high tide of Western indebtedness, they are increasingly unlikely, because of popular pressure, to impose new financial burdens on their populations in the hope of curbing the rise of global temperatures, except perhaps in Australia, which has 2 per cent of the world's industrial capacity and only 1.2 per cent of its CO2 emissions, while continuing to sell coal and iron worth billions of dollars to Asia.

Extreme weather events are to be expected. This is why I support the views of Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter that money should be used to raise living standards and reduce vulnerability to catastrophes.

The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on "the big polluters" but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only be partially successful.

Sometimes the very learned and clever can be brilliantly foolish, especially when seized by an apparently good cause. My request is for common sense and what the medievals, following Aristotle, called prudence.

The appeal must be to the evidence. First of all we need adequate scientific explanations as a basis for our economic estimates. We also need history, philosophy, even theology and many will use, perhaps create, mythologies. But most importantly we need to distinguish which is which.


Qld. govt. wastes another $116m on controversial ZeroGen clean-coal debacle

SAYONARA, Premier. Anna Bligh's claims her bungled clean-coal dream would live on have collapsed, with the company at the centre put into liquidation at a loss to taxpayers of almost $160 million.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the controversial ZeroGen operation was shut down a fortnight ago, despite the Premier promising the ailing firm would be given to - and run by - the coal industry to ensure its work did not go to waste.

Documents filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission this month show the company is under external administration after a liquidator was appointed on October 11.

ZeroGen was set up to be owned by the Government to develop carbon capture technology. Its key project was to be a $4.3 billion clean coal power plant in central Queensland, running by 2015, with the power to capture 90 per cent of coal emissions.

The confirmation of the financial losses come as photos have emerged showing former ZeroGen chiefs living it up in Japan and Singapore as they tried to secure backing of business giant Mitsubishi Corp.

Former ZeroGen chief Tony Tarr and the company's corporate affairs manager Heather Brodie were snapped partying in kimonos and horseplaying in Singapore.

After scrapping the key "world-first" $4 billion central Queensland plant, the Bligh Government claimed ZeroGen would be given to the Australian Coal Association to ensure the knowledge it gained lived on.

Ms Bligh, who had insisted the money was not wasted, had said it would become "an independent entity, owned and run by industry and dedicated to the accelerated development and deployment of carbon capture storage".

But ACA chairman John Pegler yesterday said the group knew nothing of its supposed involvement. "We have never, ever, ever been in negotiations to take over ZeroGen," he said.

Contradiction also emerged in the office of Treasurer Andrew Fraser yesterday, who insisted the intellectual property still belonged to the state and would be used in future.

"The Federal Government was an equity partner in the venture and has been actively involved in the wind-up process," he said. The wind-up began in June.

But federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said the Commonwealth became aware only "in early October that the board may voluntarily liquidate the company".

Queensland has pumped $116 million into the project, the Commonwealth about $43 million and the coal industry about $50 million.

Federal Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt yesterday called for an inquiry, saying the loss of so much money was scandalous.

"There should be an immediate, independent inquiry as to how this money has been lost and where it has gone," he said.

ZeroGen garnered attention across Asia and the US and was touted by Ms Bligh and former premier Peter Beattie as a ground-breaking world-first as far back as 2006.

But now the ZeroGen website has been closed. "The ZeroGen Project has concluded," the site states. "Arrangements are ongoing for final knowledge capture and dissemination with the assistance of the Global CCS Institute."

State Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney said ZeroGen epitomised the waste and mismanagement of a tired Labor Government. "Anna Bligh has still never fully explained why the warnings about ZeroGen were ignored for so long and why they were so gung ho to roll the dice with taxpayers' money," he said.


Axe begins to fall in Qld. public service

As many as 3500 public servants are expected to accept payouts over the next two financial years

Nearly 2000 public servants have been offered big payouts to leave the Queensland government under plans to rein in wages bills. But it’s unclear how many employees have accepted the offers, made as part of government plans to farewell 3500 workers in a "voluntary separation" program.

The public sector union claims about half the people offered a package decide not to leave and this could pressure the government to soften its pledge to only remove non-frontline public servants.

As reported in April, public servants whose positions are not deemed necessary are being offered a payout of 30 weeks’ salary plus three weeks’ pay for each year of service.

Figures released to last night show the government has so far received 6626 expressions of interest from workers in a range of departments and agencies.

From this pool of willing employees, the government has made a formal offer to 1958 of them. The number of people who have accepted those offers is yet to be released.

The body with the highest number of expressions of interest was the Department of Education and Training, with 1635 employees registering their curiosity as of October 10.

However, only 109 workers from this department have been offered payouts so far. The government has offered payouts to 682 employees within the Department of Transport and Main Roads, following expressions of interest from 1360.

Deputy Premier and Treasurer Andrew Fraser said different agencies were in various stages of implementing the program.

Mr Fraser said the government had not changed its cost and savings projections, with the program set to cost about $250 million this financial year and then save $175 million annually from 2012/13.

Together union secretary Alex Scott, who represents public servants, said there were real questions over potential impacts on workloads and therefore some community services once the workforce was trimmed.

Mr Scott said while many employees wanted to keep their options open and lodged expressions of interest, the attractive offer did not necessarily persuade them to give up their job security.

The take-up rate was running at roughly 50 per cent, he said. This figure could not be officially confirmed last night.

Mr Scott said he was worried the government would struggle to get to the 3500 target and would have to relax its non-frontline pledge. "We’re gravely concerned; while it [the program] still remains voluntary we think the ambition to get to the 3500 will mean they will have to move away from the original commitment,” he said.

Mr Fraser’s spokesman could not be reached for a response last night, but Mr Fraser has previously said the 3500 departures target is over a two-year period ending in 2012/13.

The government's plan to save money by trimming the public service over two years was announced in its post-floods budget update in February.

It was one of the whole-of-government savings measures announced to pay for the $209 million cost of fixing the trouble-plagued Queensland Health payroll system. The bill to fix and improve the system has since surged even higher.

The release of the figures yesterday came as the government faced opposition attacks over plans to cut 250 civilian positions from within the Queensland Police Service.

Police Minister Neil Roberts linked the plans to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission's decision in August to grant police a pay rise of 11.1 per cent over three years, arguing part of the extra wages cost would be met through savings delivered through the voluntary separation program.

Figures supplied by Mr Fraser's office showed 57 police service employees had been offered a package under the separation program as of October 10, while a total of 136 had registered their interest.

Mr Fraser said other governments were also undertaking similar public sector redundancy programs. “The NSW Liberal government recently unveiled its plans for 5000 redundancies across the NSW public sector,” he said. “The Brisbane City Council also has a similar program underway.”

The issue of public service jobs was a dominant issue in the March 2009 state election campaign, with the government accusing the opposition of planning to massively slash jobs. The next election is due early next year.


The enduring appeal of the Monarchy in Australia

As in Britain, it has deep emotional roots that the politically correct brigaqde will never even begin to understand

The papers have now given up billing this as the ‘farewell tour’. Anyone watching the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh steadfastly working their way through the multitude and boarding a tram in Melbourne yesterday could understand why.

No one was saying: ‘Goodbye.’ So what if they are, respectively, 85 and 90? The question on Australian lips now is: ‘When are they coming back?’

Even the most ardent monarchists Down Under have been surprised by the euphoria for the Queen in recent days as she has travelled coast-to-coast across her colossal realm.

Monday saw 45,000 people crammed 30-deep on the riverbank in Brisbane just to see her step off a boat. Many required first aid for heatstroke after waiting since before dawn.

Yesterday’s scheduled 15-minute walkabout in Melbourne’s Federation Square stretched on for more than half an hour after tens of thousands turned out for a glimpse. There were so many flowers for the Queen the royal party ran out of hands.

Even more remarkable, perhaps, has been the behaviour of Melbourne’s ‘Occupy’ protesters.

This is the same anti-capitalist movement currently camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. But whereas the ‘Occupy London’ crowd won’t budge for anyone, the ‘Occupy Melbourne’ brigade yesterday agreed to suspend their protest in the city centre. Organisers decided it would be counter-productive and ‘belligerent’ to spoil the Queen’s day. So they called a truce.

Extraordinary stuff.

As for the royal couple, they have not betrayed a flicker of fatigue from the moment they landed in Canberra last week and embarked on a full schedule without so much as a rest day. One might say that she hit the ground reigning.

All those around the Queen — her staff and footsore veterans of the royal press pack — have noticed she is positively relishing the pace and atmosphere of this tour, happily letting the schedule slip when the crowds show no sign of letting up.

This may be her 16th tour of Australia but there is seldom a dull moment. Today she visits Clontarf Aboriginal College where pupils have devised an unusual royal menu: scones and kangaroo stew. As for the Duke, one royal official observes: ‘People keep asking us what he’s on. He’s in cracking form.’

Indeed, as the royal launch came into dock in Brisbane on Monday, Prince Philip could not stop his old nautical self and started helping to moor the thing. Now the world’s most hyperactive nonagenarian, he is off to Italy next week for a multi-faith environment conference.

Aside from one Brisbane construction worker arrested for ‘mooning’ at the monarch (it turned out to be a wager rather than a statement), this has, thus far, been a glitch-free tour.

So what on earth happened to the republicans? Is this the same feisty, self-confident nation which, just 12 years back, was the cheerleader for replacing the Sovereign? Of all the Queen’s 16 realms, which cover a large part of the planet, Australia was the one which seemed most likely to seek a new constitutional settlement.

And then came that referendum in 1999. With the liberal establishment and most of the media batting for a republic, metropolitan Australia put on its party clothes and prepared to celebrate.

But the public, as they so often do in these matters, had other ideas. In the end, 55 per cent of them preferred the Queen to the republican model of a president chosen by the politicians. [It was nearly two thirds in favour of the monarchy in my home State of Queensland -- JR]

Received wisdom, at the time, was that support for the monarchy would gradually wither away and that the republicans would waltz like Matilda through the next referendum. Except it did not work out like that.

The Royal Family continued to visit on a regular basis and Australia turned its attention to more pressing world issues.

And as royal fortunes have improved in Britain, so the mood has changed in Oz. Few countries could match Australia’s enthusiasm for this year’s Royal Wedding.

It came just weeks after Prince William had made an emergency visit Down Under, on behalf of the Queen, to meet those afflicted by a series of natural disasters — a visit which had a profound impact on the victims.

And now we have this week’s scenes. Opinion polls show that supporters of a presidential system have dwindled to 34 per cent. The activists have all but given up. Not so long ago, the Australian Republican Movement was a multi-million-pound organisation drawing the cream of the chattering classes to its champagne-fuelled soirees. Today, it is so hard-up that it can run only to a single part-time employee.

The reason? It certainly helps that the Queen and the Duke are so conspicuously happy to be in Australia. But it goes much deeper than that. We are witnessing, as one royal official put it to me this week, a ‘revival’. And much of it, surely, is down to the age-old attraction of a constitutional monarchy.

In times of uncertainty and trouble, there is something reassuring in an institution which stands for permanence and stability. And there is no greater symbol of continuity than a monarch who has been on her throne for longer than half of the countries on Earth have existed in their present form.

At the time of Australia’s referendum, republicans made much of the fact that one in four modern Australians was born overseas and, therefore, lacked a link with the ‘mother country’.

What social commentators are now discovering, however, is that support for the monarchy is just as strong among the immigrant community because newcomers feel a 1,000-year-old Crown offers greater protection of their freedoms than a fledgling president.

But there is something else here. Having spent the last two years with privileged access to the Queen and her staff for my new book, Our Queen, I have seen the way in which the aura around her has changed.

People who may seldom have given her much thought suddenly find themselves overawed by the most famous — and some would say respected — public figure on the planet. The sentiment was epitomised by one man in the Melbourne crowd yesterday. Dick Johnson told ABC Australia that he was surprised at how emotional he had suddenly become. ‘I’m not a terribly strong monarchist and I’m not a republican, but it just seems there’s something special about it,’ he said.

To which republicans say that the mood will be very different come a change of reign. But the Prince of Wales, part-educated in Australia, has a deep attachment to the place which does not go unreciprocated.

The new Duke of Cambridge can expect Queen-sized crowds when he brings his new Duchess Down Under. And, in any case, these are enduring bonds which go far beyond a mere popularity contest. Back in 1954, when she was the first reigning monarch to visit Australia, the Queen drew unprecedented crowds.

Millions of people — up to three-quarters of the population it was suggested — turned out to see her. Inevitably, her subsequent tours could not compete; comparisons would always invite a sense of anti-climax. Hence, the sense of monarchy in decline.

Well, now there is a sense of things going the other way. It may not be for ever. Australia will, doubtless, one day seek a new constitutional arrangement. For now, though, we are seeing the way in which historic symbols of kinship and shared values are sometimes more appealing than hard, rational modernity.

It is a fact worth remembering in a week when brutal European realities are set against the warmth of old Commonwealth friendships.


The Queen in Melbourne

The above report is by a British writer. Below is an Australian news report which conveys a similar impression

The Duke of Edinburgh was every inch the exasperated commuter today when he took a tram ride through Melbourne with the Queen.

As soon as the royal couple stepped aboard Royal Tram, he waved his hand and ordered driver Joyleen Smith to set off as they were running late.

It is the first time the monarch has travelled by tram since she boarded one during the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. In honour of the royal passengers the white Z3-Class vehicle had been transformed with a red, white and blue exterior colour scheme and inside it had been refurbished and restored.

A dot-matrix screen at its front displayed the worlds Royal Tram while a smaller one was lit-up with the monarch's official initials "ER"

Ms Smith, a tram driver for almost seven years, described todays event as an honour. She added: "When they got on I said hello to the Queen, and Philip said 'Come on driver let's go, were running late', so I thought we better go. "He said it with a smile on his face and I know he's got a wicked sense of humour."

The Queen and Prince Philip boarded the tram at Stop 13 at Federation Square and travelled along St Kilda Road to a reception and lunch with local politicians at Government House.

They had been held up during a walk through the square as well-wishers hand flowers and presents to the royals while tens of thousands looked on.

The royal couple sat facing each other, with the Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, and his wife Robyn sat side by side close by.

The monarch may be more used to travelling in a chauffeur driven state Bentley or Rolls Royce but she appeared at home on public transport.

And like any other passenger the Queen had to pay her way, although her Australian equerry, Commander Andrew Willis, had the job of buying her ticket.

They used a myki - a pre-paid travel card - but it is not known if they chose the two-hour zone-one fare costing $3.80 or opted for the cheaper $2.80 dollar pensioner discount ticket.

Four mounted officers from Victoria Police escorted the royal tram which travelled at walking pace, during the eight minute journey.

Among the two horses that led the way was Super Impressive, a former racehorse that earned about $1.5 million during its former career.

The royal couple waved at the thousands who lined their route and the crowds cheered and screamed in response.

Their journey took them along part of the route of the No.8 tram that runs from Brunswick to the wealthy Melbourne suburb of Toorak.

Ms Smith, who drives trams along the inner-city routes 1, 8 and 19, said she had taken commuters along the stretch of track used by the royals hundreds of times.

She added: "A couple of times I got a little overwhelmed and thought I was going to cry - all the people were waving at her. At one point I even waved at someone I recognised. "But despite being nervous at first it was overwhelming, what an honour to drive the Queen."


27 October, 2011

Contempt for ordinary Australians among the self-selected arts and media elite

I SUPPOSE it takes a special form of moral courage and artistic sensibility to mount a comedy television series that "satirises people living in public housing" (The Diary, Monday). It promises to be a hoot. The individual responsible, one Paul Fenech, has uncovered "a whole bunch of people in Australia who spend so much effort not working that it would be easier to get a job". I cannot wait. Such clever japes have not been heard since the Murdoch family comedy troupe were at their peak.

It is comforting to know that Fenech is not on his own in the creative community in teaching us about the debased lower orders. Only last week, the Herald's Spectrum pages ("Career on track" October 15-16) marked the arrival of "an artist with promise", a Mr Nigel Milsom, a latter-day resident of Glebe. This chap likes to draw dogs, apparently as "metaphors for our own nature".

However, Milsom has had a nasty surprise of late. As he tells it, "it seems that every Friday and Saturday there's an influx of weirdos into the area". These freaks are the people who attend the Wentworth Park greyhounds and who do so in order to "change their lot in life" and gain a "golden ticket out of their situation". Mr Milsom knows all this because he took his crayons to the course one night and observed these worse-than-senseless things in the flesh.

In times past, these "weirdos" were actually known in and around the inner city as "residents" before the whole area was much improved by the land clearing occasioned by the arrival of sensitive and creative people who are good at colouring-in and such. Over the decades many thousands of families have been forced out, some even to public housing in the city's outskirts where Fenech can now expose to the world their essential worthlessness.

Such developments are sadly consistent with some other trends in the creative and performing arts. The television series Kath & Kim consistently depicted its subjects as crass, materialistic and emotionally stunted. There was a form of characterisation in it that provided a superior and condescending perspective for the viewer. We laugh at them; not with them.

Worse still is the work of Chris Lilley, who moves well beyond gentle mockery. His work sneers at the ordinary people with everyday lives he focuses on.

There was a time when satire was directed at exposing the follies of the privileged, the powerful and the self-important. Apparently, modern Australia has rulers who are doing a cracking job. Our rich are beyond reproach. Marie Antoinette would approve.


Thousands of students failed the Australian visa test

FOREIGN students caught skipping class or flunking courses are being deported in record numbers, courtesy of a federal government crackdown on student visas.

The Immigration Department has already cancelled 15,066 foreign student visas in the past year, a 37 per cent spike from the previous year, The Daily Telegraph reported.

About 3624 students are facing deportation for flunking subjects or missing classes.

A further 2235 visas were cancelled on students who quit their original courses and were either working illegally - in some cases in brothels.

The crackdown, coming after the number of cancellations was steady for four years, has targeted lax students who had won visas to study at a vocational training level, such as cooking or hairdressing.

Indian students have been hit the hardest, while the biggest foreign contingent - Chinese - fare much better because they are less likely to be studying for a trade. Trade students are not only under the spotlight but a change in policy preferencing university students has now made entry to Australian courses harder.

University graduates will have the right to work here for two years after they graduate, leaving vocational training students to wait on a second tranche of changes, due next year, to find out where they stand.

Of the 332,709 international students in Australia in June, more than half were studying at university, while a third were on vocational training visas studying diploma courses.

One in every five international students is Chinese, while one in every six is Indian. Courses are also popular with South Korean, Brazilian and Malaysian students. The majority of international students study in NSW and Victoria.

To receive a visa they must be enrolled in a course and show they can pay tuition and living costs and meet health and English language tests.

Of the 15,066 cancellations by DIMIA in the past year, 3624 students lost their visas because they flunked some or all subjects or were no-shows to class. A further 2235 visas were cancelled for students who quit their courses and 212 were from students who finished their courses early.

The Immigration Department offers eight kinds of student visas - including vocational training, university, English language courses or school education visas.

Despite oversight by the department, some students end up as illegal immigrants after failing to return home.

The department's annual report said that 8309 student visa holders became "unlawful" in the past year because their student visa expired and they did not apply for a new one, such as a bridging visa.

In some cases, foreigners were not genuine students and use the work rights of a student visa as a back door to higher wages and working conditions in Australia.

Some women have come to Australia on student visas to work in illegal brothels.


Religious education counters religious prejudice

Probably true in general but maybe not if Islam is taught honestly

Religions must be properly taught in state schools as part of the curriculum because people who never come across religion are far more likely to be prejudiced against it.

I came across that interesting and plausible assertion this week because teaching religion in state schools was back in the news when the Anglican church in Melbourne voted down a call for a multi-faith-based general religious education (GRE).

The church's synod (parliament) rejected it (204-167) not because they think it is a bad idea but to support and encourage the existing system of special religious instruction (SRI), taught by volunteers.

I blogged on religion in schools earlier this year, when it became a fresh issue in April. The reason I am revisiting it is because I was interested in the claim in my first sentence, above.

John Baldock, the minister at East Malvern, made it in moving the call for GRE that was eventually defeated. He said the reason a secular version teaching all faiths (though endorsing none), taught as part of the curriculum by trained teachers, is so necessary is that it promotes tolerance and understanding.

He said: “This is important. British and European studies show that children with some education about religion are more tolerant than those without it. Studying religion helps develop inclusive attitudes and promotes a climate of respect. Starkly put, without education about different faiths, conflict and disharmony are more likely.”

Therefore, paradoxically, the less religious Australian society becomes, the more important religious education will be.

Baldock told the synod: “The recent Mapping Social Cohesion report alerts us to how those who know least stereotype most; how those who know little about religion hold the most negative views towards groups other than their own.”

(I add an important qualification: such education would help prevent not only anti-religion bigotry, but bigotry by adherents of one religion against those of another or none.)

And of course, religion is not disappearing any time soon, despite the predictions and hopes of many over the past few decades. Around the world, its numbers and influence are rising. Surely it is better to know something of what other people believe than not.

GRE in the state curriculum would mean every student getting a basic grasp of the history, beliefs and practices of the major world religions, including Christianity. Now, only half the students get SRI.

Baldock also noted the role of religion in influencing people’s attitudes to ethics and philosophy, law and politics, gender relations, plus its impact on health and social services, and the challenge of religiously motivated violence and terrorism.

He said: “While I reject many of the criticisms levelled at SRI, I agree that religion is too important to leave to optional classes taught to students by volunteer teachers.”

SRI is almost entirely Christian, though Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Baha’is also teach in state schools. The reason the Anglicans rejected Baldock’s proposal was to support Access Ministries, which provides 96 per cent of SRI and has come under strong attack.

Access chairman Bishop Stephen Hale says there has been a campaign against Access in which The Age and The Sunday Age have played a part, and that the debate has sometimes been quite personal and unpleasant.

Yet even though state and federal inquiries found no evidence of volunteers proselytising children, I am certain some have abused their role. There is too much anecdotal evidence of some seeking to convert children and, worse, suggesting their families will go to hell if they don’t go to church.

The Anglicans favouring GRE - which only became possible via a change to the state Education Act in 2006 – argue it should operate alongside the voluntary SRI. That should remain, along with better provision for those who take no part.

This is simple common sense, unarguably right - though as far as the adverb is concerned, I am sure I will be proved wrong. But I will say this: my experience on this blog and elsewhere leads me to give that opening sentence serious credence.


An amusing -- but revealing -- defeat for the Queensland wallopers

On Sept. 15 I reported on the case of Eaves v. Donnelly in which Renee Eaves was awarded the sum of $93,000 against ex-cop Barry John Donnelly and the State of Queensland.

One would have thought that the Queensland Police Service would have been deeply embarrassed to find that a private prosecution was needed to establish the culpability of one of their officers after they had proclaimed that he had no case to answer.

Had there been any decency at the top one would have thought that prompt payment of the award accompanied by profuse apologies to Ms Eaves would be the order of the day.

Their actual response however established what low types run the Qld. cops. They say that fish rot from the head and it seems that the Qld cops are still in that category. The Fitzgerald enquiry put the Qld. police chief in jail so rottenness at the top is a reasonable expectation in Qld.

And that expectation would seem to be borne out in the Eaves vs. Donnelly matter. Instead of showing any contrition, the police decided to appeal the verdict. The scathing comments about them from Judge Samios were apparently like water off a duck's back. And that decision to appeal can only have come from somewhere close to the top if not the top itself.

But here's the amusing part: Their grounds for appeal were so weak that they had to back out of the appeal. They went to the Court of Appeal (a division of the Qld Supreme Court) but the court either point blank refused to hear them or they were quietly advised that they had no case.

What scum!

Needless to say, Renee is feeling in a very good mood at the moment after the failure of the appeal (though she still hasn't got the money) so she sent me some pix:

Renee's comment on the Pic above: "The boy's club army all to sort out one lil blonde single mum....... Chickens ... but expensive ones for the taxpayers. Sherman Oh is the Asian one and Mark Hinson the senior counsel is front right"

Renee in a place she now rather likes

A meditation

The amount the cops must have spent on legal services in the matter rather boggles the mind. It would have been MUCH cheaper for the taxpayer if they had settled out of court. But to do that would have required at least an implicit admission of fault and they were clearly not adult enough for that.

Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

26 October, 2011

Gillard good on free trade

JULIA GILLARD has declared that the decade-old push for global free trade has failed and unless a new, more realistic approach is adopted, the world could lurch back towards protectionism - and developing nations would suffer.

In a speech to more than 1200 business figures from around the world in Perth last night, the Prime Minister said that while a new approach was being pursued, Australia would continue to encourage other developed nations to embrace free trade by continuing to accept all imports from about 50 developing nations without tariffs or quotas. "I believe this is a path other developed economies should pursue - and it is one they could pursue now," she said.

"To encourage global action, Australia is prepared to keep leading the way in opening doors for developing nations."

Ms Gillard said the all-or-nothing Doha free trade push for a global free-trade agreement had to be abandoned because after 10 years there was no sign of a breakthrough.

Instead, a global free-trade agreement should be pursued sector by sector, such as in agriculture, manufacturing and services. "It is time to consider breaking the Doha round into more manageable parts and bringing them to successful conclusion as negotiations are completed," she said.

"We know that some issues are very close to resolution. It makes sense to conclude and implement these."

Ms Gillard said there were disturbing early signs that the world was retreating towards closed-door policies.

When trade ministers next met in Geneva in December, Australia would pledge to receive imports from the poorest countries free of tariffs and quotas, and not to adopt any protectionist measures while the free-trade pursuit continued.

The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, who conceived the new approach, told the Herald the pledges would apply a gold standard. "We would ask other countries to meet that standard or go as close as they can."


Teaching in schools with a criminal record

TEACHERS are being allowed to work despite being found guilty of assault, drink driving and drug possession.

The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information request from Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, also showed two approved applicants were dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct.

The Teachers Registration Board response revealed that between August 12, 2010, and September 5, 2011, 42 applicants made a declaration relating to questions about fitness and propriety.

The teacher with the longest list of charges was found guilty of property offences and minor drug offences in the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed by social security fraud/overpayment (1997), minor possession of cannabis (1998) and theft (2004).

Mr Brokenshire said the Government had to ensure "very careful analysis" of teachers to ensure high standards.

"There especially needs to be proper scrutiny and analysis when they come from interstate because if they have had a problem that could be the reason for the move," he said.

Teachers Registration Board of South Australia registrar Wendy Hastings said when an applicant indicated they had to make a declaration about fitness and propriety further inquiries were conducted.

"We're not talking about major robberies, serious assault or sexual abuse and in some cases they happened five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago," she said.

The information provided by the board stated one applicant was dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct and that with another teacher "regulatory authority is currently assessing the matter".

Ms Hastings said at the time of lodgement, the applicant was registered in another state.

"Appropriate checks were made ... with that state, which responded indicating there were no matters currently before the regulatory authority," she said.

In the other case, the applicant had successfully appealed his dismissal and was reinstated by his employer. After reinstatement the board granted provisional registration and a serious reprimand was issued. [A serious reprimand! Wow! That must have hurt!]


Court rules serial child rapist's identity to remain a secret

ONE of our worst paedophiles will keep his anonymity as he makes regular community outings, despite still being dangerous to children.

The serial child rapist is going shopping, socializing and visiting friends and there are plans for him to return to live in the community.

The Department of Justice urged Judge Wendy Wilmoth to let the man be named, saying those living in the places he visited should know the notorious figure was "in their midst".

David Grace QC had argued that the public should also know that the man was being kept under the watch of authorities.

The man is still considered such a risk that the County Court has ordered that he stay on a supervision order instead of being allowed total freedom.

That means he must live where he is told and obey other restrictions designed to protect the community.

But Judge Wilmoth refused to lift a secrecy order she made on the man's identity. This morning she continued the order, but her reasons are yet to be published.

The court earlier heard the serial child molester had been given approval for unescorted visits to Melbourne to see friends, and regularly visiting Ballarat for shopping and social activities.

There are plans to increase his liberty so he can eventually be allowed to live back in the community.

His lawyers had argued that more community outings would be difficult if the man's identity were known.


Greens organiser assisted "occupiers" in Melbourne

A GREENS Party organiser on the public payroll is in hot water after it was found he was helping the City Square protesters.

The Greens have been forced to defend staff member Jake Wishart after it emerged he helped the protest with media relations while on annual leave.

Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt's office denied Mr Wishart had helped organise the protests or that he had used any government resources on behalf of the protesters.

A spokesman told the Herald Sun Mr Wishart, who works as a part-time community engagement officer for Mr Bandt and has previously worked for Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, was at the protests but had not camped there and acted only as a media contact point.

"He's been on leave since last Wednesday and we understand while he's been on leave - particularly after what happened with the police - he was assisting some of the protesters with contacting the media," he said. "He's not an organiser of the protests and he's not intending to have any more engagement with the protests."

Police have revealed some of the troublemakers who refused to leave City Square when requested are known to police as serial protesters. The protests involved people from groups including Boycott Israeli Apartheid, Friends of the Earth, Anarchy, Latin Solidarity Movement, Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance.

Protest leaders will meet tonight to determine their next step - including possible disruption to the Queen's visit tomorrow.

The meeting, to be held at 6pm, will also go over plans to camp out in Treasury Gardens on Saturday.

Wurundjeri tribal elders said they were angry protesters claimed to have approval from them to camp in Treasury Gardens. "We most certainly have not given our approval," elder Wilma Xiberras said. "They have not got permission from the elders. "To get approval they should be coming to a full elders committee meeting. I spoke to a few of our elders and they haven't heard about it and they're very upset about it. "Whoever they've spoken to has done the wrong thing. Just not one person can do this."

Occupy Melbourne's Tal Slome said on Sunday approval had been sought and given by Wurundjeri elders. Occupy Melbourne's Indigenous committee contact declined to respond to questions yesterday.


25 October, 2011

Government trying to hand over a legitimate business to loan sharks

The demand for easy loans to poor people will always be there and will always require high interest rates to offset the costs and risks. So criminals will move in if such loans are banned or made unviable to legitimate business. And the crims will be MUCH worse to deal with than the present legit guys. Government regulation has already worsened the situation with their restrictions and they think more restrictions are going to make things better?

QUEENSLANDERS are losing their cars and their homes to payday lenders who exploit loopholes despite a State Government crackdown three years ago.

National Legal Aid has told the Federal Government that despite Queensland capping short-term loan costs at 48 per cent, lenders still find ways around the limit, including the use of high brokerage fees.

The Courier-Mail revealed the practice of writing loans in formats that don't attract the cap just after the law changed in 2008, prompting a fair trade investigation.

The Federal Government has been warned loophole schemes are still being used as it is on the cusp of introducing a new national cap of 2 per cent per month on loans under $2000.

"There are some (lenders) who have business models that are far more complex and no doubt there will eventually be litigation," Legal Aid consumer advocate Catherine Uhr said.

In one instance, a 25-year-old man on a disability pension and living with his mother had up to 35 loans with a series of providers using "anti-avoidance" techniques to get around the 48 per cent cap.

Ms Uhr said that in Queensland, many loans were secured over cars and property. "We see loans escalate. And the reason they've come to get legal advice is because they're losing their car or losing their home," she said. "There's nothing stopping you charging up to 48 per cent and taking security over the house in Queensland."

It comes as the industry yesterday tried to ramp up its opposition to the national cap on small loans, arguing the limits would make loans unviable and leave a hole in the lending market.

The Federal Government inquiry into the new legislation heard how most people took the loans out to cover spiralling utility bills, before finding themselves in a disastrous debt crisis.

Payday lenders attempted to defend themselves in the inquiry yesterday, with Money 3 chief Robert Bryant saying: "We don't sell money, we sell self esteem."

Cash Converters, the biggest provider of short-term loans in the country, told the inquiry the Bill would force them out of business.

Its submission to the inquiry, kept secret until yesterday, admitted that the company had turned to brokerage fees in Queensland in order to get around the cap.


"Independents" who betrayed their electorates find that their voters won't be bought

THEY'RE Parliament's billion-dollar men - between them securing almost $1 billion in new funding for their electorates in just over a year. But despite it all, they are in dire danger of losing their jobs.

Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott - two of the three independents who supported Julia Gillard to form government - have won a list of projects for their regional NSW electorates, already totalling more than $820 million by The Sydney Morning Herald's calculation and with announcements on another $1.1 billion in regional spending still to come.

Their agreement to form government guaranteed the pair - and their fellow independent Andrew Wilkie - three grants worth $456 million, more than a third of the total $1.3 billion handed out in a special "regional priority" round of the Health and Hospitals Infrastructure Fund, once the projects met certain criteria.

The other 111 grant proposals from around the country that also met the criteria, together requesting more than $2 billion, had to fight it out for the remaining $840 million.

But according to the latest Newspoll, despite the largesse and special treatment, Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott have suffered a dramatic decline in support, with voters in their electorates overwhelmingly opposing their decision to vote for the carbon pricing scheme.

Mr Windsor, the member for New England, said he hoped his constituents would eventually look at the bigger picture. "If you said you weren't bothered, you could be accused of taking your people for granted," he said. "But there's no election today and when there is an election, people will make a decision on the totality of my representation, rather than on the basis of myths about a carbon tax."

Mr Oakeshott said he hoped voters would reassess by looking at "fact over fiction and reality over rhetoric".

But the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, said he would be standing "good candidates" in both electorates.

The grants for the Port Macquarie, Tamworth and Royal Hobart hospitals were three of the four biggest in the 62 awarded in the round. Only one other - to the Bega Valley Health Service in the marginal Labor seat of Eden-Monaro - exceeded $100 million.

The grants were selected by the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, and the cabinet from 114 proposals worth $2.4 billion that met the funding criteria, freedom-of-information documents supplied to the Herald show. Another 123 proposals did not meet the criteria.

A spokesman for Ms Roxon said that once the advisory board had confirmed the three projects in the independents' electorates met the criteria, they were "guaranteed funding because they had been part of the agreement to form government".

It is accepted practice that governments give preference to election spending promises provided they meet bureaucratic assessments.

But it is unclear whether the promises to the independents fall into this category considering they were made after the election, during the negotiation to form government. The funding guidelines and criteria did not indicate that the three grants would be preferred.


Sydney "occupiers" unimpressive too

Gerard Henderson

Visiting the Occupy Sydney demonstration outside the Reserve Bank in Martin Place on Friday was something of a surreal experience. Despite the placard quoting Marxist Che Guevara ("a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love"), the demonstration was not about revolution. Rather, the prevailing mood was one of entitlement, as is the case in some 900 similar protests now occurring throughout the world.

While taking notes, I was approached by a young woman who wanted to tell me her story. It turned out she was an unemployed law graduate who had been looking for work for the past three months. Her problem? Well, she wanted to work in a relatively low-paying community law job but the only positions available for law graduates were in relatively high-paying CBD firms. Some injustice, don't you think?

When I asked why the number of demonstrators seemed small, the response was that many went to work during the day in the IT and other industries and returned to the protest site each evening. The group assembled that morning appeared to be students, unemployed young men and women and a few pensioners, all of whom would probably have been receiving some government-funded payment or subsidy.

This seemed at odds with the signs calling for the end of capitalism in general and taxation in particular. When I asked how the handouts could be funded if taxation was abandoned for the 99 per cent of Australians whom the protesters said they were representing, the young woman said she did not agree with all the placards. She also claimed to have no problem with the Reserve Bank or indeed capitalism. It turned out her real interest was climate change and she wanted huge increases in government subsidies for alternative energy projects. Now.

It seemed that the Occupy Sydney protesters had a sense of entitlement that extended far beyond jobs and policy. Their demands included Wi-Fi, toilets and the right to construct tents. City of Sydney councillor Shayne Mallard was reported as saying that he was supportive of legal protests but opposed "a protest of the anarchist left designed to provoke the authorities and businesses of the city". On Sunday, NSW Police broke up the camp. The move was backed by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, but criticised by the lord mayor, Clover Moore.

The Victoria Police had taken similar action in Melbourne on Friday. The Occupy Melbourne protests had turned parts of the Melbourne CBD into a moveable slum and disrupted numerous small businesses in the vicinity. The Sunday Age supported the demonstration, editorialising that "grassroots demonstrators do not threaten civic life, but in many ways enhance it". Needless to say, businesses losing serious money each day have a different conception of grassroots democracy.

On Saturday I walked past Melbourne's City Square. There was a heavy police and security presence. It seems the Victorian authorities have junked the hand-holding approach to civil disorder evident when Christine Nixon was police commissioner. The decision to clear the City Square was initiated by the Melbourne lord mayor, Robert Doyle, with the support of the Liberal premier, Ted Baillieu, Labor Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews and Gillard government minister Bill Shorten. The only prominent politician to support the demonstrators was the Greens MP for Melbourne, Adam Bandt.

Historically, the left in Australia has derided the influence of American culture. Yet the Occupy Sydney and Melbourne movements are a copy of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has taken over Zuccotti Park. The American protest is very much a production of the white middle class and it has also created a moveable slum among New York businesses and neighbourhoods.

However, there is, or should be, one essential difference between the protests. The crowd in Zuccotti Park should be directing its anger at the government in Washington presiding over near-record spending and debt accompanied by high levels of unemployment - a special worry among the young and African Americans.

Australia, on the other hand, has one of the strongest economies in the Western world with relatively low unemployment, primarily due to the economic reforms undertaken between 1983 and 2007 by the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments. Also, the Australian financial system was well-regulated. Here the reforms initiated by Peter Costello, to ensure the independence of the Reserve Bank and to establish the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, had a most beneficial effect when the global financial crisis occurred in 2008. Yet the Occupy Sydney movement saw fit to demonstrate outside the Reserve Bank.

Western democracies offer numerous opportunities for protests. The likes of Bandt and Moore take a soft attitude to this occupation of public places, but would be most unlikely to adopt a similar approach if the protesters constituted Tea Party imitators opposing a carbon tax or militant Christians opposing abortion or homosexuality.

One of the Occupy Melbourne organisers acknowledged that the demonstration did not have a point. Narcissism, however, is a very contemporary attitude.


This is the city that was going to die of drought, according to prominent Warmist Tim Flannery

Perth could receive a month's worth of rain this week alone - and more downfalls could be on the way to spoil the weekend Commonwealth Heads Of Government meeting.

Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke reported 28mm of rain in Perth since about 10pm last night and the the gauge is expected to get to 30mm before the showers clear later today.

Rain is then expected to return tomorrow and Thursday and, with a forecast for 10 to 20mm, the weekly rainfall could be pushing the October average of 52mm. "It's the biggest October rainfall in 12 years," Mr Dutschke said.

"Perth has had more than half its monthly rainfall overnight and, if the rain returns tomorrow and Thursday as we expect, it could be up around the month's average by week's end."

CHOGM will get underway on Friday with much fanfare but, by Sunday, participants and on-lookers could be again reaching for their umbrellas.

"There is a chance of the showers and storms returning on the weekend - probably moreso Sunday than Saturday," Mr Dutschke said.

"At the moment most of that weather looks like being to the north but there is some chance it will be seen in Perth as well." Several areas of the wheatbelt also received strong overnight falls.


24 October, 2011

Millions in donations blown on administration costs

I always give direct to the intended beneficiary -- JR

A NEW MySchool-like website is set to expose charities spending upwards of 60 per cent of the donations they receive on million-dollar campaigns, telemarketers and black-tie balls.

The move to make Australia's 60,000 charities more accountable could prompt big-spending not-for-profits to rein in their administration.

The Courier-Mail today reveals how the sector uses donations collected from 4.6 million Australians each year.

Surf Life Saving Foundation Incorporated was the biggest spender - using 62 per cent of its $23.8 million gross fundraising revenue on administration costs.

Seven prominent Australian charities spent more than 40 per cent of donations on the "cost of fundraising".

But in the competitive world of fundraising, charities have warned "league table" comparisons based on cost ratios - how much they spend chasing the donor dollar - would be unfair and detrimental.

The Gillard Government has already committed $53.6 million over the next four years to set up a new independent regulator called the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC).

One of the charity watchdog's first tasks will be to implement a "one-stop shop" information portal that will force charities and benevolent trusts to disclose financial records like never before.

Currently, there is no Australian reporting standard and it is up to individual charities to determine how fundraising and other costs are disclosed, which has led to huge differences in accounting practices


Whingeing woman loses out

A GOLD Coast female hotel employee who accused a male boss of sexually harassing her by allegedly commenting on her "huge knockers" has had her workplace discrimination complaint dismissed.

The Queensland Civil Administration Tribunal, in a just published decision, dismissed a complaint for sexual harassment and discrimination on the "attribute of sex in the area of work" by Aimee Harron because she failed to attend a compulsory conference aimed at resolving the issue last month.

Ms Harron lodged a complaint to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission for alleged contravention of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 by former employer Pearls Australasia Mirage 2 Pty Ltd and supervisor Andrew Potts.

QCAT member Michelle Howard, in an eight-page decision, said Ms Harron alleged Mr Potts made comments to another worker that she had "huge knockers" after she was been interviewed for a possible job. "(Ms Harron claims she) had overheard Mr Potts tell other employees ... he had never employed an unattractive girl," Ms Howard said.

"Mr Potts had (also allegedly) spoken to her (Ms Harron) about her brother in unflattering terms, saying that he was a 'dickhead', and also said that he was going to steal her brother's girlfriend."

Ms Harron claimed she had referred the matter to her employer's Human Resources Department. "(Ms Harron) infers that she requested not to be further supervised by Mr Potts, but was not given an alternative," Ms Howard said.

"She states that she resigned to avoid further 'being vilified' by Mr Potts, who had already caused her hurt and humiliation ... (and) she believes ... that Mr Potts' remarks have sexual connotations which amount to sexual harassment."

Ms Howard said the "respondents", that is Pearls Australasia and Mr Potts, contend Ms Harron commenced "casual employment" on May 11 last year and made a complaint less than two months later about a "remark alleged to have been made by Mr Potts after interviewing her for the position".

The company asserted, via staff notes kept regarding Ms Harron's work attendance and attitude, that Ms Harron complained about the new job during her very first shift. "On her first shift on 11 May, she (Ms Harron) said she did not like the work and most likely would not return," Ms Howard said the file note stated.

"On May 15, Ms Harron told co-workers she does not want to work and is going to leave. On May 17, she arrived late for work ... and on May 22, she attended work but went home sick after 2 hours."

Ms Howard said Pearls Australasia claimed it did investigate Ms Harron's complaint and found one staff member who said there had been some comment Ms Harron "had pretty good breasts."

Mr Potts, the tribunal was told, said he had not intended to hurt or offend anyone, and the comment was a "one-off" made before Ms Harron was employed. Mr Potts also denied making comments about having "never employed an unattractive girl or making reference to Ms Harron's brother of his girlfriend".

"The investigation did not establish whether the comments were or were not made, but Pearls Australasia argues that even if they were this would not constitute sexual harassment," Ms Howard said.

The matter was set down for a "compulsory conference", between the parties at Southport on September 21. "Ms Harron failed to attend the compulsory conference," Ms Howard said. "(As such) the complaint of Aimee Harron is dismissed."


Priority patients left waiting for help as ambulance shortage hits Victoria

TWELVE priority one patients were left waiting for an ambulance last night as Victoria's ambulance system struggled under the weight of more than a call a minute. Ambulance Victoria CEO Greg Cassella said 47 cases were left pending in metropolitan Melbourne on Sunday night and 58 on Saturday night.

"In that period of six hours (between 6pm and midnight on Sunday), we were having to respond to more than a call a minute, it's extraordinary," he said.

Mr Cassella said the emergency dispatch centre kept in constant contact with those waiting for an ambulance and no one had died or suffered further as a result of the long wait. But he admitted the thought of the elderly and the injured waiting for help bothered him. "The fact they were left waiting is a concern but there's no evidence that they were in a life-threatening situation," he said.

Priority one patients are "lights and sirens" patients who are in a potentially life-threatening condition.

Ambulance union state secretary Steve McGhie said paramedics were told to offload their patients and get back on the road. "The paramedics would have made those patients as comfortable as they could but that's what they were told," he said.

Mr McGhie said a number of factors made for a severely stretched ambulance service last night. "It will be a combination of things, there will be some absenteeism and sick leave and Workcover and there will be ramping up at hospitals where paramedics are waiting in line to offload their patients," he said.

"The third factor will be that ambulance crews have worked so long that they have to have a meal break so they are putting on a priority zero waiting which means they can only be sent to life-threatening emergencies. "But this has been going on for a long, long time, the pattern is so consistent on weekends now."

The AEA reports an annual six per cent rise in call-outs over the past decade. "There's no way that we have a six per cent increase in staff numbers, (Ambulance Victoria) is a long way from achieving it," Mr McGhie said.


Occupy Melbourne protesters known to police

SOME of those involved in Friday's Occupy Melbourne demonstration were regular protesters known to police. Acting Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said this morning some of the protesters were from BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), which campaigns against Israel. Others were from the Socialist Alliance - an anti-capitalist political party. "Many of these people in the group on Friday and the week leading up are pretty familiar faces to us," Mr Lay told 3AW.

He said a small group of the protesters were intent on fighting police, despite assuring police they would leave peacefully when asked. "I sensed a group of people that were hell bent on having a blue with the coppers and that's exactly what happened, we know that there was a group of people that simply wanted this for their own reasons."

Protesters were given assurance on the Thursday night police would not surprise them early Friday morning with demands to leave and on Friday they were given four warnings to leave from council and police.

Mr Lay said he was proud of the way police acted and they had an abundance of video to support police tactics and refute claims made by the protesters of brutality. "I was very proud of the way our 400 people worked, it was extremely difficult, it was a very long day for them and what I saw was a very well trained, very well disciplined group of people that did exactly what they were trained to do."

Victoria Police will today start examining CCTV footage of Friday's Occupy Melbourne protest for evidence of criminal offences committed by protesters.

Eight police cars were damaged as the crowd was evicted from City Square, and a police spokesman said CCTV footage would be reviewed to find the culprits.

Occupy Melbourne organisers have arranged to occupy Treasury Gardens on Saturday, claiming they have approval from Aboriginal elders of the Wurundjeri people to occupy the space.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said yesterday a team of council compliance officers would prowl the city's streets this week, poised to report any Occupy Melbourne protesters setting up camp. Cr Doyle said the protesters wouldn't have a chance to build an established campsite because compliance officers would catch them as they tried to set up. "We'll certainly task our compliance officers to make sure that we know when they try to set up anywhere. We'll issue them notice immediately that they can't do it and have the tents taken down," he said. "We don't intend to allow people to set up tents anywhere in the city. We have adopted a zero-tolerance policy."

On Friday, police evicted about 100 protesters from City Square, dragging many away writhing and kicking, and set up cyclone fences around the site.

Yesterday Premier Ted Baillieu backed Victoria Police in its use of force, saying protesters had broken their promise. "They said they would move and they didn't, and I think Victoria Police handled the situation well," Mr Baillieu said.


23 October, 2011

Ditch the national curriculum

Barry Maley

While preparations continue for the implementation of a uniform, nationwide Australian School Curriculum, some states like NSW are wisely delaying the process. At the same time the draft curriculum, particularly in the humanities subjects of history and English, has been severely criticised as devoid of essential content, ideologically skewed, and absurdly politically correct. Just as important is the weak case for uniformity and centralisation in the first place.

We are told that lack of uniformity between the states is a problem for employers and for children who move from one state to another, but there is scant evidence that this is a serious problem justifying the loss of potential for experimentation and competition for excellence in a non-uniform system.

More importantly, the claim that a national curriculum will produce better educational results deserves scrutiny. It is probably true that the less than satisfactory condition of state schooling owes much to its extreme bureaucratisation and capture by interest groups, especially the teacher unions. But why should we not expect the same, on a national scale, from a large federal bureaucracy and the even more sharply focussed and more extensive power of the same interest groups? If established, how much more difficult it would be to reform a national system if it failed and how much greater the damage if it did?

And what is the evidence for the claim that centralised national systems produce better outcomes?

The International Student Assessment program and the International Mathematics and Science Study assess student performance from countries that have, and countries that do not have, national curricula and standards. The results and statistics are extensive and detailed. The summary outcome is, on one hand, that Australian Students have been outperformed by students from countries with national standards. On the other hand, Australian students have outperformed students from some other countries that also have national standards.

Moreover, many of the lowest performing students come from countries with national standards. If this sort of analysis is confined to OECD countries, a similar pattern holds. The great majority of countries assessed had national standards, but their results did not show that their students regularly outperformed Australian students, and many performed worse. Canadian students, from a country without national standards, do well on international assessments.

To put it briefly, these international assessments show no significant relationship between national standards and curricula and better student outcomes. This, along with the dangers of a loss of variety and innovation with the disappearance of a working states system and the manifest deficiencies of the draft curriculum, justifies abandoning the project before more waste is incurred.


Playing by the rules makes prisoners of children

LIKE many parents, I have been wondering where the space rockets went. In the past decade, space rockets, merry-go-rounds and monkey bars have been quietly disappearing from our playgrounds. Australian Playground Safety Standards have been changing the design of children's play spaces to remove danger, risk and quite a bit of fun.

While the Australian standard for playground equipment is not mandatory, it has become de facto compulsory because compliance can be referred to in court action against childcare centres, schools, restaurants and local councils.

The standards reflect the efforts of lobby groups such as Kidsafe, which have successfully linked injury rates to campaigns to restrict children's play. Kidsafe claims, "Each year about 350 Australian children (aged 0-14 years) are killed and 60,000 are hospitalised because of unintentional injuries." The group peppers its website with warnings such as, "the average backyard is full of dangers".

In reality, serious injuries from play are pretty rare. A 2009 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found the most common causes of child deaths were traffic accidents, drowning and assault. The most common causes of injuries were falls, road accidents, poisoning, burns and scalds, and assault. And while the number of falls is high the severity is usually not. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 93 per cent of falls were of 1m or less, such as falling off chairs or out of bed.

While play is rarely bad for you, missing out on play can have lifelong health and social consequences. Which is why safety regulations are now being questioned by a range of academics, parents and play activists who are worried kids are being denied opportunities to exercise judgment, weigh risk and take responsibility: in short to grow into adults.

Many parents are looking to reverse this trend and have flocked to advocates of free play, making bestsellers of Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids. Tinkering School founder Gever Tulley's TED talk Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do has become a social media hit.

This month the Victorian government acknowledged the shift with VicHealth's Physical Activity Unit, Sport & Recreation Victoria and Playgroup Victoria jointly presenting Tim Gill, author of the British bestseller No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society at an event called Taking Play Seriously.

Gill has been visiting Australia for several years since attending the Get Outside and Play conference in Perth in 2007. As someone who travels the world championing freedom in childhood he can see how things are changing. He told The Australian that: "Very few playgrounds in Australia look as grim as playgrounds had become in the UK around the turn of the century . . . children had to abuse the equipment to enjoy it."

Britain got a wake-up call in 2007 when a UNICEF survey rated it among the worst places in the world to grow up. At that time Play England, part of the British National Children's Bureau, found that about half of all children were being prevented from climbing trees and 17 per cent were not allowed to play running or chasing games. The government's response to the UNICEF report was a huge investment in Play England to build 3500 new and better playgrounds.

In Australia things got gradually less fun in our playgrounds but not so badly or quickly as to create a backlash, but eventually the missing space rockets were just too hard to ignore. Gill sees in Australia, "growing pockets of people spreading the word" about the need to restore challenge and fun to childhood.

There are pockets such as the Bush Babies playgroups, which are popping up across the country, and the Bush Kindergarten at Westgarth in Melbourne, which is modelled on the growing movement of Forest Kindergartens in Britain. London now has more than 150 pre-schools that specialise in getting children out into the woods to climb trees, hike and play in nature.

There is a growing desire among parents to revive exciting, fun and adventurous Australian childhoods.

The message appears to be finally making its way to the top thanks to people such as Robyn Monro Miller, chair of the National Out of School Hours Association, who has been putting play on the political agenda. Last year, the Minister for Childcare Kate Ellis introduced a learning framework for outside school hours care programs to ensure children spend more time in active play.

The most significant barrier to the revival of childhood freedom is the persistent fear of strangers. A VicHealth study, Nothing But Fear Itself, found Australian parents are restricting their children's independence and freedom despite the world not becoming more dangerous.

Following the Daniel Morcombe abduction tragedy the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Program will now be a mandatory part of the Queensland curriculum and Premier Anna Bligh says she will be lobbying for the implementation of the package nationwide. While the final structure of the program is not yet settled, the stranger danger message is clear.

Gill says you cannot ask a family to put a tragedy into perspective or move on; however, we should remember, "the risk from dangerous adults is lower than it's ever been". Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron reinforced this last year, calling for, "a stop to the senseless rules that get in the way of volunteering (and) stop adults from helping out with other people's children".

In the question and answer session after Gill's talk in Melbourne, a mother of three told the audience how she had heard him speak the week before, after which her 10-year-old son asked her if he could go to the local skate park on his own. Thanks to Gill's talk, she said yes. That evening, she saw her son's status update on Facebook: "this was the best day of my life".

Gill admitted later on his blog: "I do not mind saying that I welled up a little as she told that story. Nor that I am welling up now as I type it."

The culture of fear that has defined approaches to the regulation of children's wellbeing appears to be under challenge if not yet reversing. The goal of those advocating for change is to give kids the gift of freedom.

"My dream is that these gifts of freedom are not rare gems to be treasured and celebrated," Gill says, "but part of the everyday currency of family life."


New Farm State School bans tiggy (tag) in playground

A QUEENSLAND primary school has banned popular chasing games Tiggy and Red Rover from the playground. New Farm State School, in Brisbane's inner north, outlawed the popular lunchtime activities because of injury fears. Students have instead been told to play safer games like chess and snakes and ladders.

NFSS principal Virginia O'Neill has outlined the "temporary" ban to parents and students, saying it is necessary to protect students from "Prep to Year 7".

The move has been roundly criticised as "safety madness" and another case of cotton wool kids.

Ms O'Neill says the chasing games have left first aid staff working overtime with frequent accidents and disputes. Instead, pupils could play boardgames or could take part in organised sports such as soccer and netball.

Townsville's Belgian Gardens State School sparked outrage in 2008 after pupils were banned from doing unsupervised cartwheels. It later emerged that some parents had lodged lawsuits seeking compensation for injuries they claimed their children had suffered at school.

Psychologist Karen Brooks said games were crucial to a child's development and physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. "Games like Tiggy and Red Rover teach kids about co-operation, teamwork and risk taking," Dr Brooks said. "It's a way of accomplishing and achieving in their own peer group in a generally safe way where adults aren't involved. To ban it is just so ridiculous."

She added: "We're talking about an obesity crisis and here we are preventing them doing what kids naturally do."

Schools were likely being forced into extreme measures because of pressure from parents to prevent accidents, Dr Brooks said. "Schools are just protecting themselves. This reaction is indicative of society as a whole and it's gone crazy."

Weight loss expert and former teacher Sally Symonds said the dangers of stopping children from playing outweighed the dangers of allowing them to play. "Given the rates of obesity, it's certainly not a great way to go," said Ms Symonds, author of 50 Steps to Lose 50kg ... and Keep It Off.

"For kids, play is a really vital way of encouraging people to see activity as part of normal life."


Bureaucracies can do no wrong

Look who's polluting: Sydney Water's shame. Imagine the outcry if this had been a private company!

UNTREATED sewage and heavy metals from the nation's biggest water utility are contaminating some of Sydney's most picturesque waterways and posing potentially widespread health risks, but the extent of the problem has been kept quiet.

The $32 billion Sydney Water Corporation has breached its pollution licences more than 1000 times in the past five years. And yet the NSW government's Office of Environment and Heritage has not prosecuted one of the breaches.

In many cases, a Sun-Herald investigation has found, untreated effluent overflowed into waterways such as the Georges River, Berowra, Cattai and Narrabeen Creek, which leads to Newport beach.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Sydney Water has also been unmasked as the state's biggest polluter of mercury, but the OEH has placed no restriction on how much it can discharge.

The federal government's National Pollutant Inventory shows Sydney Water's North Head sewage plant dumped 24 kilograms of mercury off Manly in 2009-10, through its deep ocean outfall pipe. That dwarfs the next biggest mercury polluter, the Springvale Colliery's 0.66 kilograms.

Medical studies published in 2008 revealed the cases of three Sydney children found to have toxic levels of mercury after eating fish, which had long been exposed to mercury.

"Every other industrial facility has managed to reduce its mercury pollution to almost nil," said the chief executive officer of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Pepe Clarke, when told of the breaches. "This is an extraordinary situation and they need to explain it to the public."

The Sun-Herald's inquiries reveal hundreds of cases a year involving Sydney Water, many involving a failure to improve environmental performance, odour problems, mechanical failures, high levels of heavy metals and untreated effluent overflowing into waterways, much of it blamed on human error, broken pipes and crumbling infrastructure.

In the mid-1990s, the then Sydney Water chief executive, Paul Broad, said the authority had tackled pollution of beaches and some rivers, but he conceded "the big sleeper has been the sewer overflow issue".

The State of the Beaches report for 2010-11 does show big improvements in pollution levels at ocean beaches. It is a different story for estuarine and freshwater river swimming sites. The worst-rated swimming spots include Malabar beach, the Narrabeen Lagoon and Kyeemagh Baths.

Examination of the OEH's own public records for the past five years shows high levels of zinc and aluminium have been reported in the discharge from some Sydney Water sewage plants. They also show reports of untreated sewage regularly overflowing into unnamed waterways and into one school - again, not identified - in the suburbs around the Malabar treatment plant.

Sydney Water has 24,000 kilometres of pipes, many of which are almost 100 years old, servicing 23 sewage treatment systems across Sydney.

An employee of 20 years and now an environmental scientist at the University of Western Sydney, Ian Wright, said it was well known 5 to 10 per cent of sewage never made it to a treatment plant. "There is a network of creeks around Sydney that are being contaminated," Dr Wright said. "We know there is continual leakage from old, cracked and broken pipes - we can see that from the nutrient spike in the waters. The majority of urban creeks around Sydney would suffer from time to time from sewage … There is also a greater risk than average for any disease that people in that area might be carrying to be passed on. Hepatitis is a classic example."

Sydney Water is not required to publish information on its website about the amounts of heavy metals it discharges. Its managing director, Kevin Young, said it was undertaking a program known as SewerFix to upgrade pipes and infrastructure. By next June it would have spent $560 million over four years fixing leaks and blockages in pipes. In the past five years it had rehabilitated 500 kilometres of its 24,000-kilometre wastewater network.

At a rate of 100 kilometres a year, it would take hundreds of years to upgrade the whole network.

An environmental expert from the University of Wollongong, Sharon Beder, has long warned that Sydney's rivers and beaches are being regularly polluted. Professor Beder, the author of Toxic Fish and Sewer Surfing, said: "Things are getting worse because the licence conditions were set at levels that were achievable at the time [about 20 years ago]."

The government had since loosened licence conditions under which industry pays for the right to pollute. Even the less rigorous conditions were not being met, Professor Beder said. "Basically the system is not keeping up … successive governments have not been willing to spend money on infrastructure."

The OEH had shown itself to be incapable of enforcing environmental laws, she said. The OEH has also not prosecuted the Lithgow sewage treatment plant, operated by the local council, which has shown faecal contamination in its discharged waters every year for five years.

This water goes into the Sydney drinking water catchment area. The OEH has defended Sydney Water's record, saying the utility had made many improvements and that they are working together on pollution reduction programs at North Head, Malabar, Bondi and Cronulla.

The OEH said it had asked for 62 pollution-reduction programs for Sydney Water, issued eight infringement notices and given three warning letters in the past decade. None has progressed to a prosecution. The Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, said she had been advised that Sydney Water had made many improvements. "However, OEH have identified that there is more to do on sewer overflows, particularly during wet weather," she said.

James Clark-Kennedy, the campaign manager for the Clean Oceans Foundation, said the OEH could not properly set the standards or pretend to police them while it was a servant of the same government. "The public perception is that the watchdog is there to protect [the public] … not other government departments," he said. "The teeth need to be put back into the watchdog. We need to create the political will to spend money on improving the system. But while the government is relying on the dividends, it is a bit like being addicted to the pokie tax."

Sydney Water recorded an after-tax profit of $305 million to June. It will pay a dividend of $230 million to the government this year, rising over the next four years. The pricing regulator is reviewing its proposed price rise, which could cost households an extra 15 per cent over four years.


22 October, 2011

A thirst for knowledge of ancient history and religion in NSW schools

Rev. Peter Kurti

Rising levels of school retention rates have contributed to record enrolments for this year’s HSC exams, with nearly 23,000 students taking part.

But some interesting and surprising trends have emerged from these figures. While the sciences have held steady according to the NSW Board of Studies, some subjects are fading in their appeal.

Interest in geography has declined steadily since 1998; the same trend can be seen in modern history, economics and information technology, according to figures from the Board of Studies.

It seems that students are now reaching further back into the story of early human civilisation, with ancient history studies increasing in popularity. Only 6,740 students opted for the topic in 1995 – in 2010, that figure doubled to 12,269.

Religion has also surged in popularity with a mere 4,834 students sitting the exam in 1995. Fast forward to 2010 and that figure had risen to 14,182.

Not that The Sydney Morning Herald considered it necessary to mention this, let alone its significance, in a recent article about the changing mindset of students.

According to the NSW Board of Studies, ‘religion has been and is an integral part of human experience and a component of every culture,’ and the increased enrolments suggest students are increasingly aware of this fact.

Through the study of religion, students are gaining an appreciation of society and how it has influenced human behaviour in different cultures. And they seem to be thinking this through for themselves. Perhaps they have also grown weary of sneering secularism and the postmodern scepticism about religion in popular culture.


Backlash brews for plans for a massive expansion of wind farms in Queensland

THE war between farmers and energy companies has moved into a new phase with the emergence of plans for a massive expansion of wind farms in Queensland.

Some farmers in the South Burnett have already walked away from lucrative payouts from wind farm companies of $140,000 a year because of feared impacts on their health and their business.

While the struggle against coal seam gas, coal mines and underground coal gasification rages in other parts of the state, companies like AGL and Ratch (formerly Transfield) are pushing investment of about $3 billion in wind farm technology and getting support from farmers.

The Energy Users Association this week released a report showing Australia will need to spend about $30 billion on wind farms by 2020 to meet with the Government's renewable energy targets.

But there is also a backlash based on apparent impacts on the health of those living near similar facilities in South Australia and Victoria, as well as north Queensland.

Colin Walkden lives about 400m from the Windy Hill wind turbine, near Ravenshoe, in north Queensland, and is on medication for depression because of sleep loss allegedly caused by the constant noise from turbines.

"It's like no other noise you have ever heard," he said describing it as a strong whooshing sound that persists with a westerly wind. "That's about 90 per cent of the year."

South Australian farmer Andy Thomas lives near six turbines at Mt Bryan. In an affidavit in a case against the wind farm, Mr Thomas said the turbine noise was like a jet passing overhead.

"From my home, I can hear five or more turbines at the same time, so it is like having five or more jets overhead at once. At its worst it is like living next to a ball mill of the type used at mines to crush ore," he said.

AGL is now planning a $1 billion, 115 tower wind farm at Coopers Gap, in the South Burnett, while a second project at Kumbia at the base of the Bunya Mountains for about 50 towers has been stalled by farmer opposition. There is also a $1.5 billion plan for 300 turbines outside Mt Isa and other smaller proposals across the state.

Coopers Gap horse breeder Brian Lyons has rejected advances from AGL, despite a potentially big payout of $12,000 a year for each of the 20 turbines planned on his property.

"It's quite a good business for some of (the farmers), but I'm only going to live once," he said.

Despite his rejecting the approach, his neighbours are backing the scheme and it is possible Mr Lyons will still have turbines on his boundary only a short distance from his house.

He said there were at least four wind farm proposals in southern Queensland, with his own community faced with a large new industry that initially they knew very little about.

While the industry maintains the wind farms generate only a small amount of noise, several residents complain it is as loud as a jet engine and that the noise is directional, meaning some residents may not hear it while others will.

"I don't think a company with noise problems at its last operating wind farm should be treated any different to any other industry in Queensland," Mr Lyons said.

Local councillor Cheryl Dalton said low-frequency vibration was also an issue. "I don't understand why consideration hasn't been given to buying all the affected properties," she said.

As yet, there is no planning application before the South Burnett Council and there is confusion over whether it or the State Government will be the one who assesses the development.

Kumbia cattle farmer Paul Newman rallied local residents to a community meeting which overwhelmingly rejected a plan by Next Wind for a 53-turbine farm nearby. His compensation offer was worth about $140,000 a year, but he considered the project just as intrusive to his neighbours and the local community as that of a mine or an industrial development.

"Money is not the solution to everything," he said. He said that to live in a rural community you had to consider your neighbours and how a future project might hurt them.


Global recession the last nail in carbon tax coffin?

Christopher Pearson tries out his crystal ball

THERE now seems to be an even chance that there will be a global recession by the middle of next year.

More than any other consideration, the expected contraction in the national economy is likely to determine the timetable of Julia Gillard's departure from the prime ministership and the annointing of her successor.

I'll be surprised if Gillard survives the next six weeks, because her replacement will need all the time he can get to try to refresh the government before going to an election around Easter. Even if Stephen Smith's poll ratings were not worse than Gillard's, the timing dictates that Rudd -- the once and future king -- is the only realistic option.

It is a given across the political class that, even if the government goes to the polls with its aspirations to a surplus more or less intact, it won't be re-elected in a recession. Federal Labor's hope will be not to win but to minimise the losses by going early.

Rudd will become unstoppable, in spite of the Right's faction leaders who fear retribution, because there are so many members on slender margins who otherwise expect to lose their seats.

At the moment, as many as 40 seats are considered at risk. Gillard has been making a lot of unforced errors and everyone in caucus knows it. It will be a case of "to the life boats, every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost".

Rudd has another advantage because the troubled economic times will suit him. Deservedly or otherwise, he's been given most of the credit for negotiating Australia's path through the global financial crisis Mark I, rather than Wayne Swan, who is a hopeless salesman. Rudd's return would guarantee Swan's departure from the Treasury, because the prospects of them being able to work together are negligible. Swan has been looking very haggard of late, as though he's just begun to understand the predicament he's in and would be glad to be relieved of his responsibilities.

Who would Rudd want as his Treasurer? Chris Bowen has a claim, having been his numbers man and having economic portfolio experience, although his star is scarcely in the ascendant after the Malaysian fiasco. On the principle of keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer, it might be Bill Shorten, the Assistant Treasurer, who helped precipitate the last palace coup. Another contender, simply on the basis of competence, is Greg Combet, currently Climate Change Minister.

There are some commentators who think it would be mad for Rudd Redux to defer the carbon tax, let alone allow the public to vote on the issue before introducing it and provide the Coalition with the chance to claim they have a mandate to junk the tax. But to read the politics of the issue in this way seems to me wrong-headed. Half the reason for Gillard's dire predicament is betraying a categorical assurance and then imagining she could get away with bare-faced lying about the promise.

A global recession would be the ideal vehicle for deferring the tax, because it is going to have a contractionary effect on the economy and deprive major export industries of their competitive advantage. Combet, who is more economically literate than most ministers, would be the ideal person to sell a change of policy while retaining his bona fides as a carbon tax advocate.

On the theme of outposting, there have been reports that Gillard has vowed to vacate her seat if she loses office.

If this were intended to discourage the back bench from drifting to Rudd, it's an empty threat. Even if the worst came to the worst, parliament could rise early and the government could continue in office. Gillard's seat of Lalor is safe enough so that she could be replaced at a by-election before parliament resumes in February.

However, the prospect of her removal raises the interesting question of what her other options are. Rudd wouldn't want her in his cabinet at any price, but could she bear the humiliation of demotion to the outer ministry -- in a scaled-down Social Inclusion ministry, Veterans' Affairs or some such -- or would she prefer to go to the backbench?

It is a measure of how much trouble Gillard is in right now that her main rhetorical thrust in the past week has been to try and persuade people that Tony Abbott neither could nor would want to repeal the carbon tax if it comes into force before the next election.

It is a curious line of attack, in that it reminds everyone who opposes the tax of the way it's been foisted on them and feeds into popular resentment of the democratic deficit involved.

It doesn't matter what she or Swan say now about Labor's determination to oppose the repeal of the tax to the bitter end. They aren't likely to be around then, and even if they were to be in opposition after the next election, would anybody in a smaller caucus be listening to them on the basis of their performance in leadership roles in the past four years?

Even if the caucus consisted mostly of senators in the first and second spot on each state ticket and people in safe seats with a sentimental attachment to the carbon tax, would they be silly enough to oppose repealing it and risk a second defeat at a double dissolution?

They might be, I suppose. But it would be a very expensive folly. No doubt Abbott will turn the next election into a referendum on the tax. A major party that chose to disregard the result could expect a second, more painful lesson to underscore the point that politicians do so at their peril. It's also worth noting that a double dissolution election needn't take long to procure. All it takes is legislation being defeated twice.

There is no need to wait for the newly elected senators to take their places in July of the following year. The whole process could be completed in less that a year. No one who knows Abbott well doubts his determination to deliver on his promise to defeat the carbon tax.


Health boss dodges facts on surgery wait lists

THE WA Health Department has hit back at revelations that increasing numbers of public patients are waiting too long for surgery - including those with cancer and heart problems.

As revealed on the PerthNow iPad last night, the number of people waiting for Category One elective surgery longer than clinically prescribed times, rose a whopping 52 per cent - 134 as at June 30, 2011, compared with 88 at the same time last year.

The figures were in the Metropolitan Health Service Annual Report, tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

Category One includes patients needing operations to remove their prostate, uterus and gall bladder, those who need cystoscopies, which check for cancer, and also coronary artery bypass graft patients.

People waiting too long for Category Three elective surgery, such as operations to replace knees and hips, also increased in number, with 238 as at June 30, 2011, compared with 160 at the same time the previous year - a rise of 49 per cent.

But WA Health Department director-general Kim Snowball quoted a monthly elective surgery wait list report when responding to the annual report figures, and used percentages to respond to the raw figures in the PerthNow iPad report.

"The percentage of metropolitan patients waiting for elective surgery longer than the clinically desirable time was lower in June 2011 (11 per cent) compared to June 2010 (12.1 per cent)," he said.

He also used state-wide figures rather than metropolitan ones to discuss the metropolitan elective surgery figures when saying: "There was an increase state-wide in the number of cases admitted from the wait list, for example 7,016 admissions in June 2011, compared to 6,933 in June 2010.

"There has been an increase state-wide in the number of surgeries performed in 2009/10 -- 76,195 cases, to 2010/11 - 80,270 cases, which is an overall increase of 5.3 per cent," he said.

The annual report also said that emergency department patients waited too long for treatment, with the proportion of triage Category Three patients seen within the prescribed time of 30 minutes, falling from 48.4 per cent of the total in 2009-10 to 43.2 per cent in 2010-11.

The percentage of Triage Category Four patients seen on time (60 minutes) fell from 58.4 per cent in 2009-10, to 57.5 per cent in 2010-11.

The proportion of Triage Category Five patients treated within the prescribed time of two hours decreased from 88.8 per cent in 2009-10 to 85.6 per cent in 2010-11.

Mr Snowball said: "In the face of an 11.6 per cent increase in Emergency Department presentations in the metropolitan area, we are continuing to see 98.8 per cent of the most urgent (category one) patients immediately".

"It is not unexpected that we have seen a slight reduction in our performance for the less urgent category three and four patients, and we are looking at what we can do to improve this," he said.

"Overall, our patients are spending far less time waiting in emergency departments thanks to the ongoing success of the Four Hour Rule program."

The annual report also showed that the survival rate of stroke patients aged 60-69 in public hospitals also decreased significantly in 2010, with 89.7 per cent surviving, compared with 92.5 per cent in 2009.

Opposition health spokesman Roger Cook said the Barnett Government had been the recipient of "many millions of dollars from the Commonwealth Government" to increase the number of patients operated on for elective surgery.

"What these numbers indicate is that the WA Government has comprehensively failed in that objective and that many people, particularly in the Category One most urgent elective surgery cases, are waiting longer than is clinically recommended," Mr Cook said.

"Category One would be things like cancer operations, it would be some acute orthopaedic operations. That is an acutely unwell patient that needs to be operated on as soon as possible or urgently, and the fact that we've seen a blow out in those patients' waiting time is of great concern."

A spokesman for peak doctor's group, the Australian Medical Association WA, said the AMA was very concerned about "any indication that waiting lists are blowing out or that people are waiting too long for operations".

"As one of the wealthiest states in Australia, we must do all we can to make sure that patients receive the appropriate surgery as soon as possible," the spokesman said.

"Time spent waiting is very often time spent in pain and this is inappropriate.

"We will be studying the annual report and seeking more detailed information as quickly as possible from the Health Minister."


21 October, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is celebrating the death of Gaddafi by wishing the same fate on Mugabe

Ya gotta laugh: Warmists now say warming will bring more floods to Australia

When we were in drought the Warmists warned of more drought. Maybe we will have wet droughts!

Australia can expect more frequent devastating floods like those in Queensland this year, and the world is facing decades of unprecedented hardship as a result of climate change, according to the chief scientific adviser to the British government.

"We are facing what I believe will be unprecedented difficult times over the next 20 to 40 years," Professor Sir John Beddington warned. He was speaking as chairman of a panel of scientists launching a major international report about the effects of climate change on people.

The report predicts that migration will increase markedly; that millions will move into, rather than away from, environmentally vulnerable areas; and millions more will be affected but not be able to move.

According to the head of the school of geography and the environment at Oxford University, Professor David Thomas, the cities most affected would include Singapore, Shanghai, Calcutta, Dhaka in Bangladesh, and the towns and villages of the Vietnamese delta.

Australia would experience rising sea levels too but "it will respond differently because of its different economy", he said.

The report says that by 2060, up to 179 million people will be trapped in low-lying coastal floodplains subject to extreme weather events such as floods, storm surges, landslides and rising sea levels, unable to migrate because they are too poor or ill-equipped, or because they are restricted by political or geographic boundaries.

Two-thirds of the world's cities with populations of more than 5 million are at least partially located in coastal zones, including rapidly growing urban centres in Asian and African "mega-deltas", the report said.

Other large cities would suffer water shortages, with 150 million people already living in cities where water is limited.

"Cities need to be more strategic about their location," said Neil Adger, a professor of environmental economics and program leader at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Migration and Global Environmental Change is the result of a two-year peer-reviewed project by 350 specialists in 30 countries. It was released yesterday by Foresight, part of the British Government Office for Science, which sits within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Speaking after the launch, Sir John told the Herald that Australia should not expect the La Nina phenomenon that triggered the Queensland floods to be a once-in-a-generation event. The next one could not be predicted but it would return much more frequently than in the past.


Tax flaw: Australian power bills may rise 20% under Green tax

ELECTRICITY generators have written to all senators warning that unless the carbon tax laws are amended consumers could face power price rises of 20 per cent in the first year rather than the 10 per cent increase on which the government has calculated its household compensation.

The Energy Supply Association is angry the government plans to force immediate payment for forward-dated emission permits, rather than the deferred payment allowed under the former Rudd government's emissions trading scheme.

The generators' association delivered its warning as the Treasury secretary, Martin Parkinson, said he and his colleagues might have to "make a choice with their feet" should the Coalition win office and direct them to dismantle the carbon trading scheme.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Also, the Coalition warned yesterday that the government's $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will help fund green investment, would "be a honeypot to every white shoe salesman imaginable".

The opposition finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, said the fund would be spent on "all sorts of wild and wacky proposals that the banks would not touch in a fit".

Mr Robb said he was referring to "those energy companies who have been critical but who have strong interests in renewables and could potentially be major beneficiaries of these subsidies." The opposition would scrap the fund.

The Energy Supply Association says the change from deferred payment means some cash-strapped generators will not be able to afford to nail down their carbon price liability by entering into forward contracts with retailers and big industrial companies and instead power prices will rise as they try to manage their financial risk.

"Our members need to begin purchasing forward permits … if they can't afford to they won't be able to lock in a future price for carbon … and that means prices will rise," said the association's interim chief executive, Clare Savage.

Modelling by the economic consultancy ACIL Tasman found that even a 5 per cent reduction in forward electricity contracts could lead to an additional 10 per cent price rise for households and 15 per cent for big electricity users.

"And that's in a single year," Ms Savage said. "You could have two years in a row of that, which would dwarf the carbon price impact.

"It is the Senate's job to fix obvious errors and in our view there is an obvious error in these bills. We have drafted an amendment and … just 20 words and they could fix this problem."

Dr Parkinson secretary has worked on three versions of the scheme for three prime ministers, heading the secretariat that drafted John Howard's emissions trading scheme, running Kevin Rudd's Climate Change Department and helping draw up the Gillard government's scheme as Treasury head.

Asked in a Senate hearing yesterday whether he would assist a government elected on a policy of rescinding the carbon tax he had helped build, the Treasury secretary said as a public servant he would serve the Australian people through the government of the day.

"Everybody has a choice in front of them," he said. "If they are not prepared to implement the policies the government chooses to pursue, and that government has been democratically elected, then they essentially have to make a choice with their feet."

On the issue of payment for permits, Ms Savage said the government had "its head in the sand" and the Coalition was not advocating the industry's proposed changes either.

The government is proposing to auction 15 million forward-dated pollution permits in 2012-13, and the electricity generators say they would like to buy 10 times more than that but do not have the working capital to pay for the impost immediately.

The Senate will vote on the carbon tax laws next month.

The government is offering loans to generators struggling to find the cash to buy future permits but the generators have criticised the measure because the loans are above commercial rates.

Businesses have also been warning about price rises due to the financial risks caused by the Coalition's promise to repeal the carbon tax. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said yesterday those claims were coming from companies who could profit from carbon pricing.

Dr Parkinson said the choice about staying in his job might not be his to make. "Whether I was secretary of the Treasury would be a matter for the prime minister of the day," he said.


Vague laws let courts dictate public morality

SOME recent cases, including the prosecution of News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt, highlight the dangers that flow from the assertion of group rights.

Relying on legislation such as the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act and the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, groups of individuals have claimed offence at public comments on the basis that the allegedly offensive comments promote intolerance.

In fact, the idea of toleration, famously espoused by John Locke in his 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration, is being turned on its head. In it, Locke sought to distinguish the business of civil government from that of religion.

Written when controversy surrounded the idea that Catholics should be able to practise their religion in Protestant England, or Jews or Muslims enjoy religious freedom in a Christian nation, Locke argued that the state and the church had separate functions. He sought to find a way that people of different religious beliefs could live together.

As summarised by Jonathan Sacks, toleration "aims not so much at truth but at peace. It is a political necessity, not a religious imperative, and it arises when people have lived through the alternative: the war of all against all." Hence the political separation of faith and power; of church and state: "No person shall be compelled to support any religious worship, but all persons shall be free to profess their religious opinions."

Today the issue is not only religion. It extends to cultural identity and multiculturalism.

If the new philosopher-judges, such as the court in the Bolt case, subscribe to one view of these matters, they are little different from the theologian-judges before the Lockean settlement.

This is occurring when the political notion that the law should not intrude into areas of private behaviour has been transformed into the moral assertion that a person now has the right to do anything not precluded by law.

The political judgment about the boundaries of the law is now translated into a moral judgment about rights.

What one was permitted to do now becomes what one has the right to do. And having asserted a right, many insist it should be protected by the law.

Hence Locke's political toleration has been combined with the new moral relativism.

As Sacks cautions, "When political liberalism is combined with moral relativism it reconnects morality and politics, the very thing liberalism was supposed to avoid."

A moral judgment that liberalism allowed a person to express in the realm of faith and religion, or today culture and identity -- for example about religious belief, including the alleged beliefs, customs or practices of other religions -- is now swept into the political realm.

In morally relative politics, a right to do something must be protected as a new human right. Not only is the activity now a right, but the people involved are right (or at least as right as anyone else). To say otherwise is intolerant. Such intolerance is discriminatory and should be punished. How the wheel has turned in three centuries.

One of the great achievements of the political liberalism of the 17th and 18th centuries was the idea that the individual is the foundation of the polity. The law treated individuals as its basis. This notion was foundational to liberal democracy.

Hence in the spirit of this development, the 1776 US Declaration of Independence boldly asserted that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed".

Under this formulation, it is the individual who possesses political rights and whose consent legitimates government. It was a rejection of the idea that rights subsisted in classes of people, whether determined by birth, hierarchy or membership of a particular group. It is central to the liberal democratic experiment.

Increasingly, however, rights are now being asserted on behalf of groups. A claim is made for example, that the expression of a moral judgment about the beliefs, statements or actions of another group should be unlawful because it is offensive to members of the group or that it is likely to insult that group.

Whereas the laws of defamation protect the individual against libel and slander, it is now claimed that moral judgments or observations about a group should be unlawful and punishable. This is a significant shift.

The main fault lies with the parliaments that have created vague laws from abstract principles about which judges can be tempted to conclusively determine public morality on issues such as speech and thought in a multicultural society.

Laws that enable groups, rather than individuals, to assert rights should be repealed before we head any further down this dangerous path.


Julia Gillard's great leap backwards to the trashy 1970s

by: Greg Sheridan

PERHAPS no decade saw more wretched national government in Australia than the 1970s. We started with Billy McMahon, manifestly not up to the job, who presided over the last, worst years of Coalition rule. Then came the economic catastrophe of the Whitlam government. It is the fashion these days to be nice to Gough, and it is a good fashion. But his government was an economic disaster. Unemployment skyrocketed, industry was crippled, inflation went out of control.

The size of government grew enormously. Then we ended the decade with Malcolm Fraser's government: patrician, arrogant and right-wing in tone, but in substance feeble, ineffective, incapable of dealing with global economic change.

During this period Australia acquired a toxic reputation. Although the comment came later, it was this period that led to Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew to say that Australia risked becoming the "poor white trash of Asia". At that time and afterwards, management books were written that contrasted Japan's seamless social co-operation with the devastating combination of excessive government regulation, union militancy and the inefficiency of Australian business.

Unions were at the heart of the Australian disease of the 70s. They were thuggish, powerful, intrusive, authoritarian, often deeply ideological and sometimes corrupt. They were protected by, and ran, the Australian Labor Party, which had as close a union affiliation as any governing party in the world.

It took a long time for Australia to recover from the bad name we acquired in the 70s. I caused a diplomatic incident once after I had interviewed a senior Japanese economics minister. The interview was dull. Like most Japanese ministers he would do no more than recite extracts from recent speeches in the interview. But that night at a dinner, which I thought was on the record but he thought was off the record, he answered some questions honestly. And he said words to the effect that Australia was notoriously the hardest country in the world to do business in. It was almost impossible to manage the unions sensibly, a point Lee and many other foreign leaders often made.

The union model in the 70s was to help secure government protection for an industry and then claim outrageous pay and conditions that made the industry completely uncompetitive and put an ever greater strain on government protection. Eventually, of course, it broke down.

Now, under the leadership of Julia Gillard, Australia is rushing back to the toxic norms of the 70s, back beyond all the reforms of the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments.

Consider the news items of recent weeks. The Qantas brand, one of Australia's few national champions recognised internationally in any industry, is being systematically trashed by savage, irresponsible union action in support of wage and conditions claims far more excessive than those in comparable airlines. It takes decades to build up a good reputation but it can be destroyed fairly quickly. The unions apparently think Qantas will always be profitable because of its de facto protection on domestic routes and because no government would ever allow it to go out of business.

Consider some other items. The Australian Building and Construction Commission pointed to thuggery and physical abuse committed by union figures in the building industry, And indeed the militancy of building unions is now a big deterrent to infrastructure projects in capital cities.

Toyota, the recipient of endless government largesse as are all the domestic car companies, has faced a series of industrial actions by its unions to get better pay and conditions. The Gillard government has systematically increased union power andwe are paying both an economic and reputational price.

Under Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard, economic reform meant lower taxes, less red tape, increased productivity and a better environment under which to invest. But in the days of Whitlam, and to an extent of McMahon and Fraser, reform had a completely different meaning. It invariably meant increased government regulation, increased government activism and higher taxes.

Under the Gillard government, reform has the Whitlam, McMahon, Fraser meaning. Thus any new, vast and especially expensive social entitlement is a "reform". The keystone reform of the Gillard government is the carbon tax. This is a massive new tax that will yield government many billions of dollars of extra revenue and is all predicated on the ideological faith that a global carbon trading scheme will come into being, though this scheme has no chance at all of ever amounting to anything with credibility or substance.

In every sense, the carbon tax is a perfect 70s reform. In the McMahon and Whitlam eras, the national debate was entirely around the redistribution of national income. It was not about how to generate that national income.

Hawke, Keating and Howard operated on the basis that the world didn't automatically owe Australia a living, that we had to earn that living. Hawke especially was the first prime minister in decades to drum that lesson into the Australian people. The carbon tax, like all the Gillard reforms, proceeds from the assumption that Australia's basic wealth is assured.

The Gillard government can point to relatively low unemployment and government debt in Australia by international standards. But in this respect the Gillard government is like the pre-Whitlam Coalition governments, simply existing off Australia's resources wealth. At the moment all resource-based economies look good, whether that's Russia, Indonesia or Australia. This has very little to do with brilliant economic management. That, essentially, was the pre-Hawke Australian economic model. Our natural resource endowments made us wealthy; everything else was just a way of spending the wealth.

Now we are squandering what may be a non-permanent resources boom. As in the 70s we are chronically in budget deficit. As in the 70s, our non-mining productivity performance is woeful. As in the 70s, we are acquiring the international reputation of being a quarry, a farmand a few good beaches. It is as meaningless, in terms of good economic policy, for us to talk about our trade figures as it is for Saudi Arabia.

And in foreign policy and defence we have become, as in the 70s, essentially irresponsible. Despite our boom and general government profligacy, defence spending is at a paltry 1.8 per cent of GNP. We have never been more Asia illiterate. In absolute numbers, there were more Australian senior school students studying Indonesian in the 70s than now.

We have, as in the 70s, produced a destructive ideological Left. The Greens play the same role as did the Socialist Left of the Labor Party, in alliance with the communist groups, in the 70s, and indeed often they are direct family descendants or indeed ex-communists who have changed formal party allegiance. These forces represent a broad stream of essentially nihilist philosophical rejection of modern Western society and, as in the 70s, are given massive assistance by taxpayer-funded cultural organisations such as the ABC.

Our basic international image is changing fundamentally because of regressive government leadership. In some ways the Gillard government is intensely reactionary, following slavishly a wholly discredited economic and social model of four decades ago. We are stepping back two generations. It's a very bad way to govern a very lucky country.


20 October, 2011

Verdict against Bolt will not be appealed

Mainly on cost grounds, presumably. There was a good chance the High court would have struck it down. So we are all losers from this now

THE Herald and Weekly Times will not appeal against the Federal Court decision against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and will be forced to publish a prominent corrective notice twice in the next fortnight.

The notice, which outlines the case brought against Bolt by Pat Eatock on behalf of other "fair-skinned Aboriginals" and the court's reasoning why two of Bolt's articles breached the Racial Discrimination Act, is required to be published "adjacent" to Bolt's regular column.

This means the finding against Bolt will take up to two-thirds of the prime real estate in the opinion and editorial pages of the country's highest-selling daily newspaper. The 500-word notice is supplied by the Federal Court.

While Ms Eatock sought an apology from HWT, judge Mordecai Bromberg said he was "not persuaded that I should compel HWT to articulate a sentiment that is not genuinely held". He said the notice would redress the hurt felt by the applicants, restore their self-esteem, inform readers and "help to negate the dissemination of racial prejudice".

HWT reserved the right to appeal against yesterday's court orders, which included costs against the company for the high-profile trial. But in a minor win for HWT (owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian), costs were awarded against Ms Eatock for the postponement of a directions trial last December.

Ms Eatock rejected a confidential offer of settlement from HWT on March 21 .

The costs of the postponement, while not as sizeable as the costs for the ultimate trial, were described by one party as "not insubstantial".

Justice Bromberg had earlier found the articles by Bolt contravened section 18C of the RDA and had no exemptions under the act.

The notice states they were "reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate some Aboriginal persons of mixed descent" and they were "not written or published reasonably and in good faith".

In a statement, HWT argued there were a number of grounds for appeal but it would not appeal.

"Instead, it is our view that section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act overly detracts from free speech and should be revisited by the legislature," the company said.


ABC chairman wants to avoid bias

Maurice Newman is ABC chairman. and his views below are admirable but he has no control over programming so don't expect results

WHEN polarisation and partisanship are in bloom all around, the only responsible course for the public broadcaster is the pluralist path. I understand perfectly well that one person's pluralism is often another's bias and that many media academics insist it is simply impossible to achieve.

I also appreciate only too well the allure of the catchphrases you find in discussions about journalistic practice now, such as transparency is the new objectivity. I get all this.

Yet I'm also chairman of an organisation whose responsibilities are bound by statute. And the ABC Act of 1983 is pretty clear on the subject of impartiality.

Freedom of expression is a precious gift, most valued when it ceases to exist. Yet I observe an unhealthy tendency in politics and in society generally to tolerate its abrogation. A growing chorus of voices is directed to shutting down certain narratives. We are being coerced into yielding to self-appointed authority and into accepting without question dubious propositions that support just one side of the argument. Ad hominem attacks substitute for logical and evidence-based discourse that would otherwise allow viewers and listeners the opportunity to decide for themselves where they stand on the issues.

Last year in Beijing, I attended an international conference. On the topic of freedom of the press, media representatives from across the world were asked whether the prophet Mohammed should be treated differently from any other subject. On a show of hands a clear majority voted him off limits. If the prophet is a no-go area, who or what else should be quarantined?

Like forbidden fruit, however, censorship heightens the appetite for what is kept from view and gives added force to rumour, speculation and untested assumption.

The ABC's Jonathan Holmes wrote this year: "Strange though it may seem, a lot of journalists get into the business for the same reason that a lot of politicians do: they want to change the world." However, if journalists are given unrestricted licence by their employers to propagate a selective truth to change the world to their thinking, it is possible neither the public nor the media will be well served. Unlike elected representatives, it is difficult to hold journalists to account and they, no matter their conviction, have no monopoly on wisdom.

Trust is an essential ingredient in respect and there is growing evidence that the public's trust in the media is declining. What are the consequences when there is a public perception that our media is becoming an increasingly unreliable reference point? Who is the public expected to believe?

Amid all the partisan noise, the ABC's responsibility is enlarged. It must offer not the illusion of comprehensiveness but the genuine article. Not some voices but all of them. The ABC town square must be authentically pluralist. Partisanship may affect editorial choices elsewhere, but the ABC must remain dedicated to objectivity and impartiality.

The impression that powerful vested interests wield power over the media can be as easily gained by what is not reported as by what is. Biologist Richard Palmer from the University of Alberta in Canada shares this view. He says scientists selectively report data and find ways to confirm their preferred hypothesis, disregarding what they don't want to see. "Our beliefs are a sort of blindness," he has said,adding once he realised how it was everywhere in science, he became depressed.

And it's no different in economics and finance, where collective illusions also exist.

World leaders, treasury officials, central bankers, Wall Street oligarchs and the mainstream media seem more comfortable selling hope than they are confronting reality. And each time that they have inevitably been proven spectacularly wrong, a little more public faith and trust in these public figures and institutions has been lost.

Sheltering the public from the truth or spinning the facts may temporarily save the hide of the political and financial insiders but, in so doing, the poor unprepared populace is exposed to the full extent of forces the orthodox narrative never foretold. This does not go unnoticed and leads to feelings of betrayal.

So why is it, then, that the world's media has allowed Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, who speak with all the authority and back-up their positions confer, to get away with so many bad calls and so much wealth destruction? Why should they still be credible? Perhaps postmodernist economics has so captivated our journalists that they have suspended the spirit of inquiry, open-mindedness and scrutiny that an informed democracy so desperately needs.

Under relentless pressure, classical economics has become all but a relic of a bygone era. Yet the work of classical economists most likely holds the solution to today's economic ills. It seems many journalists have become subject to the same blindness that Palmer has found in scientists.

In this world of uncertainty, of knowing who to trust, I believe the ABC is wonderfully placed to pursue pluralism with increased enthusiasm and authority so that we accommodate as many voices as are readily available to us.

As the chairman of a taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, I realise that I may be criticised as someone who is sheltered from the cut and thrust of day to day commercial life. I can assure you that I am no stranger to that, but perhaps not having to answer to shareholders every six months allows me the luxury of reflection and distance that pursuing profits may preclude. While the ABC is fortunate still to rate highly on the trust factor, we are not immune, nor should we be, from public scrutiny. Like everyone else in the media business, we must honour the compact we have with our audiences. Once lost, trust may never be recovered, which is why I care so much about our performance.

Partisanship may well become the dominant model within the media in years to come, yet by our insistence on maintaining a public, pluralist presence, pluralism itself ultimately will prevail.


Australians are asset rich

Our incomes are not among the highest but we own lots of valuable stuff -- mainly real estate. Poorer Americans tend to live in trailers (caravans). Very few Australians do, mainly a few retirees

AUSTRALIANS are the world's wealthiest people on a median basis and second in the world behind Switzerland on an average basis, according to a new report.

The Credit Suisse report also notes the European sovereign debt crisis is not expected to stop a new generation of millionaires emerging in the next five years, with the greatest wealth growth likely to occur in the booming Asia-Pacific.

On a median measure Australian adults are worth nearly $US221,704 ($217,559), nearly four times the amount of each US adult. The proportion of Australian adults worth more than $US100,000 is eight times the global average.

The high wealth rate in Australia is attributed to the strong Australian dollar, property ownership levels and a robust labour market. Australia also has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world, with property making up about 65 per cent of consumers' wealth.

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth report shows worldwide wealth is estimated at $US231 trillion and is forecast to hit $US314 trillion by 2016, despite the current market upheaval. The report says there are 27.9 million millionaires in the world, of which Australia accounts for 4 per cent.

Credit Suisse forecasts that number will reach 45.6 million in the next five years with the greatest growth to come from China. It is estimated that the world's fastest-growing economy now has 1.01 million millionaires and that could rise to 2.4 million as the nation's industrialisation and urbanisation continues.


Barrister Tony Morris says Queensland Health faces greater crisis than Jayant Patel affair

THE man who led the original Bundaberg Hospital inquiry says Queensland Health faces "its greatest crisis" - far more serious for patient outcomes than the Jayant Patel fiasco.

Barrister Tony Morris's assessment comes as the state's health system battles more than 4000 work bans imposed by hospital support workers in their fight for higher pay.

Mr Morris, QC, whose 2005 inquiry was cut short after accusations of bias, writes in today's print edition of The Courier-Mail that Queensland Health should brace for resignations unless something is done urgently to address "gross pay discrepancies".

"Queensland Health is facing its greatest crisis - one far more serious, in terms of health outcomes, than the recent payroll debacle; more serious than the Jayant Patel fiasco," Mr Morris, QC, writes.

Queensland Health Deputy Director-General John Cairns yesterday said the industrial action varied at each site, with non-urgent elective surgery having to be cancelled at some public hospitals.

"Across the state, there are 4303 work bans in place," Mr Cairns said.

Unions representing about 30,000 hospital workers are threatening to ramp up their industrial action with more bans from tomorrow, including a refusal to take blood from patients in non-emergency situations.

But Alex Scott, the secretary of Queensland public sector union Together, last night said members were hopeful 11th-hour negotiations with Queensland Health would resolve the dispute. "We haven't exhausted all options and we're trying to do whatever we can to avoid any action that will impact on patient care," he said.

The Bligh Government has offered the workers a 2.5 per cent-a-year pay rise over the next three years, but unions are angry this does not keep up with inflation.

Mr Cairns said that if employees were prepared to introduce "realistic productivity measures", the savings could be passed on in the form of increases above 7.5 per cent. "Without these productivity measures, union claims for increases above 7.5 per cent over three years will impact on our ability to fund ... patient services," he said.

Acting Premier Andrew Fraser said he was confident the dispute would be resolved soon, with no disruption to patients. "Patient safety is the priority here," he said. "We want to reach an agreement where we can pay our health workers a pay rise that's responsible for the budget and responsible for the economy."


19 October, 2011

Doctor chides fussy women

The men will just get themselves an Asian lady while Miss fusspot crosses her arms and legs. Have a look around at the number of tall Australian men with an Asian lady on their arm. There are going to be a lot of "old maids" in Australia in the future, and they won't be Asian

INSTEAD of freezing their eggs for social reasons, such as waiting for their Prince Charming, women in their 20s and 30s should consider settling for Mr Not-Quite-Right, an IVF specialist says.

Director of Monash IVF, Professor Gab Kovacs, says women shouldn't be conned into thinking egg-freezing offers a guaranteed family in the fridge, The Age reports.

He says the rate of successful births from egg freezing is low and the technology is still improving.

"I think they should be working harder to find a partner or changing their criteria for Mr Right," Professor Kovacs said.

"Maybe there is no Mr Right and you have to settle for Mr Not-Too-Bad. There is no such thing as a perfect person for anybody, and even if they're perfect now, they won't be perfect in five or 10 years time."


Toughen deterrent for boats

Philip Ruddock

Philip Ruddock endorses a return to temporary protection visas and the use of the Nauru processing centre. Source: The Daily Telegraph

THE architect of the Pacific Solution, Philip Ruddock, said the steps taken by the Howard government after the Tampa crisis would not by themselves work a second time round, and additional deterrents would be required to stop the boats.

As figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed a 19 per cent drop in asylum seeker arrivals in the first six months of this year, the long-serving Liberal MP indicated that boatpeople arriving under a future Coalition government could expect much tougher treatment.

The former immigration minister endorsed the existing Coalition policy proposals, such as a return to temporary protection visas and the reopening of the Nauru processing centre, saying they were effective.

But, he said, more forceful measures, particularly in returning failed asylum-seekers to their home countries, may be required.

"It's going to require a lot more effort than any of the measures that are being spoken of at the moment," Mr Ruddock said. "You're going to have to use all of the measures that we used, then you'd be looking around to see what more you could do."

Mr Ruddock's comments align with views expressed by immigration officials that too much information was now public about how the Pacific Solution worked -- including that most refugees on Nauru ended up in Australia and that all bearers of TPVs ultimately ended up with permanent visas -- for the same measures to be as effective a second time round.

They also reflect a view in the opposition that any future Coalition government would probably face a hostile parliament opposed to new laws, requiring it to carry out its promise to stop the boats in a much narrower legal framework.

Mr Ruddock accused Labor of "trashing" co-operative relationships with key countries, such as Indonesia, which had been bruised by the Rudd government's handling of the 2009 Oceanic Viking stand-off.

"A number of measures necessary would be much easier for a Coalition government to pursue than this government," he said. "In my view, the big difference that is going to have to be pursued vigorously is the return of rejected asylum-seekers."

Since 2008 just 252 people -- or 2.1 per cent -- of the 11,994 asylum-seekers who have arrived have been returned to their home country.

The UNCHR said yesterday asylum arrivals in Australia for the first six months of this year were down 19 per cent, compared with last year, bucking an international average 17 per cent rise across industrialised countries. Despite the drop, both sides of politics expect boat arrivals will rise following the demise of offshore processing.

In August the High Court ruled the government's plan to deport 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in return for 4000 proven refugees did not comply with the Migration Act.

There is a general view that Nauru is more likely to meet the court's test, but that is arguable.

The court's ruling has been widely discussed in Coalition ranks, with most talk centring on whether reopening Nauru would pass the court's new test. Asking Nauru to change its laws and staffing the centre with Australian officers to ensure the court's stipulations are adhered to are among the options.

Yesterday, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said a much tougher TPV regime was also essential, with the visas issued for between six months and three years.


Employers want HSC geared to workforce

THE last two years of high school need to be rethought to better engage and prepare the three in four school leavers who are not headed to university, according to a review by the NSW Business Chamber.

Praising the NSW government's scrapping of the "out-dated" school certificate, the chamber said it presents the opportunity for a much wider-ranging review of years 11 and 12.

Specifically, the chamber is seeking more core subjects for the HSC, better quality vocational courses and minimum standards for literacy and numeracy.

"The business community has a vested interest in the education system providing the right training for young people. We want young adults, when they finish their education, to have developed the skills they need to succeed in the workforce," Paul Orton, the chamber's director of policy and advocacy, said.

"Frankly, this area is too important for the state government to accept the status quo. Now is the time to have a serious community debate about how we are performing as a state in helping senior secondary students prepare for life after school.

"The last time we reviewed the HSC was in the mid-1990s at a time when very few, if any, students had even seen or been on the internet."

A blueprint, Could Do Better, will be discussed at a roundtable of key stakeholders in Parramatta tomorrow.

The primary focus is to lift the rigour, breadth and quality of vocational courses offered within the school system. The blueprint says core subjects for the HSC should include subjects such as numeracy, personal development and career planning. The number and capacity of senior colleges, and the range of subject choices available to high school students, should also be expanded.

Tom Alegounarias, the president of the NSW Board of Studies, said he was keen to listen to employers but defended the HSC as a rigorous credential that serves students and business well.

"The challenge we are facing is to ensure that every student can operate at a very high level of literacy and numeracy. This reflects the changing nature of the Australian economy, and education needs to be responsive to it," he said.

"Literacy and numeracy are inherent in being able to do the HSC but employers are looking for more explicit recognition and we are looking to respond to that."

The chamber is looking for more seamless progression between entering the final years of schooling and emerging into the labour market with a trade or significant qualification. Nine out of 10 16- and 17-year-old students enrolled in a vocational program are taking courses the chamber says will not lead to a qualification "adequate for a 21st century labour market".

The blueprint argues that what is learnt needs to lead to a qualification that is valued in the labour market. "Young people in senior high school need to be treated as young adults rather than as young children, and have a learning environment that reflects this," it says.

Mr Orton said university graduates are vital, particularly those with higher level degrees. "But let's do a better job for those who don't go to university," he said.

"We don't want them doing time, so to speak. It would be much better for them to get as much out of it as they can so that they are better equipped for whatever they choose to do."


Australia's future does not lie in "making things"

Do you sometimes worry about Australia becoming a place that doesn't "make things" any more? Let me lighten your load. Kevin Rudd used to worry about such things. In his first press conference as opposition leader in 2006, Rudd stressed he wanted to be the prime minister of "a country that actually makes things".

Today a high dollar is putting extra pressure on manufacturers while also making it cheaper for us to import things that other countries have made.

It is undoubtedly true that only a small proportion of us are engaged in making "things". Just 8 per cent of working Australians are employed in manufacturing, down from 26 per cent in 1966. Meanwhile, the proportion working in the services sector has risen by 54 per cent to 77 per cent.

More broadly, the proportion of employees working in what the Bureau of Statistics classes "production industries", including agriculture, forestry, mining, manufacturing, electricity, gas and construction, has halved from 46 per cent to 23 per cent.

In between we've largely outsourced the making of things to nimble hands abroad who will do it for less. Is that such a bad thing?

An increasingly globalised economy has not only given Australian consumers access to cheaper products, but to a wider variety of goods for purchase - Japanese cars, Korean TVs, Belgian chocolates, you name it.

The benefits to consumers of increasing trade and specialisation are often overlooked. Millions of consumers have less in common and less cause to rally than smaller groups of people employed in declining industries.

It is understandable and entirely predictable that manufacturers and the people they employ should lobby hard to save their jobs. And they have powerful representatives in unions and Federal Parliament to make their case.

But perhaps part of the reason we're not making things as much is that we're not buying things as much. Retail spending here is growing at its slowest annual pace in decades. National accounts figures show annual spending on recreation and culture is up 7 per cent and spending on hotels, cafes and restaurants up 6 per cent. We're spending more on experiences and less on stuff.

Why? Partly it's a symptom of our success. Recreation and household services are what economists call "normal goods"; that is, we tend to buy more of them when incomes rise and they come to make up a higher proportion of our total spending. Overseas holidays are normal goods, while bus tickets are "inferior goods"; we tend to buy them less when incomes rise.

The growing role of women in the workforce, while initially boosting demand for manufactured, labour-saving devices such as fridges and washing machines, has also boosted demand for domestic service employees, such as cleaners and childcare workers. These jobs are not so easily sent offshore.

When the Bureau of Statistics began conducting household surveys about people's employment in the 1960s, the most commonly reported occupation sector was "tradesman, production process workers and labourers". Today, it's "professionals". Now, more than ever, Australians make a living from the agility of our minds rather than the nimbleness of our bodies.

If you want to worry about the future of jobs growth, spend less time worrying about protecting declining industries and more time worrying about the fact that Australian government spending on higher education as a proportion of gross domestic product is one of the lowest of all member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.


18 October, 2011

'Domus' gets Aussie visitors into the spirit of a Roman holiday

CARDINAL George Pell and most of Australia's Catholic bishops gathered in Rome yesterday to celebrate the opening of a visitor refuge that they hope will help turn ordinary Australian tourists into religious pilgrims.

About 60,000 Australians visit Rome each year. Cardinal Pell said he believed that the new Australia House, or "Domus Australia", should encourage many of them to focus on the religious aspects of Rome while lifting the church's profile in Australia and Australia's profile in the Vatican.

Valued by informal estimates at about $30 million, the new centre houses a 32-room hotel, a pilgrim information centre and a 115-year-old chapel that has been totally renovated and fitted out with paintings of early Australian Catholic leaders and symbols, including a large Australian coat of arms above the altar.

To the side of the altar is a painting of St Mary MacKillop standing beneath the Southern Cross, and the base of the ceremonial lectern or "ampo" is adorned with three moulded kangaroos.

On the first anniversary of St Mary's canonisation, Cardinal Pell yesterday celebrated a mass with 36 Australian bishops to consecrate the chapel's new altar.

He placed inside it relics of St Mary, Australia's first saint, Pope Pius V and St Peter Chanel, a Marist priest and missionary who was killed by Pacific islanders in the 19th century.

Expressing confidence that the new centre would be financed by renting rooms to tourists, Cardinal Pell said he would be shocked if the facility, in central Rome, could not pay its own way.

"I once said in a moment of rashness that Blind Freddy could make a bob out of this and I think we will be able to," he said.

"It is not an exercise in philanthropy.

"It is like setting up a parish in Rome and parishes have to be self-sufficient so certainly this house has to be self-sufficient. That is the ambition."

Led by Cardinal Pell's Sydney archdiocese, the creation of the centre from a run-down training facility for Marist priests was funded by a combination of loans, private donations and contributions from the archdioceses of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and the diocese of Lismore.

The Australian bishops were in Rome for a five-yearly meeting at the Vatican.

The Pope is due to open the centre, on the Via Cernaia about 4km east of the Vatican, on Thursday morning (AEDT).

Cardinal Pell, whose own coat of arms adorns the chapel wall, was the driving force behind the project, beginning his search for a suitable site eight years ago.

He will use an apartment in the building as his base in Rome.

The first pilgrim centres in Rome were founded more than 1000 years ago, Cardinal Pell said, but in an era of the cheapest ever foreign travel, it made sense to have a national base for the large number of Australian visitors.


Huge volume of complaints about government hospitals in Queensland

LIFE-SAVING improvements to Queensland's health system are being delayed years because the sector's standards watchdog has been swamped processing complaints.

The Health Quality and Complaints Commission has just seven full-time investigators and last year it had to process almost 5000 complaints.

The watchdog has warned the huge number of complaints from the public is straining its "limited'' investigation resources.

The Courier-Mail understands some investigations are taking years to be resolved.

The revelations come at the same time as frontline Queensland Health staff continue to vent their frustrations over what they claim is a huge imbalance between doctors and nurses and managerial and clerical staff.

Last year, the State Opposition also revealed the number of spin doctors in the crisis-prone organisation had soared to 60.

The independent HQCC was set up by the State Government in 2006 after the Dr Jayant Patel controversy to recommend action to boost the safety and quality of health care for Queenslanders.

The HQCC launched 38 investigations in 2006-2007 and took on 83 in 2010-2011.

Almost 5000 complaints were received in the year ending June 30 an increase of 10 per cent with 58 per cent levelled at public hospitals. Inadequate treatment was the key concern.

Most investigations in the serious category take a minimum of 18 months, but The Courier-Mail understands some are blowing out by years.

The HQCC has 75 staff, including seven full-time investigators and one part-timer who each juggle 10 cases.

The watchdog's total operational budget has remained steady at just under $11 million a year.

In its latest report, it said the number of "serious and systemic healthcare issues" coming to its attention was putting pressure on its "limited investigation resources".

Mooloolah parents Andrew and Trudy Olive lost their four-year-old son, Tom, after an emergency department ordeal at Nambour Hospital on August 25, 2010. With no doctor on hand, a student nurse attended the boy with faulty equipment. Mr Olive was forced to start CPR on his dying son when medical staff failed to notice Tom's heart had stopped. The HQCC launched a formal investigation into Tom's treatment and informed the Olives that medical staff would be interviewed.

The results are expected to be handed to the State Coroner to consider whether an inquest should be held.

"We believe the HQCC investigation could take up to three years, because they are so busy," Mr Olive said. "Surely, there are no higher stakes than people's lives. We have this mechanism to improve health services and drive change, but it's far too slow. If something is going wrong, don't we want to find out as quickly as possible?"

HQCC chief executive Adjunct Professor Cheryl Herbert confirmed nine investigations were yet to be finalised, having run for 12 months or longer.

Mrs Herbert said these investigations were inherently more complex, and involved multiple witnesses, clinical opinions and legal/medical indemnity providers all of which could extend the investigation process.

"We are currently reviewing the composition of the investigations team as part of a broader operational review. This is likely to result in an increase in staffing in the investigations team," she said.

Mrs Herbert said the HQCC had previously sought additional funding for staff, including investigations officers, through the Cabinet Budget Review Committee process (2008 and 2009). These funding submissions were unsuccessful.


The huge cost and poor performance of "made in Australia" defence equipment

The defence bureaucracy don't have a clue -- which will be no news to most diggers

AUSTRALIA'S Collins Class submarines are more than twice as costly to operate as US Navy nuclear submarines. New figures obtained by The Advertiser show the six Collins boats cost about $630 million a year or $105 million each to maintain, making them the most expensive ever put to sea.

At present, just two of the fleet of six boats could go to war and with a maximum of three available at any one time, the costs are even higher when applied to serviceability.

The annual price for "sustainment" (maintenance and support) is $415.9 million for 2011-12, with operating costs (fuel, rations, wages, weapons) running at $213.4 million.

By comparison, a US Navy Ohio Class nuclear attack submarine, which is more than three times the size of a Collins boat, costs about $50 million a year.

The disturbing cost figures come as Defence officials revealed that at least two possible contenders for the navy's new submarine fleet, the Spanish S-80 and French-Spanish Scorpene class boat, have been ruled out of the future submarine project.

Answering questions on notice from Opposition spokesman David Johnston, Defence said both vessels did not meet "Australia's broad needs as outlined in the Defence White Paper". They are smaller than the Collins and the White Paper calls for 12 larger submarines to cost up to $36 billion.

In 2008, an embarrassed navy brass ceased to report on the performance of the Collins fleet in the Defence annual report. The 2007-08 performance outcome for the Collins fleet showed that it achieved just 64 per cent of its mission capability or 559 days of actual availability.

Since then the figures have been classified as "secret", but assuming a similar outcome then sustainment and maintenance of the subs now cost taxpayers a total of $1,643,835 a day for the six vessels or $273,972 a day each. With only two or three available for duty that cost blows out to more than $500,000 a day.

Senator Johnston accused the Government and Defence Minister Stephen Smith of taking their eye off the ball when it came to the submarines. A decision on the direction of the future submarine project is due to be made late this year or early in 2012.


Another big government computer bungle

When will they learn to buy off the shelf?

THE Baillieu government has frozen work on a major computer project involving Victoria Police and VicRoads after the state IT agency, CenITex, blew its budget by $20 million. The agency, which was set up to centralise IT services across the public sector, now faces an uncertain future, with a review to examine its governance and finances and whether it can achieve its aims.

New work will now have to be found for some of CenITex's highly paid external consultants, some of whom get the equivalent of up to $500,000 per year — more than the Premier. "They are in trouble [and] they can't get their act together," a source close to the project told Fairfax Media.

Aiming to save public money by consolidating email, help desk services and internal systems for more than 40,000 computers, CenITex spends $220million each year. Its 269 contractors account for more than a third of its workforce.

In July, the government called in police and sacked six contractors after two CenITex staff allegedly awarded themselves a tender that led to work worth $1.5 million.

Critics of Cenitex claim it is captive to private contractors who are more interested in profits than public sector performance. But its supporters say private contractors are complaining because if CenITex succeeds, there will be less work for consultants.

"There's an endless queue of people lining up Collins Street, waiting for the opportunity to put the boot in [to CenITex], and it's all because by and large it doesn't suit their interests," said IT analyst Steve Hodgkinson. He said the agency wasn't perfect, but all governments struggled with similar tasks.

CenITex chief executive Michael Vanderheide wrote to each government department last week, saying all "transfer related work" is on hold, pending a review by the State Services Authority.

The review will also cover staff morale. A former worker said: "Staff are overworked and poorly supported... [they] live under fear and the imposed threat of what might happen if they ask questions."

A senior CenITex insider denied there were major problems, saying: "Everybody's doing reviews and the government is doing nothing."

Some within CenITex believe it needs more funding to cope with Victoria Police and VicRoads, which handle sensitive data and need more expensive computer security.

CenITex was about to begin merging other department systems with those used by VicRoads and Victoria Police. Now every department head will be asked for their view of CenITex's governance and service delivery.

A major shake-up or revamp is possible, as Fairfax understands CenITex board members have not been told whether their appointments will be renewed beyond next year.


17 October, 2011


Conservatives would win an election in a landslide if it were held as voters oppose carbon tax

TONY Abbott would be handed an overwhelming mandate to abolish the carbon tax if the coalition won the next election and he became the prime minister. A clear majority of voters, 60 per cent, believe the Opposition Leader would have the electoral and moral authority to repeal the tax.

With the government's asylum seeker policy also in disarray, the Coalition's primary vote has now soared to a crushing 51 per cent, according to a Galaxy poll commissioned by The Daily Telegraph.

It is the largest primary vote the coalition has enjoyed in any poll since 1996 - when John Howard defeated Paul Keating - with Labor now stuck at a morale-sapping 29 per cent.

The devastating figures suggest the government's jubilation over the passage of its carbon tax through the lower house last week has backfired. And that its bungled handling of its proposed changes to the Migration Act to stop boat arrivals has stalled any recovery that Julia Gillard may have hoped for.

On a two party-preferred basis the Coalition now leads Labor 58 per cent to 42 per cent, due to the flow of Greens preferences back to Labor. But even this would mean half of the current lower house Labor MPs would be wiped out.

The only silver lining for Julia Gillard was that with the carbon tax legislation passed, there appeared a slight bounce in support for the tax. The number of voters now in favour has increased to 34 per cent from a low of 29 per cent in July. But almost double were still opposed to it.

Ms Gillard has also managed to peg back marginally, the lead held by Kevin Rudd as the preferred Labor leader. But Mr Rudd is still the person most voters would like to see take back the leadership of the Labor Party and take the government to an election, with 53 per cent support for him compared to 29 per cent for Ms Gillard.

All the electoral damage from the carbon tax and bungled asylum seeker policy, both issues on which the Greens have claimed victory, has come at Labor's expense and not the Greens. They have maintained a steady primary vote of 12 per cent.

"If Tony Abbott wins the next election he would have a mandate to abolish the tax," Mr Briggs said. "This is more than double the figure - 28 per cent in a Galaxy Poll conducted in July - that believed Julia Gillard had a mandate to introduce the carbon tax."

The Galaxy Poll was conducted exclusively for The Daily Telegraph on the weekend of October 14-16 and was based on a large national sample of 1009 voters.


New Gillard immigration policy means Australia gets Iranians and Burmese instead of Africans

Not such a bad deal after all. Iranians and Burmese will be a lot less trouble than Africans, given the African crime-rate. And both the Iranians and the Burmese are genuine refugees from totalitarian governments

As refugee advocates and others applauded the demise of offshore processing last week, they may have missed what was a big backhander delivered in the process.

As a result of last week's events, 4000 poor wretches languishing in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere will continue to do so, rather than be afforded a new life in Australia.

Under the Malaysian plan, Australia was to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia. In return, Australia would take 4000 people, already classified as refugees, from Malaysia - at a rate of 1000 a year.

The annual humanitarian intake would rise by 1000 - from 13,750 to 14,750 - to accommodate this.

Australia will still take those 4000 refugees from Malaysia but the humanitarian intake will not be increased, meaning Australia will take 4000 fewer refugees from elsewhere.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, gave notice of this on August 31, straight after the High Court ruled the Malaysia plan unlawful. "Malaysia has had no impact on today's decision, therefore I would be inclined to continue to take the 4000.

"We wanted to increase the intake. We wanted to take more refugees, but we wanted to do so as we broke the people smugglers' business model through this arrangement," he said. "The government is entitled now to consider its position."

On Thursday night, after a tumultuous day of two cabinet meetings and a caucus, Bowen and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, confirmed it.

Clearly, the victims in all of this are not just political. Putting aside the politics of the Malaysia plan, those who devised it felt it would work and be of net humanitarian benefit.

The opposition and other detractors made much of the fact that several hundred asylum seekers arrived in the months after the plan was announced, meaning it would not work.

But in the now much-publicised briefings to the Coalition and journalists, senior Immigration officials, including the departmental secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, argued that once a planeload of people was returned to Malaysia the influx would quickly change. They envisaged that only about 200 people would need to be returned before the message was clear.

Metcalfe called it "virtual tow-back", likening it to the dramatic effect on reducing people smuggling when the Howard government had about seven boats towed back to Indonesia.

It is a dangerous practice. Asylum seekers are loaded onto a navy or customs ship and their boat towed back to just outside Indonesian waters. They are then put back on their boat, with just enough fuel to make it to Indonesia.

Tony Abbott still reckons this will be a key element of Coalition policy, even though Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations' refugee convention that he claims is so important when ruling out Malaysia.

Metcalfe says the Indonesians will no longer accept tow-backs and, anyway, people smugglers learnt long ago to circumvent the prospect by sabotaging their boats.

He also said Nauru, in isolation, will not work because the uncertainty that once accompanied going there no longer exists. Asylum seekers know that once they are processed they will end up in Australia or New Zealand in any case. Nauru is no more a deterrent than Christmas Island.

When the cabinet canvassed Nauru last week, it was not proposed to be used in isolation but along with Malaysia and Manus Island - and in an effort to have Abbott change his mind and pass the legislation allowing Malaysia.

Gillard, understandably, was reluctant, given how strongly she and others had argued against Nauru.

The upshot of last week will be, as the department and the government acknowledges, a rise in boat numbers. Some people on these vessels will be genuine refugees, others will not.

The department talks about the Iranians who are arriving in increasing numbers as part of a racket that can enable someone to be transported from Tehran to Christmas Island in five days.

Iran does not take back anyone who leaves and the Iranians know it. They are "incredibly determined", one Australian official said.

"They tell us: 'We are Persian; we are strong. You are Australian; you are weak. We don't care. We are staying in your country.' That's the mindset we are trying to manage."

Inevitably, with a surge in the number of boats attempting to reach Australian shores people will die, and both sides of politics will blame the other. "Mr Abbott values his own political career more than human life," a Labor MP, Craig Emerson, warned on Friday.

There is a thin silver lining for Labor. One senior member said that as messy as last week was, the government resolved two vexed policy issues: a carbon price and asylum seekers.

A carbon policy is settled, and there will be no more damaging caucus debates on asylum. Should Abbott win the next election and meet legal resistance to sending asylum seekers to Nauru, he will get no help from Labor.


A very different white flight

In the USA, whites seeking safety for their children move away from areas heavily populated by blacks. In Australia whites avoid schools heavily populated by East Asians -- because the Asians are smarter and the whites don't want their kids to feel discouraged

A "WHITE flight" from elite selective high schools is entrenching ethnic segregation in Australia's education system, according to a social researcher.

In a study of student language backgrounds in schools, Dr Christina Ho, of the University of Technology Sydney, found a clear pattern of cultural polarisation, with few Anglo-Australians in high-achieving selective entry government schools. Students from migrant families — mostly from Chinese, Indian and other Asian backgrounds — dominate the enrolments of the schools.

In Melbourne, 93 per cent of students at Mac.Robertson Girls High School and 88 per cent of pupils at Melbourne High School and Nossal High School are from language backgrounds other than English (LBOTE), a category that also includes those from non-Asian backgrounds.

In Sydney, nine out of the top 10 highest performing selective schools have similar high percentages of LBOTE pupils, mainly from Asian backgrounds.

People who speak an Asian language at home make up 8 per cent of Australia's population, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Dr Ho said it was understandable why so many migrant families, put off by high fees in private secondary schools, flocked to public selective schools because of their outstanding academic results.

"Anglo-Australians' shunning of public selective schools is less explicable, particularly among those families with talented children who might achieve the required standard on the selective schools [entry] test," said Dr Ho, whose findings are published in the journal Australian Review of Public Affairs.

"The 'white flight' from these schools must partly reflect an unwillingness to send children to schools dominated by migrant-background children, which simply further entrenches this domination.

"If current trends continue, we risk creating highly unbalanced school communities that, rather than reflecting the full diversity of Australian society, instead constitute unhealthy and unnatural bubbles of segregation and isolation."

Dr Ho's study examined enrolment data given by all schools and education authorities to the My School website. The LBOTE data measures cultural diversity and, unlike birthplace, identifies second and subsequent migrant generations not born overseas but who are members of a cultural minority.

The principal of Melbourne High School, Jeremy Ludowyke, rejected suggestions that the school was not culturally diverse. "We don't see a white flight expressed in the pattern of applications to the school," Mr Ludowyke said.

About 60 per cent of his pupils have a parent born overseas. "Melbourne High and Mac.Rob have played a pivotal role in providing opportunities for newly arrived migrant communities. They're part of the success story of multiculturalism in Melbourne," he said.


Heartless NSW hospital bureaucracy

Sydney mother-to-be denied ultrasound pic

THE NSW government should order hospitals to give expectant mums ultrasound scan photos free-of-charge, the state opposition says.

Opposition leader John Robertson responded to reports the Royal Prince Alfred hospital refused to give out a baby scan picture because it was too expensive.

Staff at the hospital refused to give Ultimo woman Kirsty Trimboli an image of her unborn twins and she later paid for one at a private clinic, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

"This mum will never be able to recapture that first moment when she truly saw her twins on the screen at RPA," Mr Robertson said in a statement.

Ms Trimboli had brought a blank CD in case it was easier for the hospital to give her the image electronically but she was still refused, Mr Robertson said.

"Commonsense and compassion should prevail," he said, adding an ultrasound photo can benefit bonding between mother and baby.

"There are few moments in life more emotional and significant than those first glimpses of your unborn child in the womb. I still remember seeing my kids on the monitor for the first time.

"The government should immediately rule out forcing families to pay for photos of their unborn babies in public hospitals."


New Queensland laws include prison penalty for negligent dog owners

Long overdue. It is children who are the main victims of aggressive dogs

DOG owners will be sent to their own cage - with up to 10 years in jail - if their pet attacks or kills another person. Tough new state laws have been drafted that for the first time include a prison penalty for negligent dog owners.

Owners that fail to have a fence or an appropriate fence - or the guard dog they have is inappropriate - will face jail time if their dog attacks.

Attorney-General Paul Lucas said Queensland's proposed laws were sparked after this year's horrific death of Ayen Choi, a four-year-old Victorian girl mauled by a pit bull terrier.

The Sunday Mail revealed in July that more than 2500 dog attacks were being reported in Queensland each year - about 50 a week. Most of the victims are under five years.

Current laws allow authorities to fine dog owners up to $30,000 if their animal goes rogue.

But while there were provisions that may allow for convictions for manslaughter under the criminal code, Mr Lucas said he wanted a specific provision for irresponsible owners. "This kind of thing is similar to what occurred many years ago when a specific provision for dangerous driving was provided so courts did not need to rely on manslaughter," Mr Lucas said.

"If they're (owners) not properly controlling their pet and it maims or kills a child or an adult, then they could be criminally liable for their action."

The draft legislation, cited by The Sunday Mail, sets out that owners will have to manage their dogs and have regard to circumstances such as the past conduct of their dog, its training and its temperament; whether the restraint of the dog, if any, was appropriate in the circumstances, and whether the type of dog used to protect people or premises was appropriate.

Mr Lucas said that responsible dog owners would not be captured under the laws. "The amendment is not intended to cover situations where owners have taken all steps to ensure a dog is secure and safely managed," he said.

"But where a dog is left to roam the streets, and an owner has taken no steps to control the animal or ensure it is appropriately enclosed, then under this amendment the owner could be criminally liable if the dog attacks or kills someone and face up to 10 years in jail."

Consultation will be held with councils and the RSPCA. The amendments do not apply to law enforcement.


Leftist contempt for the voters is showing

WATCHING their federal government disintegrate over the past 18 months, most Australians have been more inclined to shake their heads than protest. Yet, as we await what must be an inevitable leadership change and contemplate the ramifications for left-of-centre politics, the reaction to the protests provides a window into Labor's malaise.

The response to anti-carbon tax protesters reveals the Left's hypocrisy and its fatal alienation from the people it seeks to represent.

A few dozen, largely middle-aged, protesters rudely interrupted parliament last week with their chant of "no mandate, democracy is dead". From the floor of the chamber, Parliamentary Secretary and Member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, tweeted: "Couldn't quite hear, thought it might have been something about dental plates and brain dead."

One of the nation's most senior union officials, Australian Workers Union National Secretary Paul Howes, also took to Twitter. "And yes Tony this is [what happens] when you start whipping up extremists and giving them a platform. A people's revolt often attracts revolting people."

It is a privilege for the public to watch parliamentary proceedings without being quarantined behind security glass. The protesters were wrong to abuse that opportunity. Still, they were hardly the first, the loudest or the most intimidating. As the protest continued outside, some abused the Prime Minister in unacceptable language, with one man denouncing her as a "scrag".

Kelly later used this disgraceful language to justify his Twitter abuse. Apart from the chronological problem, this overlooks the fact we have higher expectations of elected officials not to mock or abuse Australians, or taint all the protesters with the excesses of a few.

This vignette highlights crucial undercurrents in our national political debate. In denouncing a "lack of civility" the Left seems more intent on silencing criticism by denouncing its detractors as extreme and/or ignorant. In doing so it denigrates and fails to listen to the mainstream. This will only compound its political dilemma.

We saw this six months ago when a few ugly placards at an anti-carbon tax rally had Labor MPs and their fellow travellers denounce the protesters as extremists. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said that for Tony Abbott to associate himself with the protesters was "unbefitting" of a political leader.

This is breathtaking hypocrisy. It is based on deliberate amnesia about the vicious and sometimes physical protests against the Howard government over Iraq, David Hicks and IR reforms.

In 1996, hundreds of protesters angry at the Howard government's budget cuts, indigenous policies and IR changes stormed Parliament House. They smashed glass doors, broke windows, wrestled police and security guards, ransacked the souvenir shop, caused injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, leading to arrests and prosecutions.

The protest was arranged by the ACTU and then president, and later Labor MP, Jennie George, told journalists on the scene that she regretted "anything that occurred but I certainly don't bear the responsibility for it". Looking on was her colleague Combet.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley also addressed a rally before the violence unfolded. "It said it would govern for all of us," he said of the Howard government, "but it hates workers, it hates students, it hates Aboriginal people, it hates women who want to be in the workforce." Given what transpired, it might have been better to quote Martin Luther King Jnr: "hate begets hate".

This is all recent history. Many Australians remember these events. They also recall Greens Leader Bob Brown addressing that 1996 rally, or being removed from the House of Representatives for heckling US President George Bush. They notice a lack of condemnation of the "occupy" anti-capitalism protest movement. So it is a bit rich for Labor and Greens MPs to denigrate comparatively well-behaved protesters who complain about the carbon tax.

The extremism charge is now a persistent Left attack against conservatives. ABC Sydney radio presenter Deborah Cameron last week went in one breath from discussing a Labor MP's claims she had received death threats over the carbon tax, to Abbott's rhetoric. "And you wonder whether or not Mr Abbott's florid language using words like 'pledge in blood' and so on, does raise again this question of whether there's a pandering to extremism here with some of this very florid language," she said.

Never mind that Abbott's rhetorical flourish came the day after the threats had been revealed. Never mind the poor judgment in going public with death threats, which many politicians receive but most have the good sense to quietly refer to authorities.

Hypocrisy aside, the real import is what this attitude says about Labor's disconnect from voters they should be cultivating. The disdain Kelly and Howes showed for disaffected Australians could not have happened 25 years ago. Bob Hawke would not have tolerated it. Part of the political genius that delivered such success for Hawke was his flattery of the public. There is every indication it was based on a genuine belief in the collective good sense of the mainstream.

When Hawke called a summit with state premiers in 1983 to tackle the recessionhe said: "If we at this conference dedicate ourselves to provide leadership to this great people, I have absolute confidence that they will respond with the united effort and renewed determination to beat this crisis and build an even better future for this great nation, Australia."

It was a theme he returned to repeatedly over his decade of consensus-based politics. It served Hawke, Labor and the nation well.

Inexperienced political operatives occasionally quote Henry Louis Mencken that: "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the [American] public."

Hawke's modus operandi could be summarised as: "No politician will lose their way harnessing the good sense of the Australian public." Abbott understands this. When all the leadership, factional and electoral conflagrations are over, respect for the mainstream is what Labor needs to rediscover.


16 October, 2011

What a lot of bureaucratic nonsense!

With what they pay bureaucrats to enforce this, they could give EVERYBODY a new fridge

TAXPAYERS will help poorer households buy new washing machines, fridges and dryers in a bid to help them reduce their energy bills. And trained workers will be sent to more than 50,000 low-income households to give them one-on-one budgeting lessons.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin will announce the $30 million Home Energy Saver Scheme today during Anti-Poverty Week. The scheme will start next year before the introduction of the Government's controversial carbon tax on July 1.

The initiative will fund a range of measures, including:

* Help to access no or low-interest loans to buy energy-efficient appliances;

* A complete financial health check that evaluates all household spending, and advice on how to tap into schemes such as off-peak energy periods;

* Strategies to ensure bills are paid on time; and
Advice on how to reduce energy use by installing energy-efficient lighting.

Ms Macklin said the funding would be on top of the extra assistance low-income households would receive to help cope with rising bills under the carbon tax.

"Low-income households have much less room to move in their budgets, which is why we will deliver assistance through increased payments and tax cuts," she said.

She said households would pay an extra $9.90 a week under the carbon tax, but the average assistance will be $10.10 a week.


Old lady thinks the rules don't apply to her

By the nose and the Arabic surname of her daughter, I imagine she is of Lebanese origin. It is because of Lebanese that the NSW police have a Middle Eastern Crime squad -- another indication of egotistical disrespect for the rules

IT was a dog fight of monumental proportions. In one corner was the ex-politician living in his penthouse. In the other, the 83-year-old pensioner and her pet poodle.

Widow Margaret Michael claims she was harassed for months by the body corporate chairman of her South Bank unit complex after her daughter gave her the toy poodle late last year.

The body corporate boss is former transport minister Steve Bredhauer who, with wife Lynne Pask, lives several floors above Mrs Michael in the penthouse apartment at Arbour on Grey.

The stoush began when Mrs Michael, whose husband died two years ago, was given the female puppy, Gussy, by daughter Adrienne Ghanem. Mrs Ghanem worried about her mum being lonely.

What followed was a long-running dispute with the building's body corporate that ended last Tuesday when Mrs Michael was forced to send Gussy to live with a friend in north Queensland. "I'm heartbroken, but I can't fight it anymore," she said.

Mrs Michael said she was unaware she needed approval to keep a dog when she got Gussy and, when the body corporate later rejected her application, she appealed.

She claims she has suffered stress from Mr Bredhauer repeatedly calling Gussy names like "dirty stinking dog" and labelling her a "troublemaker".

On one occasion, Mr Bredhauer stopped her from using the apartment lift with Gussy."I had one leg in but he refused to allow me in because of my 'smelly dog'," Mrs Michael said.

Mr Bredhauer says he was in a business suit, and had bags and groceries in the lift, and did not want the dog jumping up on him.

The former Beattie government minister says he has merely been sticking up for the rights of other apartment residents who did not want the dog in the building.

"I have no doubt Mrs Michael has been caused stress by this," Mr Bredhauer told The Sunday Mail.

"I have told her on a number of occasions that her dog is a nuisance and I have said to her she should be ashamed she's putting people through the discomfort of having to listen to her dog barking constantly."

The Queensland Body Corporate Commissioner rejected Mrs Michael's appeal on September 30, after considering 37 submissions against her keeping the dog. Five supported her.

The mother of 11, who has lived in the building for 10 years, said only Mr Bredhauer, his wife and the building manager had complained to her.

Ms Ghanem said she regularly washed Gussy and Mrs Michael denied the dog barked excessively.

Mr Bredhauer said the rights of other tenants who wanted to live in a pet-free building should be respected.


Greeks rush at chance to migrate to Australia

HE helped to build the Australian embassy in Athens but now George Triantafillou is joining the queue outside the building to try to emigrate.

"There are no jobs," Mr Triantafillou, an electrician and father of two, said. "After the Olympic Games, jobs in construction collapsed. I closed my company in 2009. "Now I'm working as a removals man. I make 30 per cent of what I used to earn."

Thousands of Greeks have decided that the best way out of the country's profound economic crisis is to leave their homeland. When the Australian embassy announced recently that it was seeking skilled immigrants, there was a rush to fill out application forms.

A total of 773 people, with experience in healthcare, engineering, construction and automotive and mechanical trades, were eventually accepted.

"Because of the situation in Greece, people have seen this as an opportunity," said Lancia Jordana, of the Immigration Department. "But we need to have Australian employers who are interested in sponsoring people. The demand has outstripped supply."

A constant stream of would-be emigrants continues to turn up at the embassy seeking work. "I heard on TV that Australia is open for immigration and I am looking for a job," said George Kouduris, married with one child. "I have been working as a crane driver but there are no jobs in the crane business. Even if there are jobs, the crane owners want to do it themselves. "I want to be a truck driver or electrician in Australia."

Alexandros Patsis, a carpenter, had a furniture-making business with his two brothers and 15 workers. The economic crisis forced them to lay off all their workers. "Now it is only me and my brothers," said the father of two. "Nobody asks us to do any jobs. I made houses, furniture, doors, but now nobody wants to make anything, so we do not have any work."

Anna Triandafyllidou, a researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens, said Greece experienced mass emigration after the World War II to North America, Australia and European countries such as Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and France. The trend reversed after the oil crisis in 1973, when the emigrants started to return from Germany and the United States.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Greece experienced an influx of immigrants in the late 1980s and early 90s, first with ethnic Greeks from the USSR and then from countries such as Albania. Now the trend is reversing again.

The lack of jobs is so severe that many recent immigrants are thinking of going elsewhere. Every day Pakistanis line up outside their embassy in Athens trying to get papers to go home.


Weird assault on free speech

The High Court would probably disallow it but getting into that court takes big bucks

THE Victorian Parliament is set to pass new legislation making it a criminal offence to "insult" Gaming Minister Michael O'Brien.

Fines of up to $11,945 will be given to anyone found guilty of upsetting the minister and his staff under the extraordinary new offence.

The Baillieu Government is seeking changes to the Gaming Regulation Act which it says are "reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of the minister and authorised persons". If passed, the ruling will become law.

The amendment proposed to the Act will make it an offence to "assault, obstruct, hinder, threaten, abuse, insult or intimidate" the minister or authorised persons exercising "due diligence" in monitoring gambling systems such as pokies.

State Labor has seized on the extraordinary amendment, with Opposition gaming spokesman Martin Pakula branding the minister "Windscreens O'Brien - because this proves he's got a glass jaw".

"Is the minister so precious that he now needs legislation to protect him from insults?" he said.

"I thought I better make these comments before the Bill passes in case I breach the new rules and insult Mr O'Brien."

The bipartisan Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee also raised concerns about the move last week, noting "the criminalisation of insults may capture behaviour that is unlikely to hinder the exercise of powers ... or impinge on anyone's rights or reputation".

Asked why the new "offence" law was necessary and what its intention was, a spokeswoman for Mr O'Brien, Emily Broadbent, tried to deflect attention away from the minister, despite his title being clearly attached to the legislation.

"This provision protects officers of the gambling regulator from bullying or intimidation when exercising powers at the direction of the Minister for Gaming," she said.

"The minister can look after himself, but does not believe that those working on his behalf should have to put up with harassment."

The new offence relates primarily to "legacy monitoring" - accessing information from betting agencies Tatts and TAB about policing they did in gaming venues.

The Government awarded lottery company Intralot a contract to monitor the state's poker machine industry last month.

The Bill passed the Lower House last week and is expected to be introduced to the Upper House when Parliament resumes on October 25.


That Leftist love of compulsion again

The Howard government’s abolition of compulsory student unionism was a victory for fairness and efficiency. Until then, Australia’s university students – even part-time and remote students – had been forced to pay hundreds of dollars a year for campus services they didn’t use and to bankroll student activists and clubs they didn’t care for.

When the imposition ended in 2006, students had an extra $200 million a year to spend, money they could use on whatever goods or services they wanted, on or off the university campus.

This week the federal Parliament passed legislation to introduce compulsory student amenity and service fees up to $250 per student. Fees will now be administered by universities rather than student unions. And the government will be able to lend needy students the money to pay the fee.

Regardless, these compulsory fees still have no economic or social justification. For a start, Australian universities thrived after 2006. Enrolments grew, and Australian universities hold their own in the 2011 Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Every student studying for a degree will be forced to subsidise other students and unaccountable university officials.

And the 19 purposes for which fees can still be used make the attempt to keep funds away from student unions seem laughable. Section 19-38 permits universities to spend the fees to ‘support the administration of a club most of whose members are students’; support ‘debating’ and ‘artistic activity’ by students; and give ‘students information to help them in their orientation.’ Assuming the latter is not sexual counsel, students should be able to read a campus map without guidance.

Ideally, universities should be free to set their own fees and educational standards.
With such fees, they might freely choose to subsidise certain on-campus activities. But hard-headed university managers are unlikely to approve. Why would a university, an institution of teaching and research, devote students’ valuable fees to services and goods that can be provided on or off campus more efficiently and effectively by businesses?

A discrete ‘compulsory service and amenity’ fee smacks of token socialism.
University students should not be treated differently from other students, or workers for that matter. The latter are certainly not forced to contribute to a common fund for common services regardless of whether they use them.

Proponents might say the compulsory student fee functions just like a tax, and nobody is suggesting we ban all taxes. That’s true, no one is – but universities have no right to levy taxes.


15 October, 2011

Tony Abbott tells firms: don't buy carbon permits

Thus destroying the "certainty" that Gillard claimed to offer

TONY Abbott has warned businesses not to buy future carbon emissions permits, in the light of his plan to scrap the carbon tax, while industry is lobbying every federal MP for changes to the government's scheme to protect companies' competitiveness.

In an address to the Menzies Research Centre taxation roundtable in Sydney yesterday, the Opposition Leader said the repeal of the carbon tax legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, would be the "first order" of parliamentary business under a Coalition government.

"We will repeal this legislation," Mr Abbott said, a day after his refusal to back Julia Gillard's Malaysia Solution legislation forced the government to effectively abandon offshore processing of asylum-seekers.

"We will dismantle the bureaucracies it has spawned. We would take the upward pressure off people's cost of living and the threat to workers' jobs. And we give businesses fair warning not to buy forward permits under a tax regime that will be closed down."

The electricity industry said Mr Abbott's hardline position presented a risk, and any policy that reduced the use of forward contracts would fuel higher prices.

The industry warning came as a leading financial analyst told The Weekend Australian that ongoing uncertainty over the future of carbon pricing policy could continue an investment strike that has prevented the addition of new baseload generating capacity. It would complicate writing new long-term electricity supply contracts, which would also push up prices.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet attacked Mr Abbott's comments as a continuation of a "hysterical, negative scare campaign". "Business needs certainty over carbon pricing to underpin investments in the clean energy sources of the future," he said.

The row over Mr Abbott's speech came as Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout and Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, in a letter to all 226 federal MPs, said amendments to the Clean Energy Future Bill were essential to include safeguards to protect Australia's competitiveness. "It is not economically sensible for Australia to see industries that would be competitive in the context of a global price on greenhouse gas emissions go into premature decline," the letter says.

"Ahead of that eventuality, policies are required to maintain the relative competitiveness of Australian industries in the absence of global action."

Under the government's package, a fixed carbon price of $23 a tonne will be imposed from July 1 next year, rising at 2.5 per cent a year in real terms for three years. In 2015, the package will convert to an emissions trading scheme with a floating price.

When the floating price starts, a floor price of $15 will be imposed and a ceiling price, $20 above the expected international price, will also be imposed to prevent volatility.

The business groups' letter called for a lower starting price in the fixed-price period and improvements in arrangements for trade-exposed industries to ensure they did not face additional costs their competitors did not.

It also called for the replacement of the 80 per cent emissions reduction target by 2050 with a clause outlining the evaluation process to determine the target and a requirement that parliament agree to the target.

The business groups called for the Climate Change Authority's remit to be expanded to allow it to consider all Australian emissions reduction policies - such as solar feed-in tariffs - and for it to recommend whether these be wound back.

In the wake of Mr Abbott's call for business to stop buying future carbon emissions permits, National Generators Forum executive director Malcolm Roberts said forward contracts allowed generators and customers to manage the risk of volatile spot prices. "Policies which reduced the use of forward contracts would fuel higher prices," he said.

He was also concerned about the opposition's intention to abolish forward permits with the carbon price. "As generators write post-2014 contracts, they will have to protect themselves against the risk of losses on any forward permits they hold; this is another risk to manage," he said.

Electricity generators have already been critical of the policy to limit the number of forward permits on offer and the demand for upfront payments.

"This could raise prices by 10 to 15 per cent," Mr Roberts said. "Generators are urging changes to the Clean Energy Future Package to prevent this problem."

Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Jordan said ongoing carbon policy uncertainty had two effects on the electricity sector. "It prevents generators from hedging their costs, which means more risk, higher prices and more price volatility for consumers," he said.

He warned uncertainty also weakened the signal for investment in new capacity.

"If the carbon price isn't locked in to support investment in new lower carbon baseload generators, then investors will hold off, putting pressure on existing high-carbon plants to meet growing electricity demand. Both of those mean higher costs for electricity customers in the long term," he said.


How to scrap the carbon tax

Here’s what Richard Denniss, head of the leftist Australia Institute, said on The Drum on Wednesday night. Declaring that Tony Abbott could not unwind the carbon tax if he becomes prime minister, Denniss declared:
Richard Denniss: …Even if there’s a 2013 election, the new Senate doesn’t take office until 2014. And you can’t use your double dissolution triggers until the new Senate arrives, you’re not going to have a double dissolution before 2015. The idea that we introduce a carbon price, scrap it in 2015 or 2016, even Greg Hunt says the direct action scheme is an interim measure and by 2020 the Liberals might support a carbon tax. It’s good politics, it’s good theatre. But we’re putting politics ahead of democracy and politics ahead of the economy here.

What a load of tripe. Richard Denniss reckons it is putting politics ahead of democracy to respond to the wishes of a majority of electors. Fancy that. And his political calculations are simply incorrect. If, say, a Coalition government won an election in August 2013 it could put legislation through both the House of Representatives and the Senate by the end of the year. If the legislation is defeated, it could be re-submitted after three months. A further defeat would set up a double dissolution trigger – which could be held by mid-2014.

And Richard Denniss reckons that double dissolution triggers do not apply until a new Senate is in place. Can you bear it?


Gerard Henderson is right above but omits that Abbott also has other options. He could simply refuse to collect the tax, for instance, or remit to the payer as ex gratia payment any taxes paid

Climate Liars Hurting Real People
A SELF-FUNDED retiree has been told he cannot develop his land at Marks Point because rising sea levels will inundate his property by 2100.

Lake Macquarie City Council staff have recommended refusing Rob Antill’s plan for four two-level dwellings on a 1300-square-metre site.

A council staff report said the development site would have ‘‘a small area permanently inundated by 2050’’. ‘The entire site may be permanently inundated by 2100,’’ it said.

A number of prominent sea level groups pay their bills by making up absurd numbers about current sea level rise. Others make up even more absurd numbers about future sea level rise.

Sea level is not rising significantly in Newcastle. That man’s property will not be underwater in 2050 or 2100. It is time to make dishonest scientists accountable for their actions, just like every other profession.

The entire city of Los Angeles is doomed due to earthquakes. Do they build houses there anyway?

Graph of Newcastle sea levels from here


Bureaucracy at its most incredible

Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid, who oversaw the long-running payroll debacle, wins Sidney Sax Award for public health administration

THREE years at the top of possibly the state's most disaster-ridden government department and former Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid has won an award for public health administration. It was Mr Reid who oversaw the long-running payroll debacle which left tens of thousands in financial hardship.

Yesterday he was named the recipient of the prestigious Sidney Sax Award for "a notable contribution to the protection and promotion of public health, solving public health problems, advancing community awareness of public health measures and advancing the ideals and practice of equity in the provision of health care".

Mr Reid was at the helm of Queensland Health when he opted against renewing his contract in June, 15 months into the debacle. His final annual salary was $646,000, including a $128,000 payout.

The payroll debacle was one of the worst failures of public administration in Queensland history. The cost of fixing it stands at $219 million and counting.

But in a citation, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association president David Panter, called Mr Reid "a leader in health reform".

The citation also praised Mr Reid's work on performance and accountability and said he had "revitalised the information technology". It made no reference to the new computerised payroll system.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle described the award as a "nonsense". "I can't believe the award was given for expertise. The man couldn't get a simple payroll system right," he said.

But some believe Mr Reid was one of several people within Queensland Health who took the full brunt of the payroll failure, despite the key role played by Public Works Department body CorpTech.

Former Queensland Health deputy director-general Andrew Wilson said Mr Reid had been a leader in the health field for decades. "It's easy to forget the breadth of the man's contribution to health leadership over 30 years at every level of government and as a consultant to every aspect of the health system," Professor Wilson said.

Mr Reid is still working in health, as a part-time consultant with management consulting firm McKinsey.

The award was given to Mr Reid by the Public Health Association of Australia.


Aggressive response by homosexuals to Bible message

CHRISTIAN street preachers and a pro-gay rights group are a push or shove away from causing violence in Rundle Mall. That's the warning from the chairman of the shopping precinct.

Theo Maras told The Advertiser yesterday that the groups had been involved regularly in "guerrilla warfare" throughout the Mall, triggering customers to keep clear of shops because of safety fears.

"There is a real potential for violence," Mr Maras said. "All you need is a group of people to push and shove on both sides and you will have a fiasco." He said the groups seemed to care more about seeking attention for themselves than their causes.

"We are not against the Bible or the pro-rights group," Mr Maras said. "It is not about who is doing it; it is that nobody should be doing it. "People have a right not be intimidated or yelled at."

Street preachers representative Caleb Corneloup said the group's Friday night preaching had attracted protests from the gay community for about six weeks.

He said the protesters claimed the preachers were exercising hate speech. "I've asked them what they say is hate speech, and the only issue they told me is that we believe that homosexuality is a sin and those who practice it will go to hell for eternity if they don't repent," Mr Corneloup said.

"I disagree with that because we have a standard biblical position towards homosexuality."

He said his group refused to stop preaching, despite the controversy and ongoing protests. "Street church is there to stay, we're never going to leave," he said.

Mr Corneloup said he believed the presence of the gay community was in response to his group preaching at a pro-gay marriage rally earlier this year.

The preachers have been at the centre of a legal stoush with Adelaide City Council over the group's presence in Rundle Mall. Yesterday, the council asked the Supreme Court to settle its feud through mediation.

Council lawyers said they wanted the dispute set down for a private mediation - presided over by a judge - before the matter returns to court in two weeks. However, Justice John Sulan adjourned the matter to be heard at the next scheduled hearing.


14 October, 2011

Carbon Tax no victory for Gillard

It’s a victory for the Greens, Windsor, and Oakeshott

“The suggestion that the passage of the so-called Clean Energy bills is a major political victory for Julia Gillard is wrong, “Senator Boswell said. It is a victory for the Greens and independent MP’s Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

The Prime Minister promised before the last election that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. She changed her mind because it was a condition of support from the Greens and the independents. The Prime Minister has effectively, repeatedly, conceded that.

The result is that we now have a carbon tax, morphing into a carbon trading regime in 2015 that is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, disguised as a Panda.

The Greens and the independents have driven this transformation. In 2008 Tony Windsor sought to legislate an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. That is now the Government’s target. The Bills do not even mention the superseded 5% target.

The trajectory of caps under the scheme will therefore have to be much steeper than under the old target - which is now no more than a default position. The price of carbon will be precisely the $23 nominated by the Greens in January 2010, and will rise by several per cent a year, as suggested by the Greens at the same time.

Caps will be recommended by a Climate Change Authority, as sought by the Greens and the Member for Lyne, who will no doubt be deeply disappointed by the fact that parliament retains a role. He fought for it to be totally sidelined.

There will be a $10 billion slush fund for rent seeking green power entrepreneurs, as demanded by the Greens.

It is obvious that the so- called multi-party Climate Change Committee was simply cover for the government’s concessions to the extreme positions of the Greens and Mr Windsor.

The passage of the Clean Energy Bills is in no way a victory for Julia Gillard. It is a pyrrhic victory for Bob Brown, Christine Milne, Tony Windsor, and Rob Oakeshott.

Press release above from National Party Senator Ron Boswell (

Billions will be wasted painting pork barrel green

by: Henry Ergas

SO it's done. But it's hardly a shining achievement. Even the government's hope is that by the next election most voters will have forgotten it. And who knows, like an unpleasant visit to the dentist, the climate change legislation may fade with time. But it will still be the most expensive dentist's visit in our history.

Not that the government is willing to admit it. That's understandable, for it knows the community is unwilling to make sacrifices for a policy that seems pointless. But even on Treasury's assumptions, the carbon tax will cost a year's national income: that is, $1 trillion.

If that $1 trillion saved us from policies that were even worse, it might be worth bearing. But the government is not proposing to scrap the myriad handouts that masquerade as climate change policies: rather, using the proceeds from the tax, it intends to vastly scale them up. And that means we lose twice: first, through the harm the tax causes; and then a second time, by squandering the moneys it collects.

Nowhere is that clearer than with the government's sop to the Greens, the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The path it will take, of subsidies to renewable energy technologies, is well-trodden, not least by the US government. The recent spectacular failure of Solyndra, a solar manufacturer that received over $US500 million in US government loans, highlights the waste such programs invariably involve.

For this is spending without any sensible purpose. There is no evidence of under-investment in renewables: rather, global investment in renewable energy has reached record highs, with annual outlays exceeding $200bn. Indeed, the concern is that too much money is chasing too few ideas, while on the manufacturing side capacity has expanded ahead of demand. Getting into this activity now is as sensible as the Hawke government's Multi-Function Polis, which sought to launch Australia into electronics just as the world market plunged into a profitless glut.

The Multi-Function Polis was laughable. The CEFC, in contrast, is plain irrational. After all, our comparative advantage lies in abundant natural resources, including vast reserves of coal and uranium. Were the CEFC investing in stimulating world use of those resources, it might add to our national wealth. But to appease the Greens, it will stay well away from anything that involves coal or nuclear, and actively promote technologies that replace them. So if it works, taxpayer dollars will have been used to erode, not enhance, the basis of our prosperity.

Luckily, there is no prospect of it working. Rather, study after study finds such schemes fail as surely as the sun rises.

This is first because the people running the operation won't have their own money at stake. True, the government will appoint a board of green-tinged corporate types, along with the usual cronies. But it's not their funds that will be at risk. And with the government indemnifying them against being sued, as it has the directors of NBN Co, they will face few pressures to take the tough decisions. So when projects go sour, instead of pulling the plug and embarrassing the government that appointed them, they will bury their mistakes, postponing the reckoning to the future.

Yes, some hapless official in Department of Finance will monitor the operation. But he or she is unlikely to have the commercial nous to run a chook raffle, much less the clout to prevent a high-profile board from taking poor decisions. As for the minister, there too all the incentives will be to hide losses as long as possible. For even if it eventually fails, the government is hardly likely to go after the minister responsible: look at the Victorian Economic Development Corporation, which lost millions of dollars under treasurer Rob Jolly's watch. Did he go to jail? Far from it. He is now a consultant on renewable energy.

That is what economists call moral hazard: when decision-makers lack incentives to take proper care. And that moral hazard means there is little chance of CEFC choosing and managing projects wisely. But there is even less chance of its being offered the projects that are really worth funding.

The CEFC, Treasury says, will provide finance on "commercial terms" such that its loans "earn a positive return". But good projects don't need the CEFC to get those terms: they can secure them from venture capitalists. It is the losers, for whom even commercial terms are a great deal, that the CEFC will attract. That is what economists call adverse selection: when good risks and bad risks are offered the same terms, it is the bad risks that come flocking.

Combine those factors and you get a stampede in which taxpayers' interests get trampled. Having enjoyed their international junkets, the suits on the CEFC will hardly reject every proposal put to them. Rather, to justify their existence, they will make some high-profile investments, no matter how dubious.

As for the politicians, they will crave the photo ops from contract signings and factory openings. Since the CEFC's mandate includes helping existing manufacturers convert to "green energy", every constituency can have one, presumably with a billboard advertising the government funding. Ever alert, the rent seekers won't take long to cotton on. And with the CEFC excluded from the Productivity Commission's periodic reviews of the government's package, there will be little to slow the gravy train.

But none of this will come cheaply. Rather, analyses consistently conclude that each dollar spent on this type of government venture simply crowds out one dollar of private investment elsewhere in the economy. But that government dollar both achieves less than the dollar it displaces and costs more, because distorting taxes are needed to raise it. It therefore ends up costing two or more dollars in lost income.

So make that $20bn wasted on painting the pork barrel green.

But what are a few billion dollars more when you are set to trash a trillion? Pocket money. Pity it's our pockets it will be coming out of.


Australia's doors are now wide open to illegal immigration

JULIA Gillard has predicted an increase in boat arrivals after yesterday being forced to abandon offshore processing and softening the treatment of asylum-seekers who arrive by sea.

Under Labor's new asylum-seeker regime, increasing numbers of arrivals will be allowed to live in the community and work while on bridging visas as their claims are processed.

After failing to garner the support of enough crossbenchers for legislation that would revive her proposed Malaysia Solution, the Prime Minister last night warned "we are at a real risk of seeing more boats" but urged Australians to blame Tony Abbott.

"There is only one reason that we are not in the circumstances to have offshore processing and that's because of Mr Abbott and his determination to trash the national interest," Ms Gillard said in Canberra yesterday. "Mr Abbott's conduct leads us to circumstances where we are at real risk of seeing more boats."

As the drama unfolded last night, refugee sources told The Australian in Jakarta that four boats were within several days of sailing, carrying about 300 asylum-seekers in total.

However, the Indonesian national police's anti-people-smuggling taskforce is at a high state of readiness, working closely with Jakarta-based Australian Federal Police agents,

Since the August 31 High Court decision knocked down Canberra's Malaysia Solution, four vessels carrying 392 asylum-seekers have made it to Australian waters. In that time, however, the Indonesian police have prevented at least three other departures by intercepting up to 200 passengers travelling on land.

Another boatload of 44 people was intercepted at sea last month off Sulawesi after mechanical trouble.

The Prime Minister's comments drew contempt from the opposition, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison saying Labor had capitulated to the Greens and calling for Ms Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to resign. The Opposition Leader urged Labor to admit it could not deal with border security and call an election.

The Greens, most refugee advocates and Labor MPs from the Left faction welcomed the move, saying onshore processing was the most humane way of dealing with asylum-seekers. Under the government's plan, most eligible boatpeople will be issued with sub-class 050 bridging visas, the same visa issued to asylum-seekers who arrive by plane.

It is understood the government will begin issuing bridging visas to boatpeople sooner rather than later. Although the government retains spare capacity for about 2400 asylum-seekers in the overstretched detention network, officials are keen to ensure pressure in the system is relieved before it is allowed to build.

The bridging visas allow asylum-seekers to be paid 89 per cent of a Special Benefit allowance (roughly the same as the Newstart allowance). This means singles get $443 a fortnight, and families $570.

After two hurried cabinet meetings and a caucus meeting, Ms Gillard last night revealed the new arrangements, under which all asylum-seekers will be processed onshore. All would face mandatory detention on arrival, but after existing detention facility space was exhausted, the government would allow detainees to move into the community on bridging visas.

The changes come only weeks after bureaucrats and experts warned Ms Gillard that a failure to reinstate offshore processing, which was declared illegal by the High Court in August, would trigger an increase in people-smuggling. The experts predicted about 600 irregular arrivals a month, and warned of resulting social unrest.

Announcing the move last night, Ms Gillard said offshore processing in Malaysia would have been the most effective method to deter the people-smugglers. She warned that onshore processing would spark "the real risk" of more boats.

"I understand that will cause community anxiety," the Prime Minister said. "I believe it is very important that if we do see more boats, to separate in the community's mind, in all of our minds, the problem of seeing more boats from the people who are on those boats. We are a generous country, we are a compassionate country. It is not a matter of blaming the people who are on the boats for these circumstances."


Jewish community wants Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir outlawed

VICTORIA'S Jewish community wants a radical Islamic group banned, claiming it poses a security risk. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in several countries, is due to hold a conference against the Afghanistan war in Melbourne tonight. The group's Australian branch has also recently criticised a new counter-terrorism website launched by the Federal Government.

Victorian Jewish Community Council president John Searle said yesterday that Hizb ut-Tahrir's beliefs were contrary to those of most Australians. "They peddle a very virulent form of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism, and they are the sort of group that would encourage home-grown terrorists," he said.

"We are not happy that they are here at all. We don't believe they are a desirable influence on young minds."

Mr Searle said the Jewish community council wanted the group banned and was concerned that speakers at tonight's event could inspire people to take extreme actions. "They are certainly at the very extreme end and extremists do not produce any good results for anybody," he said.

But Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Uthman Badar denied the group was extremist or anti-Semitic. "The claims made about us are based on hearsay," he said. "We are happy for them (Jewish community members) to come down and have a look at our conference." Mr Badar said the group had a problem with Israel because of the occupation of Palestine.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Hizb ut-Tahrir's views were well out of step with the Australian community and the question of banning the group was constantly being reviewed by security and intelligence agencies.

"The Government takes a hard line against groups that advocate terrorism, and will act upon advice from its security agencies as to whether they should be proscribed," he said.


13 October, 2011

Consultants, lawyers, contractors: All aboard the NBN gravy train

NATIONAL Broadband Network head Mike Quigley appears today before the joint parliamentary committee on the NBN's rollout, so perhaps he can explain what value is being delivered by the $36 billion taxpayer-backed project the Economist Intelligence Unit labelled in a recent survey of national broadband initiatives "an extreme example of government intervention". The report found Australian government spending on the NBN dwarfed government spending in any other market.

Quigley will have to not only justify the headline cost of the project but the limited and costly progress to date.

His first progress report submitted to the committee as executive chairman of NBN Co revealed that after two years and despite spending more than $800 million, only 18,000 homes had been passed with fibre-optic cable and a mere 600 connected. In contrast to the fanfare that accompanies parts of the NBN being turned on, the critical progress report was released two weeks ago, late in the evening, deliberately missing news deadlines. Why? Because it's clear from the report that the NBN is not shaping up as a good news story.

In Tasmania, where the network was first switched on, the take-up rate is less than 15 per cent. Worse, the cost of deploying what little fibre has been rolled out is double the estimate contained in NBN Co's first corporate plan. That November 2010 plan estimated it would cost $2300 to pass each household with fibre but the progress report suggests it is costing $4700 with connection adding a further $1000 per household.

If those construction costs cannot be reined in and were repeated for all 12 million premises, then the NBN's capital cost could blow out by $28bn.

In April, NBN Co ended negotiations with 14 contractors hinting there was collusion and price gouging. It's small wonder there couldn't be a deal given the vast gap between what the government has budgeted and actual costs.

No one, of course, is pointing out that the NBN's costs could explode. Why would they when NBN Co's 900 employees are averaging more than $150,000 a year? And the gravy train doesn't stop there. Consultants, lawyers and IT contractors are doing even better. In the 12 months to June, NBN Co spent $60m on consultants and a whopping $42m on legal costs while $220m has been spent or committed to a billing and operational support system even though NBN Co will be dealing with at most only a couple of hundred customers. And this cost could double.

Nor are the country independents who supported the Gillard government being neglected. Pushing fibre farther out into rural communities means the costs of serving some rural households could approach $8000, and when the fibre stops the wireless and satellite subsidy will cut in.

Earlier estimates in the corporate plan show that the average capital cost of an NBN broadband connection through wireless or satellite will be $14,600 and with revenues of only $80m a year each wireless and satellite connection will need an annual subsidy of $1700.

And even NBN Co's potential rivals are in on the act. Telstra is set to sign off on a $13.8bn deal that will see nearly $3bn in contracts for use of Telstra's fibre-optic cables and exchanges locked in, even if the NBN isn't fully built. Taxpayers are underwriting the deal. NBN Co is also buying out the Optus pay-TV network for more than $1bn, a price that Optus could only have dreamed of on the open market. Truly an Alan Bond moment for Optus chief executive Paul O'Sullivan. This is happening at Telstra's behest in possibly the most anti-competitive deal yet seen in Australia.

These realities lie far from the government's spin that the NBN will come in on budget and deliver affordable broadband to all Australians. Again, earlier estimates released by NBN Co put the lie to that. If the NBN's business case is to comenear stacking up, even without the massive cost blowouts that are threatened, within 10 years Australians will have to spend more than three times as much on fixed-line broadband as they do today. That's a big call when broadband prices have fallen for the past 10 years.

Clearly many won't be in a position to pay more for NBN services and that is obvious from Tasmania, where the pork-barrelling that underpins the NBN saw it rolled out to communities in marginal seats such as Scottsdale and Smithton where more than 40 per cent of households, double the national average, have incomes below $800 a week. And even households better able to pay may not take up the higher speed, higher-cost services essential to the NBN's success. The number of wireless (mobile) broadband users now rivals fixed-line users and spending on wireless broadband will soon match spending on fixed-line broadband.

Faced with a choice between higher speed fixed-line broadband over fibre and the utility and convenience of mobile broadband, many consumers will spend their discretionary dollar on mobile.

That will shoot further holes in the NBN's fragile business case, but that scarcely matters to the government, desperate to spin the NBN as a good news story through to the next election. It may not because it is becoming increasingly clear that the NBN's attempts to deploy higher speed broadband will be marked by cost blowouts and delays that cannot be hidden.


Queensland education authorities raise concerns about Australian Curriculum prior to roll out

HUNDREDS of issues and concerns have been raised by Queensland education authorities about the Australian Curriculum just months before it rolls out in classrooms.

Concerns include how to teach numeracy across all areas of the curriculum, literacy primarily promoting formal grammar, an inappropriate expectation on Year 2 students to talk about conflict at home, and India and China being unnecessarily "preferentially identified".

The "issues and concerns" are cited in two reports written jointly by Education Queensland, the Queensland Catholic Education Commission, Independent Schools Queensland and the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA).

The reports respond to an Australian Curriculum general capabilities draft and a request for feedback on the nature of the cross-curriculum priorities.

The general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities are part of every curriculum learning area.

A revised version of the general capabilities draft is expected to be released next month and state education authorities say they are confident the concerns won't affect the curriculum's delivery next year.

Concerns raised in the general capabilities report include: "It is not clear how to support numeracy as a general capability and teach numeracy within the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics."

Under literacy it states: "The structure primarily promotes formal grammar. Being literate requires more than the ability to correctly use formal grammar; being literate requires proficiency in the full range of literacy competencies."

Authorities also warn: "It is not appropriate for students by the end of Year 2 to be '. . . describing possible causes of conflict at home . . .' as this may be a highly sensitive area for some children."

In the cross-curriculum response, under "Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia", it states: "The preferential identification of China and India are unnecessary. By only highlighting two relationships we are sending inappropriate messages that favour growth over other factors."

A QSA spokesman said the general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities were designed to provide additional support for teachers and their considerations should not delay implementation of the Australian Curriculum.

"Queensland schools are still on track to successfully implement the Australian Curriculum from 2012," he said.

Education ministers from around Australia will meet on Friday to consider the curriculum's achievement standards. Education Minister Cameron Dick said Queensland supported the Australian Curriculum.


Altogether too much red tape in our public sector

WE have just had a tax forum largely debating how to raise revenue. Yet the government could save up to 20 per cent of its expenditure by overhauling traditional policy-making and accountability processes in the delivery of public services.

If we think of schools, hospitals and prisons as firms, then the regimes that regulate them amount to the worst red tape imposed on any sector of the economy, resulting in billions of dollars of lost productivity each year.

I know what defenders of the traditional approach will say, so let me make clear that I am not arguing for any reduction in accountability but for accountability that is more effective.

It may seem strange that I should criticise my old profession. But I have spent 17 years working with a British-based company that employs 70,000 people worldwide, most of whom deliver public services for governments under contract, and I have developed a deep respect for front-line public servants. We should take some of the frustration out of their jobs and make them more productive.

The chair that I have taken up with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government is explicitly designed to look at the delivery of public services through the eyes of front-line management and staff, rather than studying them from the top down.

Since taking up the chair, I have revisited the literature on policy implementation and I find it differs in fundamental ways from a service delivery model.

The implementation model assumes that policymakers dream up policies, give them legal or structural form and public servants then implement those policies. That sometimes happens when policymakers generate an original solution.

But most of the time they are tinkering with longstanding public services such as hospitals and schools. In those cases, a policy initiative is merely another intervention in the way existing services are delivered.

Of course, policies change from time to time, human resource practices should be improved and those who deliver public services must be held accountable for the expenditure of public funds and the exercise of state power. But the processes we have developed are grotesquely inefficient. We should develop models that cost less.

Policymakers have to stop tinkering. Interventions should be strategic, not tactical, and where possible bipartisan. We have come to believe that democratic accountability means that politicians and policymakers, and middle managers in head office, have the right to intervene in delivery whenever they feel it is necessary.

They reserve the freedom to endlessly adjust policy settings in the interest of "getting it right", failing to understand the immense cost they impose on service providers, in terms of efficiency, innovation and service quality.

I recently interviewed an experienced private-sector project manager who spent several years in a large state government agency and I asked him what was different. He said that government's intention was never clear; there was no real plan. And government delegated much less responsibility to line management: "Most project managers in government aren't managing their budget": responsibility for the cost of capital belonged with someone in Treasury.

Public service managers point to three advantages of the contractual as opposed to the traditional model. First, a contract provides a clearer sense of what they have to do and how it will be judged. Second, it gives them much greater autonomy; having been given a mission they know it will remain constant for the life of the contract and they can get on with deliveryFinally, they feel more accountable for outcomes.

We must shift from process accountability to performance accountability, with front-line managers given a clear statement of outcomes and time to deliver.

To have the public service in perpetual fear of being named in parliament or humiliated in the press is not effective accountability and it results in dreadful distortions. Institutions are designed to minimise the opportunity for scandal and not to maximise value for money and the quality of service.

Governments need to make more use of contractual models in delivering public services, without necessarily using the private sector. They also must appoint quality people to front-line management and learn to trust them. They must change the risk-reward ratio, identifying and honouring those who succeed, while protecting those who take measured risks and fail. We must encourage innovation in front-line services that is systemic rather than heroic.

Politicians tell us we need to raise national productivity. Physician, heal thyself.


Tony Abbott should seize free speech as election issue

TONY Abbott has been gifted a new election issue that he should seize: a Labor Party ready to restrict political debate and valid expressions of view by the Australian people.

Labor's response to the Andrew Bolt case has been a wall of silence. There is no doubt, however, this is a Labor law and the judge's decision that further represses political debate is seen as a Labor value.

Unless overturned on appeal (if there is an appeal) this law will haunt Labor and constitute another chapter in the degeneration of its culture, a process now dangerously advanced.

Indeed, it is hard to find a more perfect example of the trap of political correctness and the legal-human rights culture of legislating for good behaviour than this application of the Racial Discrimination Act. It plays into Abbott's favourite political crusade: Labor's capture by elite special interests that patronise the Australia people and insist on laws that restrict debate in a way most Australians will not accept.

There is one certainty. Labor will pay a political price. This has yet to dawn on caucus because of the range of more serious problems that Labor faces.

But Abbott and shadow attorney-general George Brandis have taken the decision that counts. They intend to punish Labor on free speech and punish it hard. In Abbott's hands, however, this assumes a lethal import.

In his oped on this page on September 30, Brandis said: "If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed."

There is no shadow cabinet decision to this effect. But Abbott and Brandis have consulted and, in effect, have decided. It signals a new cultural attack on Labor on grounds of political correctness.

This penetrates to values and Abbott loves a clash over values. Imagine his message: Labor wants to gag ordinary Australians (yes, the outsiders) who speak out against the values prescribed by the insiders.

The split between Labor and the Coalition seems to be wide. Brandis told The Australian yesterday: "If I was to become attorney-general in an Abbott government I would make defence of freedom of speech one of my most important priorities."

Only a fool could mistake such signals. If the decision by Justice Mordecai Bromberg stands, then Julia Gillard as PM should commission a review of the 1995 amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act that were relevant in the Bolt case.

Such a review would signal Labor's willingness to rethink the act. But it is improbable because these were Labor amendments and for many the Bromberg decision is exactly what the law was designed to achieve. Labor, in effect, is trapped. The defeat of Bolt, one of its hate figures, is seen as a victory for Labor values, for human rights and against hate speech and racial intolerance.

There would be uproar if Gillard signalled she was unhappy with the law or its implications.

The issue here is not Bolt. His articles contained many mistakes. Indeed, there is a persuasive argument on journalistic grounds that they should not have been published and former editor of The Age Michael Gawenda has said he would not have published them.

Nor does the notion of Bolt as free-speech martyr have the slightest traction, given that few other people have enjoyed the benefits of free speech for so long.

If the law were merely limited to race hate there would be no issue. But it isn't. The heading on Part 11 A of the act refers to "racial hatred" but, as Justice Bromberg said, its provisions are not restricted to racial hatred or racial violence.

Any argument this law is necessary to protect Jewish, Aboriginal or Muslim communities from racial hatred is false because the law extends far beyond such purposes. It makes behaviour unlawful in a racial context when it is likely "to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate". This is a conspicuously low threshold. Brandis describes it as a "grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse".

Judge Bromberg sees the purpose of the act as being to promote tolerance in a multicultural society and he makes findings within this framework. In short, it is about respect in a multicultural society, a threshold lower than the defamation test. The certainty is that Australia's robust political discourse will sometimes fail this test.

Should Pauline Hanson have been subject to legal action for her comments about Aborigines? Or would this have only been counterproductive? How far should the state go as political censor?

The act has a series of exemptions on free-speech grounds including "fair comment" in the public interest. But Bromberg found Bolt failed to qualify because his articles were inaccurate (a completely valid call) and written in inflammatory language that used mockery, derision and cynicism.

This showed that Bolt "failed to honour the values asserted by the RDA" and that his articles reinforced "racially prejudiced views".

The core message is apparent. "Insufficient care and diligence" was displayed by Bolt in upholding the values of the act and, as a result, he was not entitled to exemption on free-speech grounds.

Prominent lions from the cultural industry are now cheering a finding that you can have free speech provided you meet the required standard of politeness. Yes, they are a farce.

Nobody pretends free speech is unfettered. Yet the limitations revealed by this judgment are significant. So is the reaction. What counts in Australia today is politics and ideology: the wider debate increasingly reflects the view that "provided I agree with you I will support your free speech, but if I don't then I will oppose it".

This strange mood is driven, above all, by the failure of the progressive forces to carry the nation with public hostility to carbon pricing the prime exhibit. This was the policy enshrined by the progressive forces, yet it is the policy that has ruined Gillard. The upshot is a tide of anger and resentment that rises and falls within Labor and its cultural backers.

Labor has stumbled into a print media inquiry that may be toothless, constructive or hostile to print media operations. Who knows?

Frankly, not Labor. Meanwhile many of its cultural backers are irrational about Abbott and fan hostility to shock jocks, the so-called Murdoch media, while betraying their resentment of an Australian public that still backs Abbott.

It would be a disaster for Labor to become party to the new political correctness. Doesn't Labor see this is not about Bolt? Doesn't Labor grasp that this issue plays directly into Abbott's entire political narrative? Doesn't Labor grasp that stifling debate is a sure loser with the voters?

And when will Labor get some mainstream common sense into its values? If it doesn't, it faces greater electoral erosion.


12 October, 2011

Carbon tax vote clears Lower House

AFTER more than a decade of political argument, the House of Representatives has this morning passed legislation to put a price on carbon, paving the way for Australia's most dramatic economic reform in more than a decade.

After claiming two prime ministers, two opposition leaders and severely wounding the authority of Julia Gillard, a carbon price is now on a clear path to being entrenched in law.

The government's carbon tax package was passed 74 votes to 72, with applause from the government benches as legislation was passed with the support of independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Labor frontbenchers embraced the Prime Minister following the vote, while Coalition MPs jeered and urged Kevin Rudd to congratulate her. Mr Rudd then kissed Ms Gillard on the cheek and offered his congratulations, to cheers from opposition benches.

Speaking before the final vote, Ms Gillard said future generations would enjoy the benefits of the historic reform.

But as the 18 carbon tax bills head for a vote in the Senate before the end of the year, Tony Abbott gave his “pledge in blood” to dismantle the tax in government.

Ms Gillard said 160 million tonnes of carbon would be cut from the atmosphere by 2020 under her carbon tax. “You'll be able to see the biggest polluters changing their conduct and behaviour,” Ms Gillard told ABC Radio.

Ms Gillard says Mr Abbott will be unable to dismantle the tax because it would involve taking associated compensation measures from pensioners and families.

But Mr Abbott said he was more determined than ever to axe the carbon price if he became prime minister. “We will repeal this tax, we will dismantle the bureaucracy associated with it,” Mr Abbott said. “I am giving you the most definite commitment any politician can give that this tax will go. This is a pledge in blood this tax will go.

“If the bills pass today this will be an act of betrayal on the Australian public. We will repeal the tax, we can repeal the tax, we must repeal the tax.”

The government's related $300 million steel transformation plan also passed the House, 75 votes to 71, with the additional support of Queensland independent Bob Katter.

Former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull - a carbon price supporter - voted with the Coalition as expected. But he sat stony-faced on the back bench for the votes, next to opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey.

Mr Rudd and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson sat chatting on the Labor back bench for the divisions. Greens deputy leader Christine Milne sat in the chamber's guest seats to witness the vote.

Under the government's package, a fixed carbon price of $23 a tonne will be imposed from July 1 next year, rising at 2.5 per cent a year in real terms for three years.

In 2015, the package will convert to an emissions trading scheme with a floating price.

When the floating price starts in 2015, a floor price of $15 will be imposed and a ceiling price, $20 above the expected international price, will also be imposed to prevent volatility.


Australian union leaders out of step on carbon tax

Now, here's a test. Name one leading trade union figure in the US or Canada who is calling for a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme (including the cap-and-trade version). Just one.

The fact is that no prominent member of any North American union is advocating such policy. Nor has action on climate change been embraced by the employee organisations' key bodies - the American AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress.

The story is quite different in Australia. Barely a week passes without the president of the ACTU, Ged Kearney, or its secretary, Jeff Lawrence, publicly endorsing Labor's carbon tax, which will eventually become an emissions trading scheme.

Yesterday the formation of Manufacturing Australia was announced. Funded by some of Australia's leading manufacturing companies, it is headed by well-known businessman Dick Warburton. In his first interview, on Radio National Breakfast, Warburton declared it would be "quite wrong" for Australia to go ahead with a carbon tax when the rest of the world was pulling out of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. His case was if Australia introduced a carbon tax or scheme before its competitors it would suffer a commercial disadvantage "that would lead to probable losses of jobs and probable plant closures".

A statement by a prominent business figure expressing concern about possible job losses might be expected to have a certain appeal to trade union leaders who, in the final analysis, are dependent on workers paying union dues to maintain their positions. But apparently not where what is termed "action on climate change" is concerned.

The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, Dave Oliver,took the first swing. He accused Warburton of being a "mouthpiece for Tony Abbott".

Next up was the national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Paul Howes, one of Australia's most impressive union leaders and among the first of his colleagues to realise that a carbon tax or trading scheme could cause manufacturing job losses. On April 14 this year, Howes said: "If one job is gone, our support is gone." Within a couple of months, however, he was reassured. On July 18, he went on the Lateline program to declare the AWU's support for the carbon tax legislation, saying that "no matter who's in government, carbon pricing is an inevitability".

He argued that the AWU had to get the best deal for its members and he was "confident that the package, as announced by the government, will not cost the jobs of any of our members". (Howes is particularly pleased by the proposed $300 million package for the steel industry, scheduled to last for four years.)

The position of union leaders such as Kearney, Lawrence, Oliver and Howes is built on faith. They maintain that Australian businesses will not suffer if a carbon tax is imposed upon them because, in the short to medium term, other nations will do the same. Viewed in this light, Australia will benefit from being first and, as Oliver put it yesterday, Australian manufacturing can benefit from catching the new wave of climate change jobs.

On the available evidence, this is mere wish fulfilment. Of all the OECD economies, Australia most closely resembles that of Canada. There are also similarities between the Australian and US economies. There are few similarities between Australia and the economies of the European Union, including Britain.

Thomas Nides, who is a deputy secretary of state in the US and reports directly to Hillary Clinton, addressed The Sydney Institute on September 6, saying: "I wish I could say that we could pass climate change legislation in the United States. I couldn't. I can't. We can't get that through."

In view of this quite emphatic statement, it is difficult to see how the US will be trading emissions at a national level any time soon. Under Barack Obama's administration, an emissions trading scheme is off the agenda. If a Republican happens to defeat Obama at next year's presidential election, it is even less likely. The recently re-elected Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has indicated that Canada will not introduce a scheme before the US, its major trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's commitment to alternative energy has been significantly discredited by the collapse of the solar panel firm Solyndra. Solyndra received a staggering $US530 million loan from Washington in March 2009 and filed for bankruptcy in August this year.

When the conservative New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, visited Australia recently he was praised by Julia Gillard for overseeing New Zealand's emissions trading scheme. The Prime Minister made no mention of the fact that, not long after coming to office, Keys scaled it back. On September 15, Wellington announced that the implementation of the scheme had been slowed down.

Last week the governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, warned that the world could be facing its worst-ever financial crisis. This is hardly a time for Australia to be a world leader in implementing a carbon tax. Warburton understands the potential job losses involved in such a risk strategy. His position seems to be understood by trade union leaders in the US and Canada - but not in Australia.


Insane killer OK to drive a Victorian cab??

How can ANYBODY be certain that he won't have another bad turn for some reason?

A REFUGEE who butchered his wife in a fit of insanity could be back driving a cab in as little as three weeks. The Court of Appeal yesterday cleared the way for him to hit the road in a ruling that sparked outrage.

His passengers will never know his past because his identity has been kept secret during his four-year fight.

Last night angry Department of Transport officials were considering a High Court appeal, in a last bid to keep the killer out of Victoria's cabs. Others called for immediate changes to the law to prevent the man ever getting behind the wheel of a cab.

A taxi directorate spokesman said factors such as how quickly he registered for driver training, whether he passed and if he had a driver's licence, would determine how quickly he was back on the road.

In a unanimous decision, three Court of Appeal judges dismissed an appeal by the Director of Public Transport against a VCAT ruling that allowed the man - known as XFJ - to be accredited as a cabbie.

XFJ repeatedly stabbed his wife in 1990 after being granted refugee status. A jury found him not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

The man sought work as a cab driver to earn money while caring for a sick son.

His application for accreditation in November 2007 was refused by a Director of Public Transport. On review, another delegate decided that, while he was "technically competent" and "sufficiently fit and healthy" to drive a cab, his application should be rejected because he was still not suitable.

XFJ then took his fight to VCAT. Two psychiatrists wrote that he was of sound character and unlikely to re-offend and VCAT judged he was suitable for a taxi licence for 18 months. An appeal to the Supreme Court was unsuccessful.

In their Court of Appeal judgment yesterday, justices Chris Maxwell, David Harper and Philip Mandie dismissed a further appeal.

"What counts decisively against the director's argument ... is the sheer implausibility of the proposition that a decision to accredit one driver could have any material effect on public confidence in the taxi industry," Justice Maxwell said.

"As both the director and the tribunal found, (XFJ) is technically competent and in good health and capable of meeting reasonable community expectations." XFJ's lawyer, Barbara Shalit, said the case highlighted the importance of considering all the circumstances before drawing prejudicial conclusions about risk to the public.

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said the the decision was being reviewed before considering any possible next steps.

RMIT transport academic Dr Paul Mees said: "The (court) decision seems to be based on an idea there is some sort of inherent right to hold a taxi licence, but this is not like the right to vote," he said. "The burden of proof ought to be on why you are a fit and proper person to hold a licence."


Hatred of non-government schools at work?

A lot of Leftists resent the fact that non-government schools get varying degrees of financial support from the Federal government

A GIPPSLAND Catholic school is questioning whether it is being discriminated against by being banned from a generations-old community campground. The St Kieran’s school community in Moe is gutted by a decision by government-run Somers School Camp to allow only state schools to access Woorabinda School Camp in Yallourn North from next year.

The camp said today its priority was for government schools programs, but hinted today that Catholic and Independent could still have access on weekends and school holidays.

St Kieran’s acting principal Lisa Broeren said children from the low-income area would have nowhere else to go if shut out from the local camp. “I guess why we’re so upset is it’s the kids’ parents and grandparents here who actually built it, and it’s their family members who ran it all those years and now they’re saying ‘bad luck’. And we’d like to say ‘bad luck’s just not good enough’,” Ms Broeren, who also attended the camp as a child, said.

She questioned Somers’ motive for shutting independent schools out of the facility. “We would just love to know what their justification is – is it discrimination against Catholic schools?,” she said.

A letter to the school from Somers School Camp Principal Denise Anthony says Woorabinda is now funded to provide educational programs for state government school students across Victoria. “You can see that Woorabinda has changed and although Catholic and independent schools, such as St Kieran’s, will not have access past the end ... ,” Ms Anthony says in the June letter.

Today, Ms Anthony rejected claims of discrimination, telling the the move to only allow public schools to use the site was not discriminatory, and stressed Catholic and independent schools had known of the move since the site was taken over by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in April last year.

“Since 2010 the landscape has completely changed – Woorabinda was once a quasi-private camp, who opened its doors to everybody because they needed to get support in the local area, and they also needed to raise funds to self-manage. “The Department of Education now owns and operates this site, which means we have a commitment to provide programs to government primary school students,” she said.

She said it may be possible for the independent and Catholic schools to use the site on weekends and during school holidays, “but with being a fully-funded government primary school, we can’t provide programs for the government sector and for the private sector at the same time.”

“I believe that we are doing our job as a government primary school by providing high quality education programs to the people that we are meant to be providing to. In other words: the Department of Education, the State Government is funding us to provide programs to State Government students,” she said.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development funded several infrastructure improvements to the camp in the past year.

Somers School Camp provides an outdoor education program for children in Years Five and Six, for nine days a year on the Mornington Peninsula. It includes activities like bush cooking, orienteering and ropes courses.

Children have written to state and federal ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard – as well as the media – in a plea to stop the shut out.

In a letter to the Herald Sun, Year 6 student Matthew Pearce said the Catholics were being discriminated against. “Are they destroying the dreams of the next generation? Well St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School Moe thinks they are,” the letter reads.

"Because Somers are not letting Catholic and private schools attend Woorabinda school camp. Would you like to know why? Just because they can and they want to, which is pure discrimination against Catholics. "We are not living in the 1800s, when people were judged by their religion or the colour of their skin."

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said the minister would be asking the Department of Education to look into the matter.

Parent Melissa Ballantine, who attended the camp as a child, said her youngest son, Jaxon, would miss out on the camp because of the ruling. “The kids are gutted, the parents are gutted, the whole school community - we just can’t see how it’s fair to these kids, should all kids have access to these things,” Ms Ballantine said.


11 October, 2011

Coalition storms ALP strongholds: Newspoll

VOTERS have delivered a historic shift to the Coalition, giving Tony Abbott a lead or equal standing on all key electoral issues for the first time after dramatic collapses in Labor's support on the economy, health, education, climate change and even industrial relations.

Labor policies across the board have suffered blows, with record low voter support on the issue of climate change and a near record low on the handling of asylum-seekers.

At a time when the ALP's primary vote has dropped to record lows under Julia Gillard, the government is at its weakest for five or six years on industrial relations, inflation, interest rates, national security, education, the economy and health.

The government faces crucial parliamentary votes this week on its carbon tax and the processing of asylum-seekers.

But the latest Newspoll survey of important electoral issues, conducted exclusively for The Australian last weekend, reveals the Coalition has edged in front of Labor as the party judged better able to handle climate change for the first time on record, 31 per cent to 28 per cent. It also holds a lead on the issue of asylum-seekers of 44 per cent to Labor's 17 per cent -- a slight improvement on Labor's standing last month.

Even Labor's traditional strongholds in health and education have collapsed, with 14-point falls in ALP support in both areas since July last year, and seven-point rises for the Coalition. The Coalition is now even on 37 per cent for "health and Medicare" and virtually even with Labor on education, 35 per cent to 38 per cent.

Labor has lost the lead it has held over the Coalition on industrial relations since the negative impact of John Howard's Work Choices laws, with a 14-point fall to 39 per cent since July last year as the Coalition's support has risen eight points to 35 per cent.

Fears of another international economic crisis have shifted voter perceptions about the importance of electoral issues, with rises in the importance of economic management, inflation and interest rates. At the same time, the importance of asylum-seekers and climate change -- the key issues pursued by the government this week -- have dropped to their lowest levels of importance.

According to the Newspoll survey, health (78 per cent) and education (75 per cent) continue to be the most important issues nominated by voters. But the economy (74 per cent) jumped four points since July last year to be almost equal with education.

The importance of inflation and interest rates rose as renewed fears of a global slowdown grew in recent months.

The Gillard government's economic management has been hammered, with a loss of 15 percentage points to 28 per cent since August last year. The Coalition's support has risen three points to 47 per cent, giving it a 19-point lead over Labor -- its biggest since 2006.

This comes despite Australia's relative economic strength, with Wayne Swan being named the world's best treasurer by Euromoney magazine and last week's tax and job forums. Although interest rates are still low, Labor's support on the issue of 26 per cent is the weakest since 2006 -- before the impact of 11 interest rate rises in a row under the Howard government.

While the importance of asylum-seekers and climate change fell relative to the economy since July last year, the Gillard government has been concentrating on the issues.

It introduces its carbon tax bill to parliament tomorrow and tries to pass laws to bypass the High Court's rejection of the Malaysia Solution on Thursday.

At the election last year, Labor led the Coalition on climate change by 13 points -- 35 per cent to 22 per cent -- with "someone else", essentially the Greens, on 19 per cent.

Last weekend, Labor's support fell seven points to 28 per cent, its lowest in Newspoll history, while the Opposition's support rose nine points to 31 per cent, its highest level on record. The "someone else" choice was virtually unchanged on 18 per cent.

The Opposition Leader has campaigned against the carbon tax and Ms Gillard's broken election promise on the tax since February and will oppose it in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

On the issue of "asylum-seekers arriving in Australia", Labor has had a lift from its record low of 12 per cent last month to 17 per cent, but the Coalition has gone back to its record support of 44 per cent, while the Greens appear to have reached a new high of 14 per cent for their policy opposing offshore processing of asylum-seekers.

In the past two weeks, Ms Gillard has announced a foreign policy white paper, her hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Queen's visit, her attendance at the G20 meeting in France next month and the visit of US President Barack Obama.

Labor's standing on national security issues, however, has crashed. ALP support for national security, which has never been above the Coalition, dropped back 10 points to 2006 levels of 24 per cent, while the Coalition's rose from 43 to 45 per cent. Labor's best position on national security was 36 per cent to the Coalition's 39 per cent when Kevin Rudd was prime minister in February 2009.

Of nine key issues, Labor has nominal leads on education and industrial relations, is equal on health and Medicare, just behind on climate change and between 19 and 27 points behind on the rest.


Coalition in bid to delay carbon tax bills as Labor offers extra time for debate

LABOR has allocated an extra five hours to debate its carbon tax legislation today as the opposition vowed a last ditch challenge aimed at delaying the tax until after the next election.

Chief Labor whip Joel Fitzgibbon told The Australian Online the government wanted every MP who wanted a say on the tax - including former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull - a chance to speak on the legislation.

But Mr Turnbull, a supporter of pricing carbon, will not speak on the carbon bills today, his office has confirmed.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the House of Representatives would sit until at least 10.30pm, and perhaps later, to accommodate debate, with a final lower house vote due at 9am tomorrow.

Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt flagged opposition amendments to force the government to delay its carbon tax until after an election. “Whether you believe in, or whether you oppose, a carbon tax, everybody should support giving the people a say,” Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.

If voters supported Labor at the election they would know they were getting a carbon tax, Mr Hunt said.

But Labor's Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said Mr Hunt was a “shadow of his former self, rather than a shadow minister”. “Greg Hunt has sold out to the climate sceptics who now dominate the Coalition. Today is an historic day, we have had 19 years of talk about this in the parliament,” he said.

Labor's carbon tax legislation is expected to pass the House with the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt and fellow crossbench MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

It will then proceed to the Senate where it will pass with the support of the Greens.

But Labor's $300 million steel transformation plan is still facing defeat, with the opposition opposing it and the Greens undecided whether they will support the measure, which is linked to the government's carbon tax.

“We'll have a discussion this morning in our party room about the steel transformation plan,” Greens MP Adam Bandt said. “We've always said we understand there are challenges facing particular sectors, especially because of the high Australian dollar, and that means that some support is needed.

“But we want to know that it will in fact help local jobs and will in fact help to protect the environment and not just go to line the pockets of already wealthy companies.”


Gillard jawbones employers about hiring Australians first

Just political grandstanding. Only legislation would have any appreciable effect

The Prime Minister of Australia has urged employers to prioritise local workers over skilled migrants in filling jobs.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told the media that vacant employment positions - particualrly in the lucrative mining and resources sector - should be filled by Australian workers rather than imported skilled labour, ahead of the national jobs forum in Canberra commencing Friday 7 October.

Ms Gillard said that unemployed Australians could be trained to fill demand in the mines. She specifically raised the possibility of re-training retrenched steelworks workers in Western Australia, and providing new opportunities to regional and rural communities through skills training.

"We don't want to leave a kid in Kwinana in Western Australia on the unemployment queue without skills while the people who operate big mines in the north-west of the state say can you import a plumber or a cook or an electrician for me," Gillard told Radio National. "I want that kid to get that opportunity."

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has supported the Prime Minister's comments, claiming that the use of skilled migrants indicates a lack of local skills training on the part of industry.

"The reason we are in this mess at the moment is that the mining industry has not invested in skills," said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

"They are not training apprentices, they are not training their workers. For years they have neglected this important part of their responsibility as an employer."

The Government amended the Australian immigration intake in 2009, reducing the number of skilled migrants to 115,000.

However, despite the imposed limit and recent comments, the Government also indicated in the Federal Budget handed down in May that the skilled migrant intake would be increased in 2012. 16,000 additional Australia visa grants will be allocated to skilled foreigners next year.


WA: Solar businesses collapsing two months after feed-in tariff cut

In just two months Joe Darby's solar panel business has collapsed from a thriving enterprise growing at 20 per cent each year to absolutely nothing.

Since the state government's August 1 decision to abruptly suspend its feed-in tariff for households that export excess electricity to the grid, Mr Darby's Perth business has run out of work and been forced to cut ties with all of its three sub-contractors, affecting nine workers.

Mr Darby says he will lose his business and his home by Christmas and fears being made bankrupt unless the tariff is immediately reinstated.

"I'm tearing my hair out," Mr Darby said. "[Without government assistance] I'll lose my business and I'll lose my house. I'll be completely and utterly broke."

Scores more WA businesses are facing financial ruin and being forced to lay off staff following the feed-in tariff cut.

Without a feed-in tariff, households supplying solar-generated electricity to the state grid receive only 7 cents per kilowatt hour, which the Sustainable Energy Association argues is unfair and a disincentive for new customers.

An SEA survey conducted last month and released on Friday found 72 per cent of the state's solar energy businesses had either already laid off staff or expected to soon, with half the workforce expected to be cut, on average.

"There's no doubt that there's been some damage done already - people are laying off staff as we speak," SEA chief executive Ray Wills, who represents most WA solar panel businesses, said.

Another Perth businessman, who asked not to be named, said he had seen inquiries fall from 150 in July to just three in September.

Meanwhile Perth-based business Renewablelogic has seen inquiries for solar panel installation decline by 90 per cent, from 415 in the first week of July to just 40 last week.

The business has been forced to sack half its workforce and another 25 per cent of jobs remain uncertain, while planned expansions into regional WA have been significantly scaled back, a spokeswoman said. "The future of the solar industry has been at the mercy of government policy and ridden the waves along the way but none could predict a fall like this one," the Renewablelogic spokeswoman said.

The feed-in tariff was always intended to be phased out but when the government announced in May that it would decrease the rate from July 1 and set a cap at 150 megawatts, the scheme was expected to last well into next year. Instead the scheme's popularity led the government to abruptly suspend it on August 1, leading the industry reeling and complaining that it was not consulted prior to the decision.

The industry has largely accepted that the feed-in tariff cannot be sustained, however it is calling for an urgent increase to the second incentive payment, the Renewable Energy Buyback Scheme.

While the feed-in tariff was paid by the government, the REBS rate of 7 cents per kilowatt hour is paid by electricity providers Synergy and Western Power.

A 2007 report by the Office of Energy said the price should be 13-16 cents per kilowatt hour of exported energy. By comparison, WA's retail electricity price is three times that at 21 cents per kilowatt hour.

Professor Wills said electricity price increases (WA fees have soared more than 50 per cent since 2008) justified an even higher REBS rate. He said SEA had been in discussions with the government, which was expected to make an imminent decision on the issue.

"It's important that Synergy are able to cover their costs in terms of operating as a business but equally it's our view that we don't think 7 cents is a fair reflection of the value of energy they're getting back," Professor Wills said.

The value of solar panel-produced electricity also was more valued. "Because that will come from daytime when it's peak market," Professor Wills said. "Peak market energy prices are higher than night-time when solar panels aren't producing so the value of that energy is actually more."


Ambulance chaos in Victoria

Ambulance response times have blown out in Victoria with overworked paramedics taking sick leave because they cannot cope with what one whistleblower says is a dangerous system.

A paramedic, who did not want to be identified, said there was "no doubt" the lives of patients were being put at risk as callers were often forced to wait one to two hours for an ambulance, with one caller on the weekend enduring an eight-hour delay.

"The risk to everybody is not just unreasonable but dangerous," he told Radio 3AW.

The whistleblower said a lack of resources meant paramedics were unable to control a scene at Langwarrin, in Melbourne's south-east, following a car crash in which six people were injured just after midnight on Sunday.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said police were examining the accident scene when one of the injured men tried to assault a firefighter.

The man, who had abdominal and hip injuries, was being treated by paramedics when he rushed towards a firefighter and police were forced to use capsicum spray to subdue him to avoid a physical confrontation. The man was then taken to The Alfred hospital.

The whistleblower said the scene had become heated because patients had been forced to wait for back-up ambulances after an initial ambulance picked up the most seriously injured at the scene.

"We've never had workloads this bad, ever. The significance of this is that it is becoming routine, it's not just a one-off event," he told Radio 3AW.

The whistleblower said staff were struggling to cope and were having to work through meal and rest breaks, leading some to call in sick or leave in the middle of a shift.

Ambulance Victoria regional manager Simon Thomson said 67 paramedics were on sick leave on Sunday, which equated to 18 fewer available ambulances. Mr Thomson admitted the system was under pressure and that response times had increased significantly in the past month. He said paramedics were often left waiting as hospitals struggled to find beds to admit transported patients, blowing out response times.

The Victorian government last month sacked the Ambulance Victoria board in a bid to improve the service's performance.

Health Minister David Davis said about 75 per cent of ambulances called to critical cases arrived within 15 minutes in the past month, 10 per cent below the target of 85 per cent. "There's no doubt that we've got a challenge with response times and this has been a long-standing issue," he told Radio 3AW.

Mr Davis said the government was spending more than $150 million over four years to improve the ambulance service and working as "fast as we can".

In the meantime, the whistleblower said patients would be at risk. "What we're seeing routinely is three or four nights a week where we just haven't got the ability to respond and that's the real risk, across Melbourne the community's suffering at the moment," he said.


10 October, 2011

When the cat's away the mice begin to play

And when the cat is the government, you've got a very absent cat indeed. In the story below the government blames private builders but as anybody in the building game will tell you, new construction requires close supervision at every stage. The government has a body to do that supervision (The Queensland Building Services Authority) but their only concern appears to have been what to have with their morning tea. I was once a Qld. public servant so I know how it goes. I mostly used to have a Chester cake

BRAND new bathrooms have had to be ripped out of dozens of newly built public housing units across Queensland after they were found to be riddled with defects.

A The Courier-Mails investigation under Right To Information requests has found dangerously flooded bathrooms, ceiling damage from a leaking apartment block roof, blocked drainage, toilet leaks, damaged eaves and other problems have plagued accommodation for the needy.

The RTI revealed that in Mitchelton, in Brisbane's north, 10 units were declared "untenantable" two months after a block of 15 newly completed dwellings were handed over to the Department of Communities.

One month after the takeover, only one tenant, who otherwise would have been homeless, had been able to move in an urgent transfer.

The documents also revealed significant defects in six units in a new 12-block complex located at Stafford.

A document titled "Bathroom Defects Spreadsheet", dated June 24 this year, lists problems in multiple new public housing units at nine addresses in suburbs including Burleigh Heads, Labrador, Coomera, Mermaid Beach, Beenleigh, Stafford, Mitchelton and Morningside.

Under the Federal Government's $41 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan economic stimulus package, Queensland's Department of Communities received more than $1 billion to build 4025 units and houses across the state, with each costing less than $300,000 for land and construction.

The Minister for Community Services and Housing, Karen Struthers, said the extent of defects in assisted accommodation built by the private sector was a concern.

"A number of bathrooms in particular were defective and what we've learned from this is the private sector needs to get its act together and meet Australian adaptable housing standards," she said.

"Let this be a message to private industry. On the projects they do with us, we expect a high standard and we expect them to understand the Australian standards."

With more than 1000 extra new units to be built by June next year, Ms Struthers said the message to the private building sector "is getting through, but we need to keep a close eye on this".

The Queensland Building Services Authority, which policed the projects, referred questions to Ms Struthers's office.

Master Builders Association executive director Graham Cuthbert had no record of the Department of Communities alerting his organisation to the problem.


Another woeful TGA bungle

Another watchdog that doesn't watch. I wonder if they too have Chester cakes with their morning tea?

MORE than 2000 patients were fitted last year with artificial hips shown to have high failure rates, exposing them to at least double the risk of needing painful and costly repeat surgery.

The latest figures on repeat joint surgery rates have been released as a Senate committee prepares to issue a critical report after delays in withdrawing the failure-prone DePuy hip prosthesis.

But despite records showing 24 brands of hip prostheses failing at twice the normal rate, 2700 were implanted last year. More than half of these involved products that had been identified at least two years ago as problem prone, the National Joint Replacement Registry shows.

A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said an expert group would ''urgently consider'' the figures.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has come under fire from surgeons and patient groups for the three years it took to act on the DePuy prosthesis produced by Johnson & Johnson.

The company withdrew the parts from the local market in late 2009 and issued a global recall of 93,000 DePuy implants in August 2010. It is dealing with 3500 claims and has paid $21 million to patients.

In Australia about 80,000 artificial hips and knees are implanted every year.

The metal-on-metal joints have also been linked to dramatically increased levels of cobalt and chrome leaching into surrounding flesh and muscle.

Robert Lugton, who had to have surgery for the revision of his DePuy hip, has condemned the lack of public warnings. He said that when his implant was done in January 2008 there was already damning evidence available.

The chief executive of the Australian Health Insurance Association, Michael Armitage, said the fresh evidence made ''a compelling case for the minister to insist the TGA take urgent action to ensure poorly performing joints are removed from use''.


Negligent Melbourne public hospital can't even read an x-ray

A THREE-YEAR-OLD girl's broken leg was left untreated for three days after she was labelled a drama queen by her GP and turned away from Casey Hospital.

Malia De Thaierry was jumping on her trampoline at her Cranbourne home on Thursday when she fell off and injured her leg. Her mother Aroha knew instantly there was something wrong. "She was screaming like crazy and she's never like that," she said.

She took Malia to her GP, who dismissed her concerns and sent her home with orders to keep giving her daughter Nurofen. "He said, 'I can move her leg, she's fine,"' Mrs De Thaierry said.

Mrs De Thaierry was not convinced when her bubbly daughter refused to walk on her leg and took her to Casey Hospital on Thursday night. "They did X-rays after we waited for hours and said nothing is broken and you can take her home," she said.

"I took her back to the GP on Saturday and he hadn't even looked at her and he said, 'I think she's being overly dramatic, she's fine."'

At home, Malia was still crying and refusing to stand on her leg and Mrs De Thaierry took her back to Casey Hospital a second time. "We stayed there all night and they took blood tests because they thought the swelling might be due to an infection," she said.

"Finally on Sunday morning they reviewed the X-rays from Thursday and said her leg was fractured."

Mrs De Thaierry said she was furious that her determination was the only reason her daughter got the appropriate medical treatment. "They just kept saying, 'It's all right, it's all right' but I knew something was wrong," she said.

"They are the ones we are meant to trust and listen to and they're not giving us the right advice and the right diagnosis."

The incident is a latest in a series of blunders by Casey Hospital and comes after a little girl almost lost her life after twice being misdiagnosed and sent home with a burst appendix last month.


Traditional Australian families a dying breed

THE number of traditional family households is set to shrink to less than a quarter by 2026, with childless homes to become the new norm.

AustraliaSCAN projections, provided exclusively to the Herald Sun, show the number of households with nuclear families is forecast to plunge from 33 per cent in 2006 to just 22 per cent in the next 15 years.

For the first time, single households and couples with no children at home are expected to eclipse the classic households of mum, dad and children living with them.

Single-person homes are predicted to rise from 24 per cent to 31 per cent, making up the biggest demographic of households in the country, the household composition data shows.

Experts say the ageing population, people living longer, stresses on families, financial pressures, rising divorce rates and fewer marriages are shaping changes to the family structure.

The traditional notion of the family has also been reinvented in modern times to include step families, de facto couples, single parents, gay parents, international adoption and surrogacy.

Imogen Randell, managing director of Quantum Market Research which runs AustraliaSCAN, said the classic Aussie family was a shrinking group of households. "If the trend continues as it has done for the past 30 years it could be that by 2026 they are in the minority," she said. "We are living longer and, as we age, it's more likely that we will end up living alone, either divorced or widowed.

"Our population is ageing, fewer people are getting married and the fertility rate is currently below replacement levels (at about two babies per woman)." The couples with no children category includes empty nesters.

An AustraliaSCAN survey of 2000 people has found more than 80 per cent believe having a good marriage and happy children are signs of accomplishment in life.

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett recently stirred debate by saying happy heterosexual marriages are the best environment for children's mental health.

His comments came after the release of a report by a Sydney family law professor, commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby saying two married parents tend to provide better outcomes for children than one.

Melbourne family psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack said the vital thing for a child was to be loved, no matter what the family model.

She was shocked by the AustraliaSCAN predictions, even taking into account the ageing population. "People are putting off children later," she said. "And I'm seeing a growing trend where people are less willing to work on a relationship and will just leave if it gets too hard."

Households shrank from 4.5 children in 1911 to 2.6 in 2006, Australian Institute of Family Studies figures show.

AIFS director Professor Alan Hayes pointed to contraception and better educated career women delaying childbirth as influences on family size.

"I do not see this as the demise of the family. They are coming in smaller sizes and a wider range of shapes," he said. "The question in terms of public policy is what supports do we need to help families function well."


9 October, 2011

A Leftist who opposes a carbon tax

AMERICAN Michael Shellenberger may be a left-wing but he is anti-carbon tax and a nuclear power champion. He is in Adelaide for the 2011 Festival of Ideas to tell us to put our faith in the human race to develop new technologies to combat climate change.

Mr Shellenberger yesterday outlined his philosophy on how the world and Australia should tackle climate change. He said the Federal Government's controversial carbon tax bill - to be introduced to Parliament this week - was not the solution.

"Our basic view is the most important thing is to make clean energy cheaper through technological innovation," the 40-year-old said. "Our proposal is to put a small fee on coal production, that no one will notice, but will create enough money to fund those new technologies to reduce the cost of clean energy." Mr Shellenberger also believes nuclear power has a big future in this country.

"It is definitely an option for Australia in the future. "You have uranium mining, great universities (to train technicians and scientists) and can move to fourth generation nuclear plants which don't have the same (safety) challenges older plants have and can be as cheap a power source as coal," he said.

Mr Shellenberger, who was named one of Time magazine's 2008 Heroes of the Environment, is one of 80 international and local speakers challenging perceptions and sparking debate among audiences at this year's ideas fest.

Mr Shellenberger will host a talk titled A New Politics for a New Century with Ted Nordhaus, his co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, at Elder Hall from 1.15pm.

The US experts will explore how to achieve a future where the world's population can live a secure, free, prosperous and fulfilling lives on an "ecologically vibrant planet".


Women are hardest on other women

The "sisterhood" is a myth

DIPPING my toes into the forum of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas with a panel devoted to the topic All Women are Sluts, I decided it would be an appropriate venue to take a young date. Thus armed, we sat in the Playhouse at the Opera House, in front of the great orator and storyteller Mike Daisey and his director wife, and waited for fierce debate to break out.

The panel was all women, including the moderator - an embarrassing bias to begin with.

The Melbourne convener of Slutwalk, Clem Bastow, spoke eloquently for women to dress sexily, briefly, scantily and not to get raped. Samah Hadid, a young Muslim girl in a green hijab and multi-layered, comfortable pants and top, smiled widely with bright red lipstick and make-up and promoted the right of Muslim women to dress up and not be dressed down. Catharine Lumby stirred the middle-aged feminist critique, under attack for attacking the aggression of young feminists.

In many arenas women are under attack from other women. The great debate in feminism is between women themselves, about their roles, robes and attitudes. In my own world, I would pick a jury of women over men in a rape case because women are harder on women. Women judges, in my humble observation, are more critical of other women appearing as advocates before them. Women gossip more cattily and crushingly about other women.

In a world where economic currency is falling, the most favourable currency is sex. In the cardboard kingdom of Richard Pratt, sexy women fight for a piece of cardboard to call their own. In my own building, bylaws were stuck to the mirrors in the lift, foreshadowing the board's intention to ban brothels in the building. I suspected they were there when I used my iPad or iPhone. The screen displayed in the scan for a wireless connection the names of nearby networks. Imagine my shock when the names of two were WHORES and C---S. I finally put two and two together, confirming Madison Ashton as the madam in residence, but only briefly given the bylaws were passed and eviction followed. Dick Pratt was a pants man even when his own masculine scaffolding must have been failing under the pernicious disease that is prostate cancer.

Since Adam pinged Eve the world has always been a sex world but now it is getting the publicity and media to match its partner in crime, money. Sex and money go hand in gland. Rich men get more sex than the poor. Charisma and character get men somewhere but currency takes you further. Fathers plead with their daughters to marry rich, not for love. Fortune trumps fame every time.

Perugia in Italy is a peaceful place for a murder trial. I miss Vanity Fair's Dominick Dunne's description of the countryside and details of the death of Meredith Kercher. The murder was an exquisite interaction of sexual frenzy, bisexual behaviour and bloody handprints on the pillow.

Amanda Knox, known as Foxy Knoxy, and the victim were perfectly cast for Dunne's classic penmanship. He had written about money and sex for 50 years, having had some experience in both.

The prosecution initially argued ''cult sacrifice'' before settling on ''sex game gone wrong''. There were many problems with the prosecutor's DNA evidence. There was no DNA from Knox in the murder room. Nevertheless she was convicted and sentenced to 26 years. The judges reasoned that the actual perpetrator, Rudy Guede, was assisted by Knox and her boyfriend in subduing Kercher after she resisted Guede's sexual advances. They said Knox smoked hash and read sexually explicit comics, provoking her behaviour. She was acquitted and released last week. She can look forward, if she can cope, to her own show, Knox on Fox, millions in advances for her story, Playboy centrefold requests and perhaps resumption of her studies.

It will be hard to lead a normal life after being described as a drug-taking, sex-crazed she-devil. In proceedings by a Congolese bar owner against her false accusation, she was called, ''an explosive mix of drugs, sex and alcohol'', ''Lucifer-like, demonic, satanic, diabolical''. The prosecutor told this jury to ignore her ''doll-like appearance'' and said she was a ''spell-casting witch, a virtuoso of deceit''. The world is indeed sexist. Knox's co-accused boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, barely gets a mention in coverage of the trial, in the same way Michael Chamberlain was just a bloke in long socks who was married to the alleged baby murderer Lindy Chamberlain.

Before Knox on Fox starts, the Murdoch network needs to eat a lot of humble pie because correspondents Ann Coulter and Jeanine Pirro said Knox had been convicted and punished fairly. As I said, women are harder on other women than men would dare to be.


Unhistorical history

By Frank Furedi. Frank seems to be back in Australia at the moment

LAST month Julia Gillard insisted the final test of public life was not whether you were "on the right side of the politics" but whether you were on "on the right side of history. And in my experience, the judgment of history has a way of speaking sooner than we expect."

US President Barack Obama confidently declared this year: "History will end up recording that at every juncture in the situation in Egypt, that we were on the right side of history."

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says the countries that stood up to the old regimes during the Arab spring are "on the right side of history" while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks countries trading with Syria are on the wrong side and should "get on the right side".

Suddenly history not yet written has emerged as a source of legitimacy for a bewildering variety of claims and causes.

Invoking the blessing of history is an implicit claim on a higher form of providential validation.

It is a way of saying: "You are not only opposing me but also the almighty figure of history, a sacred transcendental being who must be appeased." It represents a half-hearted, ineffective stab at a moral judgment.

When Gillard advises people to keep in step with the march of history on climate change, her words convey an implicit warning.

Those who get on the wrong side will face not only the judgment of the electorate but risk being trampled under history's jackboot.

Recycling history as a cautionary tale is simply a tried and tested form of guilt-tripping. The prophecy is unlikely to be proven wrong, at least not in the short run, but the fear is raised that if we are not careful we could find ourselves in history's dustbin.

History, however, does not work according to divine laws that can be second-guessed by soothsayers and oracles.

While it was understandable for the ancient Greeks to personify history through the muse Clio, it is a little disturbing to encounter 21st-century public figures assuming her mantle.

One of the most important achievements of the Western Enlightenment was to go beyond the superstitious notion that history works to a preordained plan or that it is a purposeful movement towards destiny.

The idea of history as Fate has been challenged since the 16th century by humanist thinkers who argued that the world changed in accordance with human action rather than a host of demi-gods that needed to be appeased, and contained no inner meaning that only the prophets could interpret.

It does not reward or punish those who disregard its message. History is what we make it.

Of course not everyone is comfortable with the idea that history is open-ended and its direction is uncertain. That is why some have opted to seek refuge in philosophies that seek to endow history with inner meaning and purpose.

Such views of history are often expressed through the ideology of historicism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines historicism as the "belief that historical change occurs in accordance with laws, so that the course of history may be predicted but cannot be altered by human will".

Those who claim the authority of standing on the "right side of history" are in effect endorsing the historicist belief that the future is already foretold. During the past century historicism often dominated the world views of the dogmatist and the simpleton.

One of the most memorable example of this orientation was provided by Nikita Khrushchev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. In a self-consciously provocative speech delivered in November 1956, he noted "whether you like it or not, history is on our side", before he threatened the Western world with the memorable phrase "we will bury you".

Not for the first time a prediction of who would be on which side of history proved to be wildly misguided.

The problem with appealing to history is not only that it tends to be at best a rhetorical affectation rather than an argument. It is also a rhetorical tactic used to avoid discussion and the clarification of difficult issues. It is not possible to argue against a prophecy.

Moreover, the claim that an act or a policy enjoys the authority of history closes down discussion. Its practitioners are not only putting forward their own opinions, they are claiming to speak on behalf of an unquestionable higher authority that cannot be held to account by mere mortals.

If history has spoken and given its verdict on climate change or on the Arab spring, any opposition to it can be castigated as not only wrong but malevolent.

One final point worth noting. Until recent times most serious political figures were too embarrassed to use the phrase "on the right sight of history". Through searching the Lexis-Nexis database, I found only one reference to this phrase during the 1970s. In September 1979, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called on American businesses to stop trading with South Africa and "choose to be on the right side of history".

During the next decade until September 1990, the database provides only 120 references. Compare that with the past 12 months, which provide 1375 claims speaking on behalf of the right side of history.

With so much energy invested in upholding the authority of history it is evident that what we are experiencing is a 21st-century variant of the old doctrine of fatalism. This elevation of Fate assigns human beings the unflattering role of deferring to forces beyond their control. Surely there is much more to the human experience than acting out a script casually scribbled down by Fate.


Sigh, another review of Aboriginal welfare policy

Sara Hudson

The federal government seems preoccupied with writing discussion papers and conducting reviews but very little seems to eventuate from them.

Released with little fanfare recently was a government review into employment services in remote Indigenous communities and the beleaguered Community Development and Employment Projects (CDEP). The discussion paper, 'The Future of Remote Participation and Employment Servicing Arrangements,' only came to my attention by chance – perhaps the government was trying to avoid having to analyse lots of submissions.

When it comes to publishing reports on reviews it has conducted, the Labor government has a poor track record: last year the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) released a discussion paper on Indigenous homeownership. But 18 months later submissions are yet to be posted on its website, let alone a report summarising those submissions.

What’s the point of having review after review if they are not going to eventuate into anything? Could it be that the Labor government is using these reviews as a stalling tactic – to delay making decisions on difficult and seemingly intractable issues?

The government still fails to recognise that the property rights issues preventing Indigenous homeownership on Indigenous land have also stymied any chance of economic development.

The decision to make Indigenous land communal – and to have land councils acting as gatekeepers for any leasing decisions – is the principal reason why Indigenous communities, even those with a thousand or more people, have few of the shops and services normally found in country towns of similar size.

Without these retail outlets and services, there are few employment prospects for many remote Indigenous people. Add to the mix the effects of disastrous education in Homeland Learning Centres and you arrive at the present predicament, where remote Indigenous residents are on welfare or channelled into dead-end CDEP jobs, with neither the entitlements nor responsibilities of real employment.

Even in communities near major towns such as Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy – where there are labour shortages and real job opportunities – few Indigenous residents have the skills needed for mainstream employment.

Unconditional welfare has helped create a cycle of welfare dependency where education and employment is not valued or even considered necessary. The first step in reforming employment services is to remove the Remote Area Exemption, which has allowed Indigenous residents to avoid mutual obligation rules. Indigenous men and women must demonstrate that they are either actively looking for work or undertaking job training to be eligible for welfare.

It is also vital to introduce business and residential leases so that a real economy on Indigenous land can develop. Where genuine economies exist, only a small percentage of the population is on welfare and requires employment services.


8 October, 2011

BBQ send-off for the Queen

THE Queen will farewell our country for possibly the last time with a big Aussie BBQ in Perth, the official itinerary of her visit here has revealed.

Her Majesty will say goodbye to Western Australia with an Aussie sausage after her official duties at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting wrap up on October 29.

Along with the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen will visit the acclaimed sporting facilities at the Clontarf Aboriginal College on October 27 before a garden party with a who's who of Perth at Government House.

The next day Her Majesty will officially open CHOGM and attend a banquet in her honour. The royal couple will then spend their last day in Australia with a "Big Aussie BBQ" before returning to England on October 29.

The Queen plans to take a tourist's tour of Australia and ride a Melbourne tram, visit Brisbane’s Southbank city beach and have a barbecue, when she visits later this month.

The royal itinerary, released by Buckingham Palace tonight, involves a packed schedule of Aussie highlights for the Queen, 85, and Duke of Edinburgh, 90, during their 10-day visit.

The full program indicates the royal couple want to see as much of the country as they can, in what some have predicted could be their last visit to Australia.

The Queen and Prince Philip arrive in Canberra on October 19 and will visit the Floriade Flower Show on October 20 as well as spend time with the Governor General.

The Queen will also meet with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott ahead of a party held in her honour at Parliament House on October 21.

The Queen and Prince Philip will also attend to their royal charities and causes while they are in Australia. The Duke of Edinburgh will attend a Duke of Edinburgh award ceremony for high achieving young people on October 21 and attend a Commonwealth Study Conference reception on October 22 in Canberra. The Queen will also present Colours to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, on October 22.

During the royal visit to Brisbane, the Queen and Prince Philip will catch a river craft, expected to be a City Cat, and tour the Brisbane River before stopping off at Southbank and the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on October 24.

They will also meet with emergency response personnel and communities affected by the recent floods before leading a post flood Rededication Ceremony of Rainforest and opening of Rain Bank.

The royal couple will also lunch with the Governor of Queensland.

The Queen and Prince Philip will return to Canberra on October 26 and the Queen will lay a wreath at the Afghanistan Memorial at the Australian War Memorial before meeting Australian Defence Force Personnel at Orientation Hall.

During their royal day trip to Melbourne the Queen and Prince Philip will catch a tram and walk through Federation Square on October 26. The Queen will also visit sick children and staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital, of which she is the patron, as well as view the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria.

The Queen is believed to highly excited about the trip and is reportedly throwing an Australian party in London next week to celebrate her historic visit.


Victorian ALP urges feds to approve gay marriage

THE Victorian ALP has said federal Labor must take a stand on marriage equality and is urging the party to support gay marriage at its national conference in December.

In opposition to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's support for the status quo, the state Labor conference voted today in support of a motion calling on the ALP to amend the party's platform to support same-sex marriage at its national conference.

Rainbow Labor co-convenor Sarah Cole, who moved the urgency resolution, said Labor was a party about progress and needed to take a stand on marriage equality.

Ms Gillard has said she expects the issue will be debated at the December conference.

Ms Cole was supported by speakers from the Australian Services Union and Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.

Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association head Joe De Bruyn opposed the motion.

The delegates broke out in applause after the motion was carried.


Australia's dams defy the Greenie doomsayers

Because of its variable climate, dams=happiness for Australia and huge numbers of them were built until the Greenies stopped it

JOHN Scales refused to believe the doomsayers when they predicted there would never again be enough rain to fill the Dartmouth Dam in northeast Victoria.

A third-generation mountain farmer who helped build Victoria's largest dam in the 1970s, Mr Scales was always convinced the decade-long drought that accompanied the new millennium was nothing more than a normal, if prolonged, dry spell.

"I'm not a believer in global warming, despite some people saying it wouldn't ever rain here like it used to because the climate had changed," he said yesterday. "I was always confident it was just a long drought like we've had before, and that we would pull out of it just as we always do."

The local cattleman and pub owner - who knows this mountainous Mitta Mitta River country like few others - was right.

Sitting in a fishing boat surrounded by the dam's still-rising inky waters, Mr Scales happily admits to knowing precisely, as he always does, that the Dartmouth dam is now 72.8 per cent full.

He predicts that if the spring rains continue, the water storage that is so vital to the prosperity of irrigation farmers along the Murray River and to Adelaide's drinking water supply, will be full by next year.

Around the nation, water storage reserves are at levels not seen since the start of the decade-long drought in the late 90s.

The Bureau of Meteorology estimates Australia's 261 largest drinking water and irrigation storages, with a total capacity of 78 million megalitres of water, are on average 80 per cent full. This time last year, the figure was 65 per cent.

Drinking water supplies for the major cities have been replenished by the wettest 10-month period ever recorded, between July last year and April. Sydney's city water storages are now 79 per cent full, while dams supplying Adelaide and Brisbane are at a healthy 83 per cent capacity.

Even Melbourne's once critically low dams have climbed to 63 per cent full with recent rainfall, their highest levels in 12 years. Melbourne's largest supply dam, the Thomson, is this week half-full for the first time since 2005.

The anomaly is Perth, which is still critically dry, relying on desalination plants and aquifers for 60 per cent of its water supplies.

The bureau's manager of climate prediction, Andrew Watkins, said the reason dam levels such as the Thomson and Dartmouth were continuing to climb - even though rainfall has been less than normal since May - was because soils were saturated.

"With wet soils, runoff has not immediately decreased," Dr Watkins said yesterday. The high storage levels come from "a combination of good sustained rain over several months, and the soil becoming wet enough to allow rainfall to flow in the catchments even after the big wet ended".

The filling of the giant Dartmouth Dam is an extraordinary feat that has happened just three times since the vast reservoir in the remote Victorian high country was commissioned in 1980.

Only in 1990, 1993 and 1997 has water overflowed from the four-million-megalitre dam and thundered down its 180m drop spillway. It's a far cry from this time last year, when the Dartmouth Dam was just 26 per cent full.

Now holding 2.8 million ML of water, according to operators Goulburn-Murray Water, it's a rejuvenation that has tourists, anglers and irrigation farmers flocking to enjoy the dam's beauty and plentiful trout.

"It instils confidence everywhere from here to South Australia when the Dartmouth Dam is this full,' says Mr Scales proudly. "Pardon the pun, but it has a real flow-on effect. If the farmers in Mildura and South Australia know that up this end we're nearly at capacity, they know they're almost guaranteed to have irrigation water for the next four years, and that's their lifeblood."

But in 2007, when the dam dwindled to just 11 per cent full, Mr Scales admits it was a desolate sight. As the skies stayed dry and the water drained to its dregs, the giant reservoir on the Mitta Mitta River behind the highest earthen dam wall in the southern hemisphere came to resemble a chilling moonscape.

The small community of Dartmouth at its base, which began life as a rollicking dam construction camp on land carved from Mr Scales's family mountain cattle station, Banimboola, went into hibernation. "It was hard to stay positive," says Mr Scales, whose family owns and runs Dartmouth's only pub and motel, as well as its sole farming property.

"But the locals, we all knew it would rain again."

Goulburn-Murray Water's weir-keeper Peter Liepkalns, is another rejoicing at the dam's comeback. Two wet years in a row have meant little call for the Dartmouth's water to be drawn down, with the downstream Hume Dam at Albury that first feeds the Murray River also brimful.

Mr Liepkalns says water supply can never be guaranteed years ahead, pointing to how quickly dam levels dropped from 66 per cent to just 13 per cent in the worst drought year of 2003.

But he concedes Murray Valley irrigators can have confidence their water entitlements will be secure in the "immediate term". Just as welcome to Mr Liepkalns, who followed his father into the job as Dartmouth Dam keeper and watched the 2003 alpine bushfires devastate its dry catchment area, is the gentle return of nature to his dam and its surrounding alpine ridges.

"My peregrines are back, fish stocks are healthy again and the trout are spawning up into the creeks," he said. "The whole valley and community is buoyed."


Melbourne has one ambulance for four million people on some occasions

MELBOURNE was left with just one ambulance available to respond to the city's four million residents while 41 Code 1 jobs were awaiting action. Damning data obtained exclusively by the Herald Sun reveals that on Saturday, September 24, 14 out of its 80 rostered shifts had no staff.

That resulted in just one MICA car (Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance) being free across the whole of the metropolitan area about 11pm on the day of the preliminary final between Geelong and West Coast.

At the same time, the ambulance union's "dropped shifts" logs detail there were 41 Code 1s - such as cardiac arrest and serious traffic accidents - pending.

Paramedics say the industry is at breaking point and warn it could happen tonight. It comes just days after it was revealed people were waiting up to nine minutes to have their 000 call for an ambulance answered.

A veteran paramedic who worked on September 24 said response times were "horrendous". He said at 10pm a 14-year-old boy with a dislocated kneecap waited on the street for 90 minutes for an ambulance.

"(Those waiting times) are more common than not," he said. Ambulance Employees Association state secretary Steve McGhie said lives were clearly being compromised. "There is no question that this happens regularly it could potentially happen this weekend," Mr McGhie said.

Ambulance Victoria's annual report showed its target of reaching 85 per cent of Code 1 patients within 15 minutes was steadily declining. In 2006-07, ambulance services reached 85.7 per cent of patients within 15 minutes, but that figure dropped to 80.7 per cent by 2009-10, then to 77.1 per cent in 2010-11.

Operations manger of Ambulance Victoria, Simon Thomson, said there were times when the number of paramedics who called in sick exceeded their back-up capacity. "On that Saturday night we had more calls for attendance than ambulances available, but there are a lot of other factors that contribute to that beyond sick leave, including hospital transfer times and spikes in demand," he said.

A spokesman for Health Minister David Davis blamed the problem on mismanagement by the previous government, saying "after 11 years of mismanagement there is no doubt there are a number of operational and financial issues at Ambulance Victoria."


Victorian hospital emergency departments struggling to cope

VICTORIAN hospital emergency departments are in crisis, buckling under pressure to meet soaring demand, doctors warn.

Victorian Emergency Physicians Association president Dr Con Georgakas said that hardest hit were facilities serving the city's growth corridors, including the Frankston, Western, Sunshine and Northern hospitals.

Hospital emergency departments in regional Victoria were also struggling to cope, with even fewer resources than their city counterparts, he said.

In a case three weeks ago, an elderly woman visited a Gippsland hospital with a broken wrist, needing urgent specialist care, he said. Her doctor spent six hours calling Melbourne hospital emergency departments before finding one able to take her. He said many had refused because they were full.

Regional hospitals relied heavily on city hospitals for specialist support, but they were increasingly unable to access it.

"Emergency department demand is increasing, and over the last 10 years it has increased immensely, we have an overwhelmed healthcare system," Dr Georgakas said. "It has been getting progressively worse, and we are now reaching a crisis point."

Dr Georgakas called for an urgent meeting with Health Minister David Davis to find a solution.

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said hospitals were under pressure across the state. "Hospital infrastructure has not kept up with Melbourne's rapid population growth and this is resulting in emergency departments being overwhelmed," Dr Hemley said.

The Government promised 800 new beds in its first term, including 100 new beds to be delivered in its first year, but there had been none so far, he said.


7 October, 2011

More queer folk needed at Australian universities?

GAYS, lesbians and transsexuals have been named as a new equity sub-group that universities must track for their progress in enrolment and retention.

The federal Education Department has asked universities to report back on improvements in rates of under-representation, even though there is no data to suggest this group participates in higher education at lower rates than the rest of the community.

"In fact, general surveys of gays and lesbians show high levels of educational attainment," said Andrew Norton, higher education director with think tank The Grattan Institute.

The document also asks universities to report on their work with people from non-English speaking backgrounds, although recent research has confirmed that this group, on average, has higher levels of participation and success than Australian-born students.

While universities are striving to meet the government-set equity target of 20 per cent of disadvantaged people holding a degree by 2020, the inclusion of these new equity indicators has raised eyebrows.

"Lots of universities have programs to improve inclusiveness, but sexuality is not an under-representation issue, its a social justice issue," said the Queensland University of Technology's equity director, Mary Kelly.

Ms Kelly said universities did not collect data on sexual orientation -- and would probably create a public outrage if they tried to. The only required areas were indigenous background, country of birth and disability. She said she thought the move was probably a result of ill-informed goodwill on the part of a federal bureaucrat rather than government direction.

The manager of student access and equity at Deakin University in Victoria, Jennifer Oriel, described using sexual orientation as an indicator of equity as "a nonsense". "My opinion is that disadvantage has to be produced by poor educational participation or outcomes," she said. "We need to keep in mind that higher education equity is about improving the outcomes from structurally disadvantaged backgrounds."

Included in the document, under the sub-heading "Gender", are women in engineering and computing and men in education and nursing.

Ms Kelly said while women in non-traditional areas was a hot topic, the debate on men in certain disciplines had been "won and lost" some time ago. "Men are not going into nursing and teaching because they are in other professions and the trades and they don't want to go into underpaid jobs."


Supreme Court orders Google Australia to release details of creators of website

INTERNET giant Google has lost a landmark legal battle that is expected to open the floodgates to online litigation against anonymous online commentators.

The Supreme Court yesterday ordered Google Australia to release details of those behind a website that labelled Gold Coast entrepreneur and self-help guru Jamie McIntyre a "thieving scumbag", the Courier-Mail reported.

Private investigator Travis Burch, who was hired by Mr McIntyre to find out the website's author so he could sue for defamation, said yesterday that it was "a good day for people who don't frankly want to be defamed on the internet".

"We've done a lot of work in this area and identifying and pushing trying to expose people and tracking them down through records that they leave on the Internet," Mr Burch said. "Having a win in courts just means we're a couple of steps closer to bringing the person to a form of justice. "The content that appeared on that website and (has) been promoted through the website is blatantly defamatory."

Barrister John Bryson said he thought it was the first time legal action of this kind against Google had been successful in Australia. "People need to know that they can take on the big companies, the major players, and get a win," Mr Bryson said.

The allegedly defamatory website is one of the first listings on a Google search for Mr McIntyre and countless efforts to find the owners, including hiring a private investigator, have so far been unsuccessful.


Medical specialist Gino Pecoraro calls for scalpel to be used on Queensland Health bureaucracy

HIGH-profile medical specialist Gino Pecoraro has called for the scalpel to be used on the Queensland Health bureaucracy, describing it as a "behemoth".

Dr Pecoraro - past president of the Australian Medical Association Queensland - said huge amounts of money could be freed up for patient care by cutting back on public servants.

"You have the situation where you have this huge layer of middle management where - for every person who's actually doing work - you've got seemingly endless numbers of people managing them, figuring out whether they're doing it to the best of their ability," he said.

"I think that's where we need to look to find efficiencies. "I think, if we are honest about getting the biggest bang for our buck, we need to cut out all the middle men, decrease that burgeoning bureaucracy."

Dr Pecoraro spoke at The Courier-Mail's community forum on health, which discussed issues ranging from the need for more money to be spent on preventative health to a lack of beds in the public hospital system and the importance of attracting Visiting Medical Officers to regional areas.

Emergency specialist David Ward - who has worked in the private and public sectors - said the lack of public hospital beds caused emergency departments to become "constipated", often unable to offload patients to a ward in a timely manner. "The southside of Brisbane is about 800 beds short," he said. "That's a hospital the size of the Princess Alexandra that needs to be built now."

Associate Professor Ward - who works at Holy Spirit Northside Emergency - said bed shortages were also particularly acute in Cairns, Townsville and the Gold and Sunshine coasts.

Former Queensland Health Deputy Director-General Andrew Wilson said politicians of all persuasions had shied away from making decisions on preventative health measures, such as restrictions on junk food advertising, despite "reasonable" evidence that they worked.

Professor Wilson, now the Queensland University of Technology's health faculty executive dean, said: "We . . . have to recognise that there are people now who have very significant health problems as a result of their weight. "That's another thing that's going to have to go on a long list of things which the system has to factor in."


Union rip-offs in Victoria to be reined in

BUILDING workers would be banned from demanding super-sized pay packets under tough new rules aimed at curbing union power. The Baillieu Government would require contractors on taxpayer-financed projects to follow its hardline union-busting approach or be banned from future work.

Fears of runaway costs have sparked the move, after major blowouts at the desalination plant.

The Government is keen to ensure the $5.3 billion Regional Rail Link project does not suffer the same fate as the Wonthaggi site.

Future unrelated private work done by companies with state contracts would also have to comply with the new rules.

In what loomed as the biggest challenge to union power in Victoria since the Kennett era, government inspectors would raid worksites, question workers and seize documents. Compulsory union membership would be banned, including those practices designed to disrupt non-union members and force them to join.

Unions would not be able to "directly or indirectly coerce or pressure" contractors to make over-award payments.

Finance Minister Robert Clark said the new building and construction industry code of practice would mean fewer cost blowouts. "Taxpayers (will) get better value for money when funds are spent on community infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, roads and public transport," he said.

Former federal Liberal workplace relations minister Peter Reith has backed the proposals. "Victorians have been paying through the nose because of poor behaviour by militant trade unions," Mr Reith said.


6 October, 2011

Aussie universities rate in world top 200

There are various ranking systems and they all have a degree of arbitrariness about them but it is pleasing to see Australian universities doing well again. America alone has around 7,000 such institutions so getting into the top 200 does mean something. I am personally pleased to see that three out of the four universities from which I have obtained qualifications are on the list. And given that my son is at ANU, their placing is pleasing too -- JR

SEVEN Australian universities have been named among a list of the world's top 200 higher education institutions.

The University of Melbourne is the highest placed Australian facility, in 37th place on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Leading the rankings is the California Institute of Technology, followed by fellow United States institutions Harvard University and Stanford University in equal second.

In an overall ranking of universities by country, Australia was placed seventh. A separate scale comparing universities relative to GDP sees Australia in 11th place and New Zealand 10th

Australia's second highest rating institution is the Australian National University (ANU) in equal 38th place, with the University of Sydney (58), University of Queensland (74), Monash University (equal 117), University of NSW (equal 173), and the University of Western Australia (equal 189).

New Zealand's University of Auckland gets a mention in equal 173th place.

Criteria such as teaching, research, innovation and international outlook were considered by researchers Thomson Reuters in compiling the 2011-2012 rankings. Each institution was ranked using a point-scoring system.


Teachers forced to act like police after court ruling

Stupid f*ckwit female judge perverts the course of justice

TEACHERS could be forced to warn students as young as 10 about their legal rights before counselling them after a remarkable court decision.

A 14-year-old boy who confessed to his teacher that he robbed a service station and stabbed the attendant with a knife, has been acquitted after the District Court refused to allow the teacher's statement into evidence because he had not "cautioned" the boy.

The Daily Telegraph reported it could change the way teachers and students relate to each other. NSW Teachers Federation President Bob Lips combe said: "This is potentially very serious for teachers".

"Teachers are expected to provide advice, assistance and counselling to young people on a daily basis and during the course of that, many things are disclosed to teachers. Most are fairly insignificant but often there are matters disclosed that are quite significant and in such cases teachers have never been advised that they can only act on information if they have previously cautioned the student," Mr Lipscombe said.

The federation was taking urgent legal advice, he said. "No teacher in the course of their work would caution students in the way this case states," he said. "Clearly this teacher did think he was doing the right thing and acting responsibly."

The history teacher, who cannot be named because it may identify the 14-year-old student, was also the boy's year adviser.

Soon after the boy enrolled at the high school mid-term last year, the teacher asked him how his previous day had gone and whether he would be returning this year. The boy said that it depended on the outcome of his upcoming court appearance. "I held up a servo and stabbed the attendant ... but the police have nothing on me," the boy said, according to Judge Helen Murrell.

The teacher spoke to the principal who urged him to talk to the Juvenile Justice officer who had helped the boy get a place at the school. The police were told and the teacher made a statement.

The boy's lawyers argued that he "was not issued with a caution" and that telling police was a breach of trust by the school.

Judge Murrell said that from the teacher's perspective, there was no confidentiality when students disclosed criminal matters, however this teacher usually forewarned them that if they disclosed crimes, he might have to take it further because he wanted them to feel confident about talking to him.

In this case he hadn't done so because he had no idea what the student was going to say, she said. She found the admission, while voluntary, had been obtained "unfairly" and refused to admit the statement into the boy's trial, held two weeks ago in Queanbeyan.


Vile speech law should be abolished

by: David Kemp

IF any comfort is to be found in the Andrew Bolt case it can only be that it will lead to the repeal of the law that declared his opinions illegal and not to be republished.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is contrary to the principle of freedom of speech that underpins our democracy, and we cannot afford to allow it to stand if we wish to preserve our freedom.

This is not simply a matter of facts being wrong. If it were, the case would have been conducted under defamation law.

Nor is it simply a matter of "bad journalism". Bad journalism of the category complained of here should not end up in a courtroom. It should be examined in the realm of public debate, as it has been until now in any society confident in its liberal democratic principles.

The person responsible for this law, Michael Lavarch, has justified it (The Australian, April 9) on the basis that "history tells us that overblown rhetoric on race fosters damaging racial stereotyping and this in turn can contribute to societal harm well beyond any deeply felt personal offence".

The former attorney-general reminds us that freedom of speech is not absolute, and in that he is correct. The law as it stands, apart from his act, does not permit perfect freedom to say anything. To say something that causes a riot, or is libellous or defames a person, or is misleading or deceptive in a commercial context is not permitted.

But his law goes well beyond these time-honoured exceptions. Let us substitute the word class for race in his statement, or the word religious, or the word gender, or the word national, or even the words politics and political. Lavarch's statement is true for each. Overblown rhetoric on any of these topics can create stereotypes, can cause offence, and if made the basis for action may lead on to damaging consequences.

It was not racial hatred but class hatred that raised the guillotine during the French Revolution, or when millions were starved and slaughtered in Stalin's attack on the "wealthy" peasants, or in Mao's collectivisation, or in his vicious Cultural Revolution, or in the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

But in democracies we have long known that it is not words that produce such horrors, it is the failure to expose prejudice, to control violence and ultimately it is the absence of democracy that leads to these catastrophes. Violence and incitement to violence are proper domains of the law, but this is not what this law is about.

Lavarch and his ilk tell us that what people say is potentially too dangerous to be left to the uncertain processes of freedom of speech and the sanctions of public opinion. What is needed, he says, is a government tribunal to counsel and warn, to secure retractions and ban republication like the medieval church. If his view is accepted then liberal democracy becomes a historical interlude between the ruling classes that preceded it and the bureaucracies and tribunals that Lavarch would apparently like to see replace it.

This is a truly grotesque process that has no relationship to our democratic tradition and, dare I say it, one contrary to the inalienable natural rights of people to freedom of speech, on the observance of which, ultimately, the legitimacy of the democratic state depends.

The law enunciated in the Bolt case seems to fall within the concerns expressed by US Supreme Court judge Louis Brandeis, when he said that "experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty, when the government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning, but without understanding."

The exact point was addressed in his famous essay, On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill, the strongest opponent of political correctness in his day, when he considered the argument being put by some at the time that "the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion".

Mill pointed out the "impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed". To make offence the test is to undermine the very freedom that can expose error. Mill then went on to say in words that may or may not apply to the present case: "If the test be offence to those whose opinions are attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever an attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, to be intemperate".

You may or may not agree with Bolt, and the judge has found that not all the facts in his articles were correct, but neither hurt nor accuracy have ever been seen as relevant in discussions of the principle of freedom of speech in our society.

In a democracy people are entitled to say what they want, regardless of who is offended, and whether their facts are correct or incorrect.

If they are wrong, others will refute them. We do not need Lavarch's tribunals and courts to teach us how to be good democrats.

The processes of this law I find obscene in the full meaning of the words: offensive, loathsome, ill-omened, disgusting.

The law that has made these events possible must be abolished as soon as possible.


Homosexual passports coming to Australia too

It's already happening in Britain

GAY parents could win the right to not be referred to as a mum or dad, but instead 'parent 1' or 'parent 2' in passport applications. They would have the option of choosing "parent 1" and "parent 2", instead of mother and father, under a proposal being considered by the Government for its new electronic passport application system.

Gay rights groups applauded the potential for gender-neutral forms in Australia, but family groups expressed concern.

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Terri Kelleher said the move undermined the traditional family model. "It would break down the understanding of a family and family relationships; how long until they just use parent one and parent two?" she said.

Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby spokeswoman Sarah Rogan said it would be a "progressive" step for same-sex couples. "It would reflect the make-up of families across Australia," she said. "It would also be beneficial for children to see that their family is considered a family."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the proposal stemmed from problems same-sex parents had when filling out forms on behalf of children. "Feedback from same-sex parents of minor passport applicants has highlighted difficulties they have experienced when completing parental consent sections of passport applications," a statement said.

"Consideration is being given to include parent 1/parent 2 alongside the mother/father fields as part of a proposed electronic enrolment facility for passports."Britain will make a similar change by December after pressure from gay lobby groups, while the US this year dropped mother and father from passport applications to reflect "different types of families".

The proposal comes after recent changes allowing transsexual Australians to carry passports in their preferred gender without the need for a sex change.

Australian Bureau of Statistics available show that in 2006, 50,000 people were living in a same-sex couple relationships. But the report said this was expected to be a conservative figure.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said it was a sign of the times and reflected changes in modern families.


5 October, 2011

Malcolm Fraser continues his Leftward lurch

The former PM's defence of the Palestinians and Hamas is offensive. It's probably Stockholm syndrome. He used to be savagely mocked and hated by the Left so he has apparently decided to join them. Perhaps that is also why he has attempted to re-write history

by Isi Leibler

I RETAIN fond memories of my genuinely warm association with Malcolm Fraser when he was prime minister and I headed the Australian Jewish community. Our relationship was based on shared values and my appreciation for his inestimable assistance on behalf of Soviet Jewry, ensuring that, while I was in Moscow, the Australian embassy provided support for my efforts on behalf of Jewish dissidents.

I also recollect that in those days he was enthralled with Israel and he would spend hours discussing and enthusiastically lauding the achievements of the Jewish state.

In Jewish mystical folklore we relate to a dybbuk - a malevolent spirit capable of dramatically transforming a person's entire outlook. I am tempted to attribute Malcolm Fraser's dramatic reversal of attitude to a dybbuk.

In his recent Age column, Fraser repeated his now standard portrayal of Israelis as villains and Palestinians as noble underdogs. But on this occasion, the numerous demonstrable falsehoods he expresses impel me to respond from my vantage here in Jerusalem.

For example, he says that in 1948 the Israelis "pushed out" the Palestinians, omitting to mention that Israel had accepted the UN partition plan but that it was the Palestinians, supported by five Arab armies, who invaded the new Jewish state with the objective of destroying it. He repeats the mantra that settlements over the green line are at the core of the Arab-Israeli problem. But he conveniently omits to mention that the PLO indulged in terrorism before 1967 when the first settlements were established, and that even today they represent less than 5 per cent of territory beyond the 1949 armistice lines.

Fraser also repeats the canard that "Israel refuses to talk substantially about realistic boundaries", ignoring the fact that two Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, had offered the Palestinians 95 per cent of the territories formerly occupied by Jordan. But they were rebuffed. What I regard as even more offensive and perhaps pathetic is the praise that Fraser extends to Hamas, the evil Islamic fundamentalists who share much in common with al-Qaeda. He says that Israel should be negotiating with them. Is Fraser aware that the Hamas charter calls explicitly on the faithful to murder all Jews and that their Islamic faith prohibits them from engaging in any form of compromise because the Jewish state must be utterly destroyed?

He even makes a bizarre observation that the thousands of rockets and missiles launched by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians "caused little damage" and did not justify Israel's response. I wonder how Fraser, as a prime minister, would have responded if residents in his neighbourhood were forced to live with their children in shelters for extended periods of time because their neighbours were lobbing missiles at them. Not to mention dispatching suicide bombers to target them in shopping malls.

He enthusiastically supports Palestinian efforts to bypass UN resolution 242, endorsed in 1967, which called for direct negotiations to resolve the territorial conflict. But even after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an unprecedented move, froze all construction in the settlements for 10 months, the Palestinians refused to negotiate. Furthermore, in his recent speech at the UN General Assembly, the intransigent Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected compromise on any issue, reiterated his determination never to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and even denied the historical association of the Jewish people with the Holy Land. He hypocritically accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing", employing terms against them such as "racist" and "apartheid" without retracting his earlier proclamations that not a single Jew would be permitted to li ve in a new Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has made clear he is willing to compromise and make major sacrifices for peace by ceding land, but will not endanger the security of his citizens. If the Palestinians had accepted this 10 years ago, they would already have a state. They can have one tomorrow if they display a willingness to accept Israel as a Jewish state and are willing to peacefully coexist with it.

Netanyahu accepted the latest Quartet call to negotiate without any preconditions. Abbas refused. Many believe that he is not seeking a settlement and even if he were, he would not have the political power to implement it, especially having reiterated his determination to reunite with the genocidal Hamas.

I am truly saddened that the Jewish community has lost the friendship of Malcolm Fraser and hope that, in the course of time, he will adopt a more rational and open-minded approach.


Queensland Police Service dinosaurs

Banning of breastfeeding mums from firearms training is 'sexist and archaic' expert says

EXPERTS are calling on Queensland Police Service to reveal evidence supporting its decision to ban breastfeeding mothers from undertaking firearms training amid concerns that it's sexist and archaic.

QPS was recently forced to review the 2004 policy after losing a recent unlawful discrimination case in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, but the organisation has refused to change it.

Queensland University of Technology Nutrition and Dietetics senior lecturer Dr Danielle Gallegos said the policy was "bizarre" because there was no evidence to suggest breastfeeding mothers and their babies were at risk. "You would imagine if there was a real risk for lead exposure than that risk is against the board not just breastfeeding mums," she said. "You would have to question the motivation behind the policy. It's not based on evidence as far as I'm aware."

Despite using lead-free ammunition, QPS Human Resources executive director Patsy Jones said the service didn't want to place officers who were either pregnant or breastfeeding "at risk of lead exposure in any circumstance" amid fears of the "hazardous effects of lead through breast milk". "As the QPS presently relies on private shooting ranges for firearms training, and we are not in a position to control those environments, the policy errs on the side of caution.

"The policy is in place to be supportive and consistent with our duty of care to our members. It is not intended that it be punitive or disadvantageous to any member."

The Courier-Mail revealed last week that Senior Constable Tammy O'Connell was compensated by the Queensland Police Service and the Crime and Misconduct Commission after she was forced to stop breastfeeding her daughter, Lucy, now aged 2, so she could return to work. Snr Const O'Connell was told if she wanted to return to work part-time, she needed to complete a half-day weapons training course to requalify her to carry a handgun.

"For a large employer to come out and say we're not supportive of breastfeeding in the workplace, we're not supportive of women returning to work and breastfeeding their infants, then that's a real blow," Dr Gallegos said.

Australian Breastfeeding Association director Robyn Hamilton also called for QPS to produce evidence supporting their policy. "I think if you ingested it - for sure - but just doing firearms training, it would just be atmospheric," she said.

QPS last night did not provide any evidence supporting its policy but said it was open to change if they were proven wrong.


Private schools say Leftist education "Review" wrong, prejudiced

THE private school sector has criticised the quality and assumptions of the key research projects commissioned by the Gonski review of education, while questioning the independence and accuracy of the work.

In their final submissions to the review of school funding, the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, the NSW Parents Council and the Independent Education Union all rounded on work released last month by the Gonski review.

The NSW Parents Council criticised what it termed a "shameful attempt to develop class war debate". Instead of recognising that parents make radical financial decisions in order to choose schools that support their philosophical approach to raising their children, the tenor of the reports was that they chose to go private merely because they "are blessed with greater, wealth, income, power or possessions".

Allowing only one month to respond to 700 pages of commissioned research was "disgraceful", the Parents Council said.

Responding to calls for accountability in the use of taxpayer funds, the council also said non-government school parents are subsidising parents of children in government schools and are entitled to greater insights into the "inefficient allocation and deployment of government funding for schools".

The funding review, headed by David Gonski, is scheduled to report to the federal government by the end of the year. Apart from releasing four commissioned reports - which it did not endorse - it has given little insight into its thoughts and directions.

But the private school lobby has seen enough to be on its guard about what the Independent Schools Council terms a "high stakes" funding review. "A number of reports strongly reflect an inherent bias against non-government schools," the council submitted.

"That these reports were allowed to be released without these overt and covert biases being addressed undermines the credibility of the research informing the Panel's deliberations," it said. The council accused the authors of the Nous Group report of making "inflammatory and inaccurate statements" and relying on opinion not research.

A key proposal in a report by Allen Consulting is for the establishment of an education resource standard, the amount of money needed for a student to reach minimum educational benchmarks.

It is a proposal that concerns the independent schools sector, which said the data on which it would be built is inadequate.

The report also provided no details about how it might be implemented making it impossible to assess the impact on individual independent schools.

The independent teachers union is also worried about the data, particularly an apparent reliance on Naplan test results, an approach it said "is seriously flawed". "Overseas experience clearly points to evidence of test coaching, widespread cheating or fraudulent behaviour when school funding or resourcing is tied to high-stakes literacy and numeracy tests," it wrote.

Independent school principals are also worried by the lack of detail about how such a standard might work in practice, as well as how other funding ideas scoped by the reports might function.

"AHISA would be concerned if the Review panel were to recommend any of these proposals without further intensive consultation with school sector representatives," it said. And the headmasters' association repeats the accusation of prejudice.

"The inherent bias against non-government schooling evident in the research papers shows that non-government schools, particularly independent schools, are still struggling to be deemed legitimate providers of school education in Australia," it submitted.


Tax forum a 'pointless talkfest', says Abbott

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has rubbished the tax forum at Parliament House, describing it as a "pointless talkfest".

Despite Australia's key business and community groups, as well as unions, contributing to the forum, Mr Abbott says it is a "pretty pointless PR stunt" to which the Coalition was not invited.

But a spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan disputes that, saying Mr Abbott and his treasury spokesman had made it known they were not interested in attending the forum.

The spokesman said the Opposition was told they were welcome to attend "but we never heard another thing".

This morning Mr Abbott told reporters: "We were never invited, simple as that," and said the forum was flawed without the minerals tax and carbon tax on the agenda.

"How can you have a tax forum credibly that does not discuss the two big new taxes that this Government wants to hit us with?" he said. "We want lower, simpler fairer taxes and the only way you can get lower, simpler, fairer taxes is to get the Government waste under control."

He said the Opposition had a "tax seminar" coming up which was to be hosted by Liberal think tank, the Menzies Research Centre.

Mr Abbott would not be drawn on the Opposition's economic policies, saying he would be giving voters the "full fiscal plan in good time before the next election".

Prime Minister Julia Gillard opened the forum saying any tax changes must take into account Australia's patchwork economy caused by the booming mining sector and the contracting manufacturing and tourism sectors.

She insisted any changes must be revenue neutral. "Money spent has to be paid for, clever ideas about spending money have to be matched with clever ideas about where that money is coming from and that is a challenge for this forum over the next two days," she said.

Ms Gillard says five factors are shaping the future of Australia's economy: the ongoing effects of the global financial crisis, the emergence of Asian economies, the need to price carbon, the pressures from Australia's ageing population, and the likely length and strength of the resources boom.

"And that means the transformations in our economy that it is driving will be deep and occasionally painful, so working through our tax settings needs to understand the dimensions of this change and the patchwork economy that is resulting from it."

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who insisted on a tax forum in return for supporting the minority Labor government, says it is time to put an end to the partisan debate on tax changes.

"Today's forum and the process out of it can play a critical role in making the national interest more important than any one partisan interest," Mr Oakeshott told the forum. "It is disappointing, for example, that the potential next government is not here today. They should be."


4 October, 2011

Understanding Tony Abbott

FROM the progressive Left that loathes him to the right-wing free market lobby that distrusts him, Tony Abbott's political character as cautious, conservative and pragmatic remains the source of denial and alarm.

Abbott has been the most misunderstood leader of a major political party for many years. Blunder after blunder has been perpetrated by his opponents because they have failed to see what is in front of their eyes, and what Abbott represents.

The two great myths are Abbott as extremist and Abbott as ideologue. The Australian public shuns such traits and Abbott's poll ratings affirm this is not how the public sees him. The effort to paint Abbott as extremist and ideologue, once Labor's central strategy, has failed so far.

Labor, however, cannot give up. Undermined by its own dysfunction, it will keep playing the Abbott card because it has few other options and is convinced he is a destructive force unfit to become prime minister. Labor's last hope remains a bet against Abbott's political character.

This week Peter Costello, who understands Abbott better than most, rapped him over the knuckles for being too soft and cautious on industrial relations reform. Costello's complaint is that Abbott ruled out individual statutory contracts, a policy legislated by the Howard government in 1996 on Coalition and Australian Democrat votes, long before Work Choices. Abbott, in short, has positioned himself to the left of the Australian Democrats circa 1996. Sound extreme to you? No wonder Costello is unhappy.

In his book Battlelines, Abbott attacked Work Choices as "a catastrophic political blunder". Indeed, he was one of the least enthusiastic ministers when the Howard cabinet agreed to the policy. Abbott is making crystal clear his attitude in office to industrial relations - he will operate within Julia Gillard's existing laws. Radical IR reform is simply off Abbott's radar. The employer groups will need to get their heads around this reality.

Costello's pot shot follows that from Abbott backer and former finance minister Nick Minchin in the partyroom in May accusing Abbott of failing the "good reform" test by not supporting a Labor excise increase. In short, Abbott was too soft and cautious for Minchin's taste on fiscal discipline.

Such critiques penetrate both to Abbott's style and substance. Abbott, in case you missed it, does not seek a fifth term for the Howard-Costello government. As far as Abbott is concerned, that government is over. Abbott runs for a first-term Abbott government. It will be different in policy and style, even though John Howard remains his model.

How will it be different? Well, Abbott's first-term game plan is on the table now. It will be dominated by four items that reflect Abbott's conservatism applied to the times: the dismantling of the carbon price scheme (the most substantial and risky dismantling of any policy in Australian history), the scaling back and re-defining of the National Broadband Network, the removal of the mining tax and hefty spending cuts to achieve the promised fiscal consolidation. How much detail the Coalition provides on the fiscal side remains to be seen and it refuses to get its policy costed by any government agency. This agenda is heavily negative, but Abbott's retort is the public doesn't buy Labor's reform edifices and wants them dismantled.

Abbott's instinctive reply to Minchin in their partyroom exchange was memorable. He said faced with a choice between "policy purity and political pragmatism, I'll take pragmatism every time". It is the antithesis of ideology.

As for tactics, Abbott is tracking Howard's 1996 campaign. Just as Howard dismissed any GST, so Abbott dismisses IR reform to counter Labor's inevitable Work Choices scare. Abbott will give Labor nothing - no opening, no break against him. Abbott operates on the assumption of Kevin Rudd's possible return thereby reviving Labor's vote. How dumb would Abbott be to devise bold and risky policies against a weak Gillard only to gift a resurrected Rudd fresh weapons to use against him and reverse the political equation? For the record, Abbott won't be that dumb.

Much of the current debate misses the way Abbott frames the political future. His objective is to win and win big. Abbott wants the Australian people to mandate his judgment against Labor and to authorise his dismantling of the Gillard-Rudd legacy. The next election is the opposite of 2010: it will be a turning point poll between radically different programs.

Abbott now says his agenda may require two elections, an initial victory and then a double dissolution election to abolish Labor's carbon pricing scheme. Abbott can only prevail with an overwhelming majority in the country. Consider the situation he would face as PM: a hostile Senate, an antagonistic Labor Party and Greens, opinion-making forums horrified that Australia would repudiate carbon pricing, reject the international campaign for emissions trading and repeal such a pro-market economic reform.

Above all, Abbott knows his prime ministership would be destroyed unless he delivers on his promise to repeal carbon pricing. It is his first, second and third priority. Abbott's rejection of carbon pricing, the platform on which he won the leadership, remains his greatest gamble. The verdict on it will come from global events, notably whether the world moves towards or against emissions trading.

Meanwhile the bigger, disputed question remains: who is Tony Abbott?

There are three truths about Abbott. First, he has a conservative set of values that he champions yet his policy outlook is highly flexible and pragmatic (witness his famous changes of mind on multiculturalism, hospitals, carbon pricing and paid parental leave, among others).

Because Abbott is seen to stand for enduring values he gets away with multiple policy switches with impunity.

Second, unlike leaders of the past generation Abbott is not defined by economics and does not wear free-market economics as his badge. This is a sharp break from Paul Keating, John Hewson, Costello and even Howard. If Abbott wins, it will become a departure point for Australia. Abbott told me back in 2003: "I have never been as excited about economics as some of my colleagues." An understatement.

Throughout his life, Abbott's social philosophy has been paramount. He is a libertarian in neither personal nor economic terms. Abbott has never hidden this truth, declaring that while many Liberals stress the "individual" and "choice" his message is always "individuals as part of the social fabric".

For Abbott, it is society, family and community that count. Individualism must always be seen within society. This is the powerful legacy of his Catholicism. It has been apparent at each stage of his life, trainee priest, journalist, community volunteer and MP.

It is what makes Abbott a different Liberal leader and what makes the Abbott Liberal Party different. Such philosophy is likely to be popular with the public but hardly encouraging to free-market reform.

Third, Abbott is a community based politician rather than an inside-the-beltway policy wonk. He is bright enough and arrogant enough to think he doesn't necessarily need to genuflect before the latest policy advice or conventional wisdom (think carbon pricing or mining tax).

Abbott is a natural populist and has materialised into something Labor never imagined - a potent threat to its voting base.

The only basis for seeing Abbott as a radical lies in the fusion of his populism and social values. The feminists preaching his infamy are clueless, with Abbott easily batting away their attacks: "Am I worried about the extent of abortions and family breakdown today? Yes, I am worried. Do I intend in office to legislate against abortion and family breakdown? No, I don't." With this formula he projects his values yet claims immunity from imposing them.

Where Labor was convinced Abbott would narrow the Coalition's appeal, the opposite has happened with Abbott widening its appeal, a point verified by applying this test in terms of regions, class and values.

The Coalition is strong in the resource states of Queensland and Western Australia, much of NSW, manages to hold its own in the southern states.

Analysis by class shows Abbott is stealing the working-class vote through his persona and ability to re-mobilise the so-called Howard battlers. On values, Abbott embodies the large-scale transfer of the Catholic vote from Labor to Liberal. This is symbolised not just by his Democratic Labor Party origins but by the December 2009 Liberal leadership contest involving Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey, each of them Catholic, a situation inconceivable in the Menzian Liberal Party and testimony to the widening of the conservative net.

Abbott's political character has long been obvious: he is a conservative who shuns government-engineered schemes to remake the existing order, from carbon pricing to the republic.

Where does Abbott's conservatism lead him on the economy? The answer lies in the basics: low tax, small government, fiscal surplus. It is part of the Howard-Costello legacy (not always delivered) that Abbott accepts and would pursue in office.

Does Abbott work as a political package? So far he has exceeded expectations for many of the above reasons. It will be hard for Labor to halt Abbott's momentum from this point. The bigger question for the country, however, is whether the Abbott package works in office or becomes the train wreck that Labor expects.


Sectarian rant against Abbott is full of holes, despite QC's excitement

The designations QC [Queen's Counsel] and SC [Senior Counsel] invariably suggest a barrister [trial lawyer] who is considered and skilful in cross-examination. Court reporters usually take note when, in answers to tough-minded questioning from a QC or SC, a defendant or respondent replies that he or she simply cannot remember the circumstances of a certain event.

The tables were turned on Friday following a series of tweets from the prominent Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside. First up, Burnside tweeted that Susan Mitchell's Tony Abbott: A Man's Man , which was released on Saturday, was a "great book". Burnside concluded: "Abbott will lead the country back to the dark ages." Soon after, the Melbourne QC sent out a tweet: "Paedos in speedos". Not surprisingly, the tweetdom interpreted Burnside's comment as linking the Catholic Abbott with the paedophile scandal in sections of the Catholic Church.

Burnside then issued a tweet which declared: "This is an unprompted apology to Abbott. He is NOT a paedophile and I was not referring to him. He has many flaws but that is not one of them." Asked by The Weekend Australian whether he was replying to a tweet which asked: "Are sexist abbotts like predator priests?", Burnside replied that he could not recall. Well, now.

Mitchell's 196-page tome is essentially an anti-Catholic sectarian rant of a kind prevalent in Australia a century ago. Mitchell's message is that Australians should not elect the Coalition led by Abbott because he is a conservative Catholic who has "never left the Catholic Church". Mitchell, who did not attempt to interview Abbott for her book, presents the Opposition Leader as a "mad monk" and an immature "zealot" who is ingrained with "sexism and misogyny" and who does not acknowledge the separation of church and state.

In the author's view, Abbott has been reliant on "a series of older male mentors throughout his life". They include, wait for it, "his father, who once hoped to become a Catholic priest". Shame. Then there are the Jesuit priest Father Emmet Costello, John Howard, Cardinal George Pell and the late political activist B.A. Santamaria. All except Howard are Catholic.

Henry Rosenbloom, who runs the book's Melbourne publisher, Scribe, has allowed a number of factual errors to remain in Mitchell's text. I will detail these in my Media Watch Dog blog on Friday. The essential criticism of Mitchell and Rosenbloom is that they believe it is acceptable to describe Abbott as "dangerous" on account of his Catholicism.

Louise Adler,who as chief executive of MUP published Abbott's book Battlelines, wrote in the Herald on Saturday that "the gap between Mitchell's reading and my acquaintance makes me reflect on the disjunction between the public performance and the private reality". Adler is a not a conservative.

The fact is that Abbott, both in government and in opposition, employed a number of senior women on his personal staff. He is politically close to such senior Liberal Party MPs as Julie Bishop and Bronwyn Bishop.What's more, according to the latest Newspoll, Julia Gillard leads Abbott by only two points - 39 per cent to 37 per cent - when females are asked who would make the better prime minister. The evidence suggests that, unlike Mitchell and Burnside, many voters do not regard him as a dangerous misogynist intending to create a Christian theocracy in the Antipodes.

Abbott critics fail to understand he is a pragmatic politician with the ability to communicate in a direct language which virtually all Australians can understand. With the next federal election unlikely before late 2013, there is no point in the opposition releasing detailed policy and setting itself up as a target as John Hewson did in the early 1990s.

In his influential Herald column last week, Peter Costello suggested Abbott's economic and industrial relations policies have been unduly influenced by Santamaria's legacy and that of the Democratic Labor Party, which went out of existence in 1978 when Abbott was 19. Three leading Coalition figures - Abbott, Andrew Robb and George Brandis - have had some relationship with Santamaria and/or the DLP.

Costello also mentions three others educated in the Catholic school system - Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey and Barnaby Joyce. Yet there is no common position among this lot on economic or social policy. Some are ardent economic reformers - Robb and Hockey come to mind. Others are quite liberal on social policy - for example, Brandis and Pyne. Moreover, Santamaria was a protectionist and a social conservative who attempted to talk Abbott out of becoming a Liberal MP.

According to Costello, the "DLP was good on defence and the Cold War but not up to much on economic issues". Fair enough. But the DLP was also the first parliamentary party to oppose the White Australia policy and its principal influence on social policy was to achieve government funding for non-government schools which, in time, benefited the families of both Catholic Abbott and Protestant Costello and many more besides.

Abbott's political success has surprised many commentators. The key to understanding the Opposition Leader is to play down ideology. Mitchell's sectarian rant obviously excited Burnside. But it is unlikely to have much long-term effect.


Does it all boil down to a question of colour?

by: Barry Cohen

I ATTENDED my first conference of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Canberra in the mid-1960s. I had joined the Labor Party in 1963 and become involved in FCAATSI because I was appalled at the neglect of the Aborigines since the arrival of the First Fleet.

The conference was attended by about 150 people, mostly Aborigines, but with a sprinkling of whites from politics and academe. Spirited debate took place on a variety of issues, particularly the referendum due in May 1967. Among the prominent speakers were Charlie Perkins, Joe McGuinness, Faith Bandler, Gordon Bryant and Ken Brindle.

A newcomer to Aboriginal politics, I was fascinated by the views expressed by a group of speakers who could best be described as "whiter than white".

I remarked to a veteran activist: "Those are funny comments from white people." He replied: "They're not whites, they're Aborigines." I responded, a little naively: "You're joking." He answered with a terse "No."

"Forgive me for asking, but how do you decide who is an Aborigine, and who decides?"

"If someone says they are an Aborigine and they are accepted as such by the Aboriginal community, then they are an Aborigine." (Some years later they were also asked to provide proof of their Aboriginal ancestry.)

For years I wondered what would happen when someone loudly proclaimed they were Aboriginal and their claim was rejected. It happened in Tasmania and caused quite a brouhaha.

The bomb went off recently when the pin was pulled by Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg. The good judge claimed that prominent journalist Andrew Bolt had "sought to convey the message that certain people of a certain racial mix should not identify with a particular race because they lack a sufficiency of colour and other racial attributes to justify the racial choice which they had made".

No one apparently had alerted him to the fact you could choose your religion or your nationality but not your race.

Bolt responded in what must be the understatement of the century: "This is a terrible day for free speech in this country" and "It is particularly a restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves".

I don't intend to discuss the details of the case brought by the nine pale plaintiffs for the obvious reason I could well be the next one in the dock. Oddly enough I had been planning to write an almost identical article to Bolt's.

What I will do is examine some of the ramifications of the judge's ruling keeping in mind that in all the parliaments of Australia there is now a considerable array of legislation and administrative decisions that apply specifically to Aborigines. That's why we fought so hard to change the Constitution in 1967, so that the federal government could pass legislation to specifically help Aborigines. It's called affirmative action.

I'm not aware if Justice Bromberg had any background in Aboriginal affairs but I suspect not. And I doubt whether he realised he had given a new meaning to the phrase "can of worms". He doesn't appear to have considered how his ruling will affect the decision-making process that entitles Aborigines to special assistance by virtue of affirmative action.

The judge, however, raised important points. How, in a multiracial society, does one determine one's ethnicity? Our family is an interesting mix. My paternal grandfather was an impoverished weaver from Russian-occupied Poland. My maternal grandfather was from an affluent Anglican family who owned woollen mills in Bradford, Yorkshire. On my wife's side there was a whaling mariner from Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and from Ireland came a surveyor from County Cork who had 13 children, which was surprising as he had planned to become a Jesuit priest.

All of this raises the question: are we Poles, Polish Jews, Irish, Scottish or the best of British stock, Yorkshiremen (or women)? We are none of the above. We are Australians, but it doesn't matter because our ethnicity doesn't entitle us to any special privileges.

And that's the difference between us and the Aboriginal people. We have singled them out for special treatment because of our failure to give them equal rights for about 200 years.

When Australians were asked at the referendum whether Aborigines should be counted in the census and for the federal government to be able to take responsibility for Aboriginal affairs, almost 91 per cent voted yes. It was an amazing vote and it was interpreted as an instruction to the government to tackle Aboriginal neglect. Successive governments, Labor and Coalition, have done just that. While we are not there yet, we have made great strides.

What is disturbing many Australians who have no Aboriginal antecedents is why many people, who don't appear to be Aborigines are treated, in the media, as if they were. Those who ask such a question are immediately branded racist.

What determines who is an Aborigine? Does one's Aboriginal great-great-grandparent qualify them to apply for special entitlements, particularly when they have a job, a good home and living standards similar to mainstream Australia? Most Australians believe benefits should go to the needy whatever their race, colour or religion.

What can be done about it? Very little unless we want to end up like South Africa under apartheid or Germany after the Nuremberg laws. I don't think Justice Bromberg realised he had opened a Pandora's box when he made his recent findings. Unfortunately, the usual suspects are carrying on a treat about how Bolt got what he deserved.

However, the brawl has just begun. If the law is not changed, Bolt will be spot-on about freedom of speech going down the gurgler. More and more people will be scared to speak their minds. If that happens, the goodwill that has continued since the 1967 referendum will gradually disappear, and that would be a tragedy for all of us but particularly for the Aboriginal community.


Three bureaucrats for each doctor in Queensland Health

THE mammoth imbalance between the numbers of doctors, and managerial and clerical staff employed by Queensland Health has been revealed for the first time, with the ratio topping one to three in some hospital districts.

The huge discrepancy, revealed in documents obtained by The Courier-Mail, has triggered calls for an urgent audit of the Queensland Health workforce.

Managers and clerks outnumber doctors in all hospital districts but the gap is particularly severe in the central west, south west, Torres Strait and Cape York regions, all recording ratios of at least three to one.

The documents, dated September 19, show that in the Cape York district, 69 managers and clerks are employed, compared with the equivalent of seven full-time doctors and three locums.

In the Torres Strait, 86 managerial and clerical workers outnumber the 15 medical staff, including two locums.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Richard Kidd said the huge imbalance in some areas was unacceptable. "It's ridiculous, just terrible,'' he said.

"When you've got seven times as many managers and clerks in some areas as doctors, there's clearly a problem. "We've known that the managers and the clerks grossly outnumber doctors and, from a clinician's point of view, it's a terrible waste of money. "The ratio is completely back to front. It's a matter of getting the balance right.''

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Ewen McPhee joined Dr Kidd in calling for an audit of the Health Department workforce. "The number of clinicians on the ground is outweighed by the number of managerial and clerical staff, there's no doubt about that," Dr McPhee said. "From a core-service-delivery model, I think a certain number of them are not contributing to the delivery of patient care."

The plea comes as doctors on the frontline are struggling to treat record numbers of patients within tight budgets. Dr Kidd was also scathing of the numbers of locums hired in some regions, as highlighted in the documents. The Central Queensland district hires 57 full-time equivalent locums. Another 53 are employed in the Wide Bay region and 44 in the Cairns and hinterland district.

Dr Kidd said each position cost taxpayers about $1 million a year, with locums earning $2000 a day, after flights, accommodation and employment agency fees were paid. "It's twice the cost of getting a permanent medical officer there," he said.

The documents also show the numbers of nurses in health districts. Metro North (5865), Metro South (4515) and the Gold Coast (2230) had the most nurses. Torres Strait (117) and Central West (119) had the least.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the necessity for the number of non-clinical staff employed by Queensland Health needed to be scrutinised. "When I'm speaking to doctors, they're always astounded at the increase in the number of bureaucrats in central office at the same time they're being asked to cut more and reduce services to the public," Mr McArdle said.

"These figures highlight again that delivery of health services by doctors, nurses and allied health professionals is only a secondary consideration for Queensland Health."

Queensland Health deputy director-general Neil Castles said between June 2007 and June 2011 frontline staff increased by 12,734 to 58,280, while non-frontline staff increased by 3513 to 9668. "That means more than 86 per cent of staff employed during the period were frontline staff," he said. "The overall portion of staff who were in non-frontline positions rose by just 1.5 per cent during that period, from 12.5 per cent of all staff to 14 per cent of all staff.

"Further, this year, corporate office has committed to cutting its expenditure by 5 per cent and Queensland Health has recently sought expressions of interest from non-frontline staff willing to participate in a Voluntary Separation Program which will reduce the number of office staff dramatically."


3 October, 2011

Labor Party old mates act brought to an end in NSW to stop bonus salaries being collected from taxpayers

THE state government has introduced new powers to end the old mates act on the state's boards, which are packed with unionists, ex-Labor staffers, ministers and MPs collecting bonus salaries from taxpayers.

After 16 years of Labor, ex-ALP allies pack the boards of state corporations. NSW has 15 state-owned corporations in five industries, including energy, water and ports.

While The Sunday Telegraph is not suggesting the appointments are unmerited, the O'Farrell government wants to ensure the process is fair and open. The changes won't affect bureaucratic appointments such as Michael Coutts-Trotter and Jennifer Mason.

Liberals fear those aligned to the former government and the unions could run damaging interference campaigns against their plans.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation has found more than 30 board members with strong links to the former government, unions or the ALP.

They include a former director-general of Premier and Cabinet, Colin Gellatly, paid $103,000 for his roles as chairman of superannuation company Pillar, and as a director of State Water.

State Super has six board members with links to either Labor or the unions. They include Ron Davis of the Public Service Association, who collects $154,780 as an employee representative.

On the same board sits former adviser to Paul Keating Anne De Salis, who gets $38,700 for representing employer interests. Another former Keating adviser, Barbara Ward, takes home $106,900 as the chair of Essential Energy.

Nine more power company board directors have strong union or Labor links.

These include Neville Betts, assistant secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, who collects $60,600 at TransGrid with former MP John Price. ALP state president Michael Lee collects $60,600 as a director of Essential Energy, while ETU legal officer Rebecca Mifsud gets $60,600 at Ausgrid.

Nick Whitlam, son of former Labor PM Gough, takes home $169,834 from the taxpayer. He chairs the Lifetime Care and Support Authority and Port Kembla Port Corporation and is deputy chairman of the Workers Compensation Insurance Fund Investment Board and WorkCover.

Until he stood down from the Health Services Union, former Labor vice-president Michael Williamson collected $111,000 at First State Super and the State Water Board. He denies any wrongdoing.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon is also a WorkCover director on $31,815. Ex-MP Ron Dyer gets $20,785 as a Motor Accidents Authority director.

Even Landcom, which sells land for housing, has a Labor appointment: Morris Iemma's ex-chief of staff Kim Cull collects $64,000 as a director. Former minister Rodney Cavalier chairs the SCG Trust and Mr Iemma is a trustee

Treasurer Mike Baird said a new transparent committee would ensure only those with proper skills and experience would be selected in future.

A Labor Opposition spokesman said: "The Opposition looks forward to these procedures applying to decisions already made by the Premier, including appointments of Liberal Party heavyweights Gary Sturgess, Nick Greiner and Max Moore-Wilton."


Surge in numbers of Iranian boat arrivals in Australia

Sending ANYBODY back to the Iranian madhouse really would be cruel

IRANIANS have overtaken Afghans to become the largest group of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia, and have been labelled "troublemakers" by immigration officials who are unhappy that they are unable to send home those who fail refugee status.

Iranian boat arrivals leapt eightfold, from 197 in 2009-10, to 1549 last year. At the same time, visa success rates have plummeted, from 100 per cent in 2008, to 27 per cent last year.

Unlike Afghans fleeing villages, the Iranian asylum seekers are middle-class, well-educated, secular or Christian, with good English. It is exactly these vocal, motivated, urban Iranians who have been forced to flee an Islamic regime that views even teachers as "political" if they raise human rights objections, community leaders say.

But immigration officials take a different view, accusing recently arrived Iranians who had received initial rejections for refugee status of being agitators in the Christmas Island and Villawood riots. "Contumacious behaviour, wilful disobedience," Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe told a parliamentary inquiry.

The federal government says there is a large number of Iranians now on "negative pathways" but who cannot be sent back to Iran, and it is considering its options.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said Iran will not accept the return of failed asylum seekers "despite many attempts by Australia" to strike an agreement. No country in the world is returning Iranians involuntarily.

Siamak Ghahreman, chairman of the Iranian Community Association, says any Iranian sent back to Tehran after applying for refugee status in a foreign country would "simply be killed".

Iranian refugee and women's rights activist Nicky Danesh says more than 12 members of her family have been shot, executed or are missing. She would prefer not to live in exile, and says many tertiary-educated Iranian refugees in Australia have to drive taxis or clean, so they don't come here for economic benefit.

"We are victims of Islamic fundamentalism. Even middle-class women have absolutely no rights and girls can be married at the age of nine, which is sexual abuse," she says.

Mr Ghahreman says: "It is especially the more educated people - that don't practise religion the way the government wants them to - that are persecuted."

Of the 384 Iranians who came to Australia by plane and sought asylum last year, 96 per cent were successful, far higher than the boat success rate.

Mr Ghahreman said people are risking drowning - and hundreds go missing before they get to Australia - because "by boat it is easier and a bit cheaper than getting a false passport to come to Australia by plane". Many more have fled to Canada, the United States and Turkey.

He spoke to Villawood detainees during the riots and encouraged them to stop protesting. "What they did was not right - but I understand why they did it. They were under so much pressure before they got to Australia, and then to be detained, they couldn't take it any more," he said.

Nima Neyshaboury, a minister at St Paul's Church in Carlingford, New South Wales, visits Villawood to hold weekly bible studies classes for Iranian detainees. He sees a "sad situation" where Iranian Christians who left behind family have fallen into depression after being detained for 15, 20 months, and in one case two years.


Silencing dissent won't resolve indigenous issues

THE Bolt case reveals that Leftists prefer symbolic victories to dealing with disadvantage

THE judicial finding against Andrew Bolt has drastic implications for free speech but it also demonstrates that in almost two decades since the landmark Mabo decision, Australia's left-liberal political class has learned little about the important priorities in indigenous issues.

The loudest voices and most powerful advocates on indigenous issues still seem to be pre-occupied with political and symbolic victories rather than practical solutions. So while we learn of indigenous families in remote South Australian communities relying on food parcels from the Red Cross, the national debate focuses on how to silence a debate over cultural identity.

Rather than address the serious issues that were raised in the now banned columns - questions of racial preference for jobs, grants and prizes and how to ensure they support the most deserving - the obsession has been with wreaking vengeance and silencing Bolt.

On the matter of free speech it is worth noting that, at least, Judge Mordecai Bromberg conceded the issues raised by Bolt were matters of public interest. But Bromberg said some of Bolt's words meant more than their literal meaning and that while he accepted the literal meaning of some of Bolt's mitigating phrases, he found Bolt did not believe them.

So now when airing opinions on matters of public interest, Australians are subject to sanction by a court according to a judge ascribing extra meaning to the words we use, or denying our sincerity in the use of other words.

If that is not frighteningly Orwellian, nothing is. And, may it please the court, that is exactly what I meant to write. No more, no less.

Many left-liberals in the love media have welcomed the decision as revenge against Bolt, rather than railing against it as an illiberal blow against free speech. Much has been made of the findings about errors of fact. Errors are always unfortunate and sometimes egregious but in this case they are hardly the central point. Some of what Bromberg cites as factual error is more a matter of emphasis. It is a canard to suggest the case was about disputed facts: it was about apparent offence caused by Bolt's controversial and strongly worded opinion.

It is not surprising that many people genuinely and passionately disagree with Bolt's views. While intellectually cogent, they were stridently put. That is his way. Cultural identity must be an issue for free debate in a multicultural society that makes distinctions and decisions according to identity.

It has been surprising to see many, such as David Marr and Julian Burnside, who would consider themselves enlightened liberals welcome the decision and revel in the schadenfreude of Bolt's misery.

This is an unusual position, it seems to me, for two men who were prominent in the censorship outcry over Bill Henson's nude photo portraits of children. At that time, in a debate hosted by Marr, Burnside said, approvingly, that "political censorship is not so popular these days".

That now seems contestable. I think Burnside and Marr ought to at least admit it is Bolt's opinions and the way they were expressed that are at the heart of this case, not his facts. The modus operandi of the morally vain liberal Left has always been to trumpetits tolerance by denouncing others. Still, that is the point; we must be allowed to offend each other.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor yesterday missed the irony when he defended Bolt's censure for causing offence, then almost in the same breath, suggested Tony Abbott must accept offensive comments about him, and the offence caused by his own views, as part of the democratic compact. Indeed.

Ideological sparring is not to be spurned; it is the very essence of a robust democracy. We shouldn't wish away freedoms to silence our opponents. Defamation laws provide sufficient protection.

Sadly, the issue of the nation's shameful indigenous disadvantage remains at the eye of an ideological storm. And in the Bolt case the complainants by their action, the judge by his activism, and the commentators by their analysis have shown that maturity in the debate is a long way off.

My experience of this harks back to the secret women's business saga of Hindmarsh Island. When Aboriginal affairs minister Robert Tickner banned a bridge development in 1994 on the say so, as it turns out, of one witness's secret and fabricated evidence, it represented the high point of the left-liberal agenda for delivering symbolic victories to Aboriginal Australians. As a young journalist I investigated the facts and revealed the fabrication claims. All hell broke loose. In my naivety I presumed it would be a simple matter of the truth winning out.

Instead, the resources of the federal government, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, environmental groups, the ABC and even some churches turned it into a cultural battle between black and white. By the way, in that debate, the indigenous "credentials" of the dissidents were often questioned. A royal commission eventually confirmed the fabrication, and after losing the government, Labor dropped the cause. (Although the proponents later claimed some solace from a federal court case.)

Those caught up in that storm believed the trauma and vitriol of the experience might be worthwhile to help prevent such cultural shenanigans in the future. As Beryl Kropinyeri, one of the Ngarrindjeri dissidents who blew the whistle on the misadventure, said at the time; "Reconciliation starts with the truth."

Yet time and again since, we have seen leading Aboriginal activists and the political class focus on symbolic indigenous victories over perceived white and-or conservative antipathy. Instead of considering how best to educate indigenous children in remote communities, we have admonished ourselves over the wrongs of the stolen generation and the need for a formal apology. When shocking abuse of indigenous children was revealed, triggering the Northern Territory intervention, the debate was not about repairing communities and providing hope for children, but about indigenous rights and discriminatory paternalism.

In the Kimberley now, indigenous locals are insulted as "coconuts" because they dare to choose an economically self-sustaining future over a triumph in environmental and cultural politics. There are promising initiatives, such as Generation One's push for indigenous jobs. But it would be better to debate the tough issues Bolt raises, rather than leave the sorry saga of indigenous disadvantage to business as usual.


Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital tells some foreigners - go back where you came from

QUEENSLAND'S biggest public hospital has secretly banned some treatments for non-Australians in a bid to save money.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital recently began rejecting overseas students and visitors from certain countries, telling them to find a private hospital or go back to their own country.

The so-called "ineligible patients" are those from countries not listed among the nine nations with which Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements allowing costs to be recovered.

Those exposed to the ban include all Asian, American and African nations and many across Europe.

Queensland Health yesterday refused to say whether other hospitals were implementing the edict but defended the decision as a measure to ensure taxpayers were given priority.

The ban only applies to non-emergency maternity and gynaecological procedures but would have applied to 116 ineligible patients in the previous six months.

But the Opposition said rejecting patients based on country was a "slippery slope" even if it did not amount to racism.

In a leaked August 12 memo, RBWH Women's and Newborn Services executive director Ian Cooke said the budget was 6 per cent over last financial year and this year had to be on-budget.

"On average only 50 per cent of costs incurred are recovered and this recovery itself often costs time and money to achieve," Prof Cooke wrote.

"In the current climate this cannot continue. Their options for maternity care if they are living in our catchment area are to either seek private obstetric care, or return to their own country for care."

The revelations further highlight the budget strains on Queensland Health exposed in recent weeks as department chiefs look for ways to save.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle yesterday said it was not a good look as a "compassionate" country to be choosing patients by origin.

"I wouldn't say it's racism but it is a slippery slope when public health starts choosing patients on the basis of their home country instead of the type of operation required," Mr McArdle said.

But Metro North Health Service District chief Keith McNeill said overseas visitors did not have automatic entitlement to care in public hospitals under the Medicare scheme. "This isn't about cutting costs," he said. "Our first priority must be to provide health services to Australians. "However, RBWH will not deny anybody, regardless of their nationality or residency status, access to urgent or emergency medical care."

Countries not affected because of their agreement with Australia are the UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Slovenia, Malta and Italy.

After weeks of revelations about hospital cuts across the state, it emerged yesterday that health staff were being told to find savings to fund their own wage rises and sick children were waiting days for beds at the Royal Children's Hospital.


2 October, 2011

Gas-fired generators to power Sydney homes

This sop to the Greenies seems quite mad. The capital cost per unit of electricity produced has to be much greater than the cost of reticulated power -- particularly where the transmission lines are already in place

What is needed of course is a big new coal-fired power station on one of the big coalfields that surround Sydney -- but the Greenies would put up such a storm about that that it would take a brave government to do it. So they flail about with expensive follies instead

SUBURBAN homes will be fitted with government-funded mini power generators as part of a series of multimillion dollar trials to reign-in electricity prices and reduce demand.

Up to 30,000 homes in Sydney and Newcastle will participate in one of seven trials to take place in NSW. The Federal Government is providing $100 million towards the cost of them. The trials, to be undertaken by Ausgrid, will look at whether household bills can be lowered while also making the grid more efficient. About 25 households have agreed to have a fuel cell fitted to their home as part of a two-year trial to begin this month.

The cell, in a box the size of a dishwasher, will convert gas to electricity which will be fed back into the grid as part of the first phase of the trial.

Heat produced during the conversion process will be used to provide free hot water to participating families. The second phase will involve the cell powering the family home to determine if it can reduce electricity usage. The cells cost about $50,000 each but Ausgrid believes they would become more affordable in commercial production.

Demand for electricity during peak hours is at a critical level and energy companies are seeking ways to reduce the load on the network.

Ausgrid energy efficiency expert Paul Myors said peak demand was rising two per cent a year across the network. He said a fuel cell could power two homes.

"We're testing whether this type of technology can make the power supply more reliable, reduce peaks in electricity demand and lower household electricity bills," Mr Myors said.

The trial is one of several taking place in coming months. Smart meters will be installed in about 15,000 homes in the coming weeks, allowing homeowners to remotely turn off appliances and monitor their electricity use in real-time on the web.


No freedom to sing what you like?

Why not sing the ORIGINAL second verse? That might upset some applecarts too

When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,

To trace wide oceans o'er,

True British courage bore him on,

Til he landed on our shore.

Then here he raised Old England's flag,

The standard of the brave;

"With all her faults we love her still"

"Britannia rules the wave."

In joyful strains then let us sing

Advance Australia fair.

THOUSANDS of schoolchildren are being forced to sing an alternative version of the Australian national anthem that installs "Christ" as the country's head of state and removes any reference to the Southern Cross.

In a move that outraged parents' groups have labelled "disrespectful", some 50 Christian schools of mixed denominations have replaced the second verse of Advance Australia Fair with the lyrics, which begin, "With Christ our head and cornerstone, we'll build our nation's might", for school assembly renditions.

The contentious version was penned 23 years ago by Sri Lankan immigrant Ruth Ponniah, 75, who now lives in Sydney, as part of her local church's bicentennial celebrations and is now sung in schools including the Penrith Christian School, St George Christian School, Westmead Christian Grammar School and Bethel Christian School in Mt Druitt.

Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett has admonished the unauthorised words, saying that under national protocols the anthem should not be modified and that the alternative verse had no place in the state's educational institutions - regardless of their religious affiliations. "Alternative words should not be used and schools should be teaching students to sing the two authorised verses," he said.

But the Australian Parents Council, representing the parents of independent school students, wants Mr Garrett to go further and ban Ms Ponniah's lyrics.

"If you're singing the national anthem, it should be the national anthem you are singing," said executive director Ian Dalton. "There are many opportunities to express pride in your faith, but the national anthem is not one of them. It shouldn't be tampered with."

Federation of Parents and Citizens' Association of NSW president Helen Walton backed the APC push, saying it was "disrespectful" of schools to endorse a different version of the anthem. "The national anthem is the national anthem of all Australians regardless of religion," she said.

But Christian Schools Australia chief executive officer Stephen O'Doherty said: "Our schools sing it with gusto and I . . . find it inspiring to hear young voices singing those words. We encourage schools to sing this Christian response and to sing it loudly."

Ms Ponniah is also proud it is being sung in schools.


Sick Queensland kids taken to Royal Children's Hospital emergency department waiting up to three days for a bed

SICK kids who are taken to the Royal Children's Hospital's emergency department have been waiting up to three days for a bed as doctors and parents say a budget shortfall is putting lives at risk.

One senior doctor says up to 17 of 130 overnight beds plus an operating theatre have been classed as "unfunded" and are closed while young patients queue for treatment.

As services suffer, $1.4 billion is being spent on building a controversial new super hospital on a separate site.

The RCH treats 30,000 children each year more than half of them from regional areas and has a reputation for excellence.

The physician, who asked for his identity to be withheld, claims:

* Cancer kids are having chemotherapy delayed or cancelled at the last minute due to a lack of open beds.

* Outpatients from regional areas are waiting up to 10 days for a bed after specialists advise that they should be admitted.

* Sick kids who should be admitted are being sent home because of a bed shortage.

A second senior doctor also raised concerns high bed occupancy rates could be driving up the risk of hospital-acquired infection.

Responding to the claims, Government children's health services executive director Dr Peter Steer said 30 children had waited for more than 24 hours in the emergency department in the past three months, compared to eight children in the same period last year.

However, a Government spokesman confirmed the hospital did not count an attached short-stay ward as being part of the emergency department, despite being staffed by the department's doctors, so the figure might be significantly higher.

Dr Steer said all RCH patients had started chemotherapy "within the recommended clinical timeframes" last financial year.

He also denied beds or an operating theatre were closed or that there had been high or serious bed-occupancy issues throughout the year.

But a memo leaked to The Sunday Mail said the hospital was near breaking point earlier this year, even before the traditional winter rush. "RCH is experiencing a persistent and unmanageable high-bed occupancy," medical services executive director David Slaughter wrote to specialists in April. "This is potentially so serious that it may affect our ability to manage our normal elective admissions."

Patients should be sent home or to peripheral and regional hospitals wherever possible, the memo said.

But the Queensland Nurses Union disputed that there was a systemic problem at RCH and said the occupancy rate was "under 100 per cent". However, the union confirmed, some beds were not "operational" as staff worked within their budgets.

"The alternative is to actually not run them with sufficient nursing staff to provide safe patient care," union secretary Beth Mohle said.

"There has been some bed blockages and that's meant that some patients have had to go to a short-stay ward for up to 48 hours rather than their unit, on the odd occasion. "They're managing that through a big examination of patient flow right now (throughout) the hospital."

The Australian Medical Association said the "same story" of long emergency department waits was occurring at the Mater Children's Hospital but said it was unaware of the RCH's concerns.

The new Queensland Children's Hospital is being constructed at the Mater in South Brisbane and will lead to the closure of the RCH and Mater Children's hospitals. Its critics claim the new facility will be worthless if it is without an adequate budget for services. The AMA's Dr Markwell confirmed: "There are concerns the hospital will not have as many beds as it needs".

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said that delays in getting sick children into wards was "shameful". "It is the lowest outcome I would expect in a first world country," Mr McArdle said."As a whole, the system is crumbling."


One third of voters would support Labor if it dumped plans for carbon tax

ONE third of voters say they would be more likely to support Labor if the Government dumped its plans for a carbon tax.

In a warning to Prime Minister Julia Gillard only weeks before she plans to push the tax through Parliament, an exclusive Galaxy poll for The Courier-Mail suggests Labor could turn around its collapse in support if it backs down on its plans.

Only 14 per cent of voters said they would be less inclined to vote for Labor if it scrapped the scheme.

The national poll - which surveyed 500 people last Tuesday and Wednesday nights - also found almost 70 per cent of voters thought that Labor would have a better chance of winning the next election if former prime minister Kevin Rudd was restored as leader.

It also recorded widespread opposition to Ms Gillard's border protection plans, with only 14 per cent of voters backing her strategy of trying to press ahead with the doomed asylum-seeker deal with Malaysia.

The findings cast new doubt on key items on Ms Gillard's agenda, but also suggest that Labor could rebuild support by back-tracking on its unpopular climate change and asylum-seeker policies.

But any move to shelve the carbon tax could risk Labor losing the backing of the Greens as well as key independents who helped design the scheme and who prop up Ms Gillard's minority Government.

And a change could also risk a voter backlash similar to the one experienced by Mr Rudd after he deferred his original plans for an emissions trading scheme.

But the poll suggests 32 per cent of voters would accept a backdown and would be more likely to support Labor.

This latest survey is another blow to the Prime Minister, who is already facing damaging speculation that her leadership is under threat. Labor's primary vote has plummeted to record lows under Ms Gillard. The poll found 28 per cent of voters were more likely to vote Labor if Mr Rudd made a comeback as prime minister and only 10 per cent said they would be less likely to back the party if it returned to its former leader.

Mr Rudd - who yesterday gave a foreign policy speech about Australia's role in the G20 at the University of Queensland - declined to buy into the leadership speculation. "People are very kind but I am very happy being foreign minister," he said. "I support the Prime Minister and I believe the Prime Minister will lead us to the election."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he did not fear Mr Rudd, despite 75 per cent of Coalition supporters polled saying the former leader had a better chance than Ms Gillard of winning the next election.


1 October, 2011

Barnaby: A maverick and a populist

The article below is an attempted put-down of Barnaby Joyce but does reveal some of his strengths too. The article portrays Joyce/Abbott as ignorant for not going all-out on zero tariffs but omits to mention that no country (At least any I can think of) does that. Even Switzerland has extensive industry protection.

And economists do acknowledge a special case in favor of some industry protection that they in fact call "The Australian case". The concept is that a country which produces goods going out of favor can reasonably protect the development of new industries in that country, preferably by way of a uniform tariff. And Australia's rural exports are a prize example of such a case, with wool going out of favor.

So while Barnaby speaks from instinct, his instincts are far from wholly wrong. I could go on about the national debt and why Australia's is low but I will leave that for another day

Barnaby Joyce readily shifts ground to win an argument. And he has more influence in the Coalition than many realise.

If you want to understand where Tony Abbott got his relentless, angry, barnstorming style of opposition campaigning, the key is contained in two words - Barnaby Joyce.

When Malcolm Turnbull was still Liberal leader, it was Joyce who pioneered the blustery, populist campaign against the Rudd government's carbon policy at a time when Abbott was advising his Liberal colleagues to just wave it through.

"I came up with the line that it's just a great big new tax," Joyce says proudly. "Even reluctantly, the insiders give me credit for that."

And in the trademark Barnaby style, he went on: "It was a statement of the bleeding obvious. Stick your head out the window, look up at the sky and ask yourself - can Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan change that?

"Even they admit they can't. So it's a gesture. How much money do you want to spend on a gesture? What's the moral precedence of that gesture? You could spend that money on AIDS or malaria, saving people's lives."

Colourful, concrete imagery; direct, abrupt language; original framing; deliberate oversimplification; policy non sequiturs; emotional appeal powered by moral outrage; passionate rhetoric. And all this leading to the harshest possible conclusion, that Labor government equals lives lost. Classic Barnaby.

Leading the uprising against the emissions trading scheme, the senator from Queensland split the Coalition on the issue of carbon policy. Turnbull negotiated the Liberals closer and closer to Labor while Joyce pulled further and further away.

At the very moment Turnbull clinched his deal with Rudd for bipartisan legislation, the Joyce rebellion reached critical mass in public opinion. Abbott, who had adroitly changed his public position on the emissions trading scheme only a week earlier, took the leadership by a single vote.

Joyce led, the Nationals followed, the Liberals came along behind.

Abbott was open in his admiration: "I think that Barnaby is a uniquely gifted retail politician," he said within a couple of days of taking the leadership. "I certainly want Barnaby on the frontbench." He made him the finance spokesman for the opposition, but that didn't work out so well.

Mixing up his millions and billions, warning of a possible US government default, scaring voters with his warnings of economic Armageddon, Joyce did not present as a credible economic policymaker. Abbott eventually removed him from the post. But months later, the US did indeed come close to default. Does Barnaby feel vindicated? "It's always annoyed me a little bit. Time has proved me right, but I didn't get the job back. I said it was a distant but real possibility that the US would default. They came within 10 hours - that's pretty bloody real!"

But was Joyce right about American default? He had warned that US government indebtedness would endanger its ability to keep up its repayments to its bondholders, the sort of trouble Greece is in today. Joyce was making a financial and economic forecast. But that was not the reason the US flirted with default this year. It was a political argument in Congress that threatened to cut US payments to bondholders. It was a matter of political will, not financial capacity. Joyce signalled the right risk, but for the wrong reason.

Nonetheless, if anything, he's even more passionate about debt than ever - this time, ours: "Sometimes my metaphors are a little abrupt and I get chided for that. People say there's gotta be more gloss and glamour. I scare people sometimes. But it obviously works. You can judge your approach by results - the US debt default, for example.

"What worries me is that the story goes on. I don't want our nation sleepwalking into default. When the debt was $100 billion you laughed at me. When the debt was $150 billion you laughed at me. When the debt was $200 billion you laughed at me. I'm just waiting for one day you might snap on and say, 'maybe we have a problem here'."

The federal government's gross debt is indeed more than $200 billion. At the end of the last financial year, it was $201.8 billion, according to the Treasury.

For perspective, this is the equivalent of 14.5 per cent of Australia's total economic output, as measured by gross domestic product. This compares with a ratio of an average 110 per cent in the major developed economies. As the US economist David Hale has observed: "Most other G20 governments are deeply envious of Australia's fiscal situation."

Swan makes the point that the net federal debt is only half as big. Net debt - that is, liabilities minus assets - was $84.6 billion last financial year, or 6.1 per cent of GDP. This compares to an average for the major developed countries of 75 per cent in 2010.

In other words, it's modest and manageable. The government projects that its net debt will peak at 7.2 per cent of GDP this financial year, and fall thereafter. But Joyce is having none of it.

"Once you say net, I'm going to challenge you," he fires. He puts these qualifiers on the government's debt figures. First, says Joyce, the Commonwealth has guaranteed about $50 billion in state debt, so its true liabilities are bigger than claimed. (The budget lists this as a contingent liability, some of which has been repaid, now worth $39.5 billion at June 30.)

Second, that the government counts as assets about $75 billion held in the Future Fund. He makes the point that this is supposed to pay for the eventual retirement of federal public servants "so they are using one credit card to pay off another credit card". Third, he says that the government counts as assets money that students owe as HECS or HELP debt, now in the budget at $15.5 billion.

During the Howard government, Treasury used the same accounting methods as the Gillard government's Treasury, so its figuring would have been the same. But even so, even if you accept all of Joyce's qualifications and adjust government debt accordingly, it would still amount to a net debt of $213.7 billion. It would still amount to only about 15 per cent of GDP, still modest and manageable by historical standards and by all international standards.

Wouldn't it Barnaby? "Look at Ireland at the start of the last global financial crisis. Its net debt was 11 per cent." Ireland's situation in 2008 bears no resemblance to Australia's today, but we've heard enough of Joyce's debating style to see that it's reminiscent of Paul Keating's. Neither man will enjoy the comparison. But both aim not for a factual discovery or a dialectical search for an objective truth in the course of a debate, but for emotional dominance. Like Keating, Joyce will readily shift ground, move the goalposts, to win an argument. Neither will take a backward step. It's not chiefly about facts, it's about willpower.

With his deep concern about debt, Joyce could be expected to be an ardent supporter of the Coalition's stated aim of finding $70 billion in savings in federal spending. But no. "It infuriates me whenever I hear that $70 billion being bandied about. It's not my role," says the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water. "It's Joe Hockey's role" as shadow treasurer. "But I don't concur with that figure of $70 billion to start with. It's substantially less than that." Because in scrapping a carbon tax, he says, the Coalition would not only lose revenue but also the expense of compensation, and this is not factored into the $70 billion.

He's right, it's not his portfolio. But, as Peter Costello observed of Joyce this week: "These days he is apparently free to speak on all areas of policy". Joyce says he has a very good relationship with his leader. "You wonder if he listens to you, then you hear something you said to him in one of his speeches."

In fact, within the Coalition, Joyce is seen as an Abbott favourite. Frontbenchers also think Abbott does a good job of managing Joyce: "He can be very good, but he's sometimes, frankly, outlandish. Tony does a good job of containing a lot of that."

Costello evidently thinks Abbott doesn't contain him enough. In fact, Costello seems to think that Abbott and Joyce are too much alike for the Liberal Party's good.

In his column in the Herald this week, Costello pointed out the dominance of Catholics and Catholic-educated politicians in the party's leadership. He also pointed out the historical relationship between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Labor Party, the fiercely anti-communist splinter group that broke with Labor in the 1950s and ultimately disappeared in the 1970s. Costello pointed out that senior Liberals including Abbott did some work with the DLP in their youth. And he pointed out that the DLP favoured a good deal of intervention and regulation of the economy.

Subtly but clearly associating Abbott with Joyce, Costello wrote that Joyce seemed "to have an affinity with the old regulated order of the Australian economy".

He said Joyce's protectionist view was "certainly a DLP idea. It might be held in some parts of the Nationals, but it is certainly not a Liberal idea." He went on to urge Abbott not to rule out labour market liberalisation.

Costello's larger point is that an Abbott-Joyce Coalition is shaping up to be a very different sort of government to a Howard-Costello one.

Joyce himself recoils from Howard as any sort of template. Asked whether the Howard government was as mistaken as Labor in proposing an emissions trading scheme, Joyce replies: "I don't have a card for John Howard stuck up on my mantelpiece."

The character of an Abbott government will be a question that will play on the minds of many Liberals as the next election approaches. Who will it resemble more closely - John Howard or Barnaby Joyce?


The hatreds of Julian Burnside QC

Julian Burnside is both a Leftist and a very successful barrister (trial lawyer) so there is no doubt either of his intellectual firepower or the power of his hatreds. In the article below you will encounter nothing other than abuse of conservatives. There is no attempt at a rational argument at all. And that from a distinguished barrister! So it is clear that the foaming hate in him could indeed have generated the abusive Twitter post apparently aimed at Tony Abbott. It could well be that only his awareness of torts caused him to deny the aim of the comment

An example of a rational comment that he might have made were he less enveloped in rage is: "Book says Abbott's attitude to abortion alienates women".

PROMINENT Queen's Counsel Julian Burnside has issued an apology to Tony Abbott after tweeting "Paedos in speedos" during a stream of critical remarks about the Opposition Leader on Twitter.

Mr Burnside said last night he had not intended to suggest Mr Abbott was a pedophile and his Twitter gaffe was only meant to be a private reply to a "rather weak pun about church people".

The barrister has become the latest casualty of the social networking site. Last year, comedian Catherine Deveny lost her regular column in Fairfax's The Age after she tweeted that she hoped child star Bindi Irwin "gets laid" at the Logies. Indigenous lawyer Larissa Behrendt came under fire for suggesting on Twitter that watching bestiality during a television show was "less offensive than Bess Price" - an indigenous activist who is in favour of the Northern Territory intervention.

The Opposition Leader, renowned for wearing Speedos during ocean swimming events, declined to comment on the Twitter remark, but media lawyers said Mr Burnside's comment could be seen to be defamatory.

Mr Burnside's Twitter comment came a day after he used a radio interview about the Andrew Bolt racial discrimination case to say that society had formed a view that there were "limits to what you can say that might vilify or hurt other people".

The Melbourne-based human rights lawyer had been using the social networking site to comment on a new book, Tony Abbott: A Man's Man, by Susan Mitchell, which is highly critical of Mr Abbott. He tweeted " 'sexist' Abbott blasted in new book" and shared the view that the Liberal leader was "a dangerous man with no moral compass".

Mr Burnside said he received a private message and replied to it with the comment "Paedos in speedos" - a remark he said he had heard on the BBC comedy Matt and George last week.

Mr Burnside said that he could not recall whether the message he was replying to was a comment from @RobertaWedge, asking: "@JulianBurnside Are sexist abbots like predator priests?"

Mr Burnside continued to criticise Mr Abbott on Twitter. "The leader shapes the government," he wrote. "Abbott is seriously dangerous, not least because he is a massive hypocrite."

He said he only realised after returning to Twitter hours later that his comment had been interpreted as an attack on Mr Abbott, and had been tweeted to his more than 5000 followers. He then quickly wrote: "Abbott is certainly not a pedophile. Comment was 1:1 reply to a remark about p. priests. Sorry for misunderstanding."

He added: "This is unprompted apology to #Abbott. He is NOT a pedophile and I was not referring to him. He has many flaws, but that is not one of them."

Five hours later, the QC continued to apologise on the social networking site: "I apologise for THAT tweet - apologies to Abbott and to anyone who was offended. It was NOT about Abbott. My blunder."

Mr Burnside said last night he could understand how his comments could have been interpreted as an attack on Mr Abbott, given the way in which a stream of posts on Twitter works.

"I am not sure how many times you can apologise for a mistake," he said last night.

"I really am genuinely sorry. I am critical of Mr Abbott on a number of grounds and I wouldn't want those criticisms to be diminished because people think I throw around utterly baseless, careless allegations."

Mr Burnside has recently used his Twitter account to discuss the Federal Court judgment that Bolt - columnist for News Limited, publisher of The Australian - had breached the Racial Discrimination Act. Media lawyer Justin Quill, who led Bolt's legal team, said Mr Burnside's initial "Paedos in speedos" comment was clearly defamatory. "That something was an accident is not an excuse," he said. "However, Julian's very sensible and prompt response would mean that it probably wouldn't be worth Mr Abbott taking legal action because any damages are unlikely to be significant."

There is no indication that Mr Abbott, who sued author Bob Ellis for defamation, will take action against Mr Burnside. Mr Burnside said last night: "I am not going to give legal advice . . . I would hope no one would take seriously or infer a comment like that would be true of him (Mr Abbott)."


Good manners and civility a key to success

So with their unrelenting rage, Leftists undermine themselves. Not mentioned below, probably because it is unnecessary, is the unfailing civility of one of America's most influential presidents, Ronald Reagan

This week we have seen an extraordinary media focus on the judgment in the Bolt case. Strikes me the subsequent "conversation" in the community is lacking something. Civility.

As one tweep reminded me this week, former Prime Minister John Howard once said "people who exercise free speech have an obligation to do so in a sensitive and caring fashion. That has always been my credo." But Howard also said: "It has also been my credo that, if someone disagrees with the prevailing orthodoxy of the day, that person should not be denigrated as a narrow-minded bigot."

Either way what has been missing in recent years is what our mothers used to call "good manners". I mention this because the one universal trait I have witnessed in the truly successful political and business leaders I've met is courtesy and civility.
Advertisement: Story continues below

I have found manners to be the clearest window into the character of people. Why?

Don Argus was fond of making a cup of tea for his guests. Finding the time to make a cup of tea for people demonstrates that he was not "hassled", that his office was running efficiently enough that he had the time for this simple courtesy. It demonstrated that he was not overwhelmed by being the CEO of one of Australia's largest banks.

John Howard would always make a genuine inquiry about someone's interests or the health of their family. In doing so he was demonstrating that he was not self-centered, that he was genuinely interested in what was going on outside his prime ministerial cocoon. In doing so he was also signalling that his time with them was an important investment for him, earning loyalty and respect. In fact on one occasion a colleague brought his two young boys in for a quick snap with the then PM, but ended up leaving 45 minutes later after Howard had given the boys a personal tour of his office, shared tea and biscuits and discussed the rugby and sports with them. Given that this happened the afternoon before a state reception for the Queen, the effort was pretty extraordinary, and importantly, never forgotten by the colleague. So manners help loyalty, then.

Former New Zealand National Party leader Don Brash, in his past life, was fond of tapping away on his smart phone while in meetings. This sent a signal at a very personal level to many he met that he was not prepared to listen, and his commitments to them and indeed to the country were formed not on the basis of understanding but of ideology and tactics.

Despite his entertaining personality, privately Boris Johnson will make sure he takes the time to carefully listen to his guests' opinions, ideas and criticism that shows an openness of thinking. He remains courteous and good-humoured even when being confronted with criticism or anger. This shows an open and flexible mind willing to embrace new ideas, rather than rely on his charisma or intellect which could be confronting to others. I have found Andrew Bolt to be the same.

Certainly online conversation mediums are making good manners harder. For one, while "convenient", the online conversation is not "intimate" - there is no need for the special investment that good manners require. I'm as guilty as anyone here. Indeed the "quick draw" nature of forums like Twitter lend themselves to anger and energy, rarely patience or civility. As the blogger Dragonista counsels: "a two-drink limit should always be followed on twitter".

Much has been made in the mainstream media of the growing negativity in politics and the ruthlessness of business. My metrics would indicate that this has always been a factor in both. Perhaps what is missing though is what I first learnt in Territory politics and that is to play politics and business like you would a game of rugby: hard on the field, but to the rules, in the spirit of the game, with some simple courtesies before and after the game to demonstrate there is something bigger at stake. That is the nature of a civil society; not the absence of conflict but the presence of civility, respect and the acceptance that there is a diversity of views out there.

Our mums used to say "don't forget your manners". We should make this a practice rather than relying on laws to make our society civil.


Bolt tongue tied

Adam Creighton

Sometimes it takes an injustice to beget justice. So it may be with Andrew Bolt’s infringement of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975, as a result of articles he wrote in 2009 suggesting that some people claim ‘aboriginality’ for personal gain (a logical certainty at the very least).

Probably not many Australians knew the extent to which courts and government curtail freedom of expression. They do now.

Snuck into the Act by the Keating government in 1995, Section 18C outlaws expressing views in public that encompass ‘race’ and offend people of a particular ‘race.’ Australian courts are now spending valuable public resources inquiring into whether and to what extent people have been offended.

If that is not gratuitous and silly enough, Judge Bromberg’s interpretation appears sorely wanting. Section 18D allows exemptions for ‘fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.’

Judge Bromberg, a former Labor party pre-selection contender, ignored that part because ‘of the manner in which the articles were written [which included] inflammatory and provocative language’! It is not for the judge to pass judgment on the quality or tenor of a particular communication when such criteria are absent from the relevant law.

Moreover, he ignored the title of the relevant sections of the Act, which explicitly refer to ‘behaviour based on racial hatred.’

Bolt’s articles patently had nothing to do with racial hatred. Nevertheless, the judge believed the term had a ‘broader field of operation ... infused by the values of human dignity and equality.’ That’s a lovely sentiment, but it’s not what the law says.

It will be surprising if the High Court does not strike down this verdict.

This outcome is also a reminder of the inconsistency and hypocrisy such laws engender. It is quite OK, for instance, for Larissa Behrendt (one of the complainants in the case and NSW Australian of the Year) to claim in public that fellow Aborigine Bess Price is more offensive than a man having sex with a horse because of Price’s views on Aboriginal policy. But it is not OK for Bolt to highlight the perverse incentives created by well-meaning laws.

More generally, using laws to shape people’s morals is ineffective and wasteful. To paraphrase former High Court Justice Harry Gibbs, if we reach a point where we need to codify our morals, then there’s probably not much worth codifying.


Race law should ensure the primacy of free speech

Below are some letters to the editor about Andrew Bolt appearing in today's "Australian"

THE main problem with the Racial Discrimination Act's now notorious section 18C is that it lacks one word: intent.

Judge Mordecai Bromberg was free to impute the effect of Andrew Bolt's words on the complainants, without having to consider whether he meant to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate".

There is a way to avoid this problem. In 2006, when the Blair government responded to British Muslim sensitivities with its Racial and Religious Hatred Act, the House of Lords forced amendments that require a prosecutor to demonstrate an intention to stir up religious hatred.

The protection of freedom of religion clause reads:

"Nothing in this shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system."

An amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act containing that absolute assertion of priorities would ensure the primacy of free speech.

Geoffrey Luck, Killara, NSW


SINCE the first newspapers emerged in the 17th century, journalists have caused offence and made mistakes. They have been punished severely by the state for so doing.

Freedom of the press simply means the freedom to offend people and make mistakes without any intervention whatsoever from the state.

John Henningham, Director, Jschool Journalism College, Brisbane, Qld


I AM gobsmacked. Did a Greens senator from South Australia really write to this newspaper (Letters, 30/9) to say "diddums" to Andrew Bolt?

Surely it didn't actually happen? Surely it was a mindless tweet from some immature schoolgirl, not a note from one of the leaders of our nation?

The juvenile vacuity of the Greens is stunning. Sarah Hanson-Young is a disgrace, but it's the voters of South Australia who should be ashamed of themselves.

Andrew Davey, Perth, WA


LAUD or lament the finding against Andrew Bolt, the reality is more complex than some commentators seem able to admit.

Like George Brandis, I have reservations about laws governing racial vilification ("Section 18C has no place in a society that values freedom of expression", 30/9).

While I sympathise with the intentions behind such legislation, I also believe it risks making bigots into martyrs by having their opinions silenced instead of contested openly in the marketplace of ideas. However, if Bolt had got his facts straight, no adverse finding would have occured. As the judge, Mordecai Bromberg, said:

"Nothing in the orders I make should suggest it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification, including by challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people."

I would have preferred to see the plaintiffs sue for libel, instead of having Bolt charged under the hopelessly broad section 18C. But the judgment against him is still partly the result of Bolt's own shoot first, ask questions later approach.

Ben Adams, Park Holme, SA


MY grandfather was born a Bavarian in Bavaria and my grand-children, even though they are obviously not Bavarian, can believe themselves to be fair dinkum Bavarians and call themselves Bavarians if they want to.

But I would find it exceedingly odd if they felt insulted and humiliated if anyone dared to challenge their status as Bavarians.

If the law of the land says otherwise, then let us change the law. It did not come to us from heaven.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative