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

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


31 October, 2012

Gillard's Asian language plan is straight out of her behind.  No brain involvement in the matter at all

There is a reason why so many high school students drop out of Asian languages - they're just too hard.  And anyone who knew anything about the matter would have told her that  -- if she had asked

Language learners of Australia, let's be honest: we are not going to become a nation of Mandarin speakers overnight as Prime Minister Gillard would like us to be.

As for her Asian white paper and its lofty goals for language studies and Australian high-schoolers, I wonder if we are thinking this through enough?

We're making a mistake if we think we can coerce high school children into learning Asian languages because, frankly, they are difficult for children with an untrained Anglo ear.

As Michael Maniska, the principal of Sydney's International Grammar School, told Lateline on Monday night, when you start learning a European language you can expect to have to invest 600 to 700 hours before you attain the basic level of proficiency. To attain that same level of proficiency in Mandarin or Japanese you have to invest 2100 to 2200 hours, according to the US Foreign Service Institute.

This is where the latest white paper on a cultural and economic interchange with Asia falls flat.

Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language in their teens or later, no matter how enthusiastic they are, knows how hard it is to learn it "cold". That is, without exposure as a preschooler.

For anyone over the age of 12, the intonations, grammar, sentence structures and colloquialisms of another language seem like an Everest to master. That's why you see older people maintaining accents even if they've emigrated in their teens.

This learning hurdle is as true for high school students as it is for business people who are told by their bosses to buy a few language tapes (or search the internet) to learn some of the lingo for that overseas posting.

In the past, for English speakers, it's been relatively easy to learn a foreign language. European languages such as French (the dominant diplomatic pidgin), Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German, shared the same Roman alphabet and many words. Those wanting to learn Greek or Russian had greater hardships, as the alphabets were different, though there were a few strands of familiarity that still crept through, both in alphabets and in word usage.

But Chinese and Japanese both use different alphabets and very subtle juxtaposition of symbols to create nuances in their written languages. This subtlety also extends to the tonal nature of their pronunciation and vocabulary, where it's much easier to make mistakes than in the European languages. That is why high school students drop out of Asian languages - if offered - at a high rate. They're just too hard. It is rare that an 18-year-old without an Asian background will sit the HSC in an Asian language.

I'm bilingual - German and English - and they're the only languages that remain imprinted on my mind.

In young adulthood I learnt three other languages. Two, French and Spanish, proved easy for pronunciation but difficult for grammar. Both dropped away without any use.

There were two real killers learning as a teenager: grammar and pronunciation. For grammar, you had to get your head around German sentences like: "Ich bin zu den Laeden gestern gegangen." (I have to the shops yesterday went.) For the Romance languages, you have elaborate subjunctives.

Although translation devices will never replace a competent, on-the-ground teacher who acts as a translator and mentor, there are both good and bad ones at the touch of a mouse or an app. You just have to choose the right one.

So is it realistic to make Asian language learning a priority for our schools? The sentiment's fine; it's just very impractical. Besides, we have a great pool of people in Australia who already speak so many Asian languages due to our diversity. Just hop on a western Sydney train line and you'll hear them speaking their native tongue.

Business people who travel from Shanghai to Singapore, or from Tokyo to Taipei will tell you time and again that unless you're on the pointy end of trade, people in Asia won't want you to practise your dodgy local language skills on them: they want to practise their YouTube versions of English on you.

You're there to talk business or science or education, so stick to what you're good at, unless you have the magic ear.

A vision for an exchange between Australia and Asia is laudable. Where curiosity and a greater cross-cultural understanding thrives, the economy will automatically follow. Pushing it with stumbling Mandarin-speakers is just an artificial construct.

Spending billions on languages and scrambling to find the teachers isn't the answer for Australia. Spending billions on better, egalitarian education, and fostering research beyond digging holes in the ground, is.


Mainland removed from zone for asylum seekers

THE flow of asylum-seeker boats has surged by more than a third since the reintroduction of the Pacific solution, leading the government to adopt a further measure of excising the Australian mainland from the migration zone.

More than 5700 asylum seekers have arrived since August 13, the cut-off date from when the government has warned boat arrivals could be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for processing.

That compares to 4300 over the same period before the cut-off, a 39 per cent increase in boats and a 32 per cent increase in people.

The Houston report commissioned by the government and released on August 13 warned that the Pacific solution alone would not stop the boats and all its recommendations should be implemented.

The recommendation to excise Australia from the migration zone was adopted by the government yesterday.

This means anyone who arrives on the Australian mainland by boat will be sent offshore for processing to Nauru or Manus Island.

Presently, they are processed onshore and receive bridging visas and limited work rights.

The measure was once so controversial that, six years ago, the Howard government backed off trying to introduce it following a revolt by Liberal moderates. In a sign of how the politics has changed, Labor's Melissa Parke was the only person to voice concern when the legislation was put to caucus yesterday for approval. She questioned whether the move was consistent with Australia's international obligations.

The Coalition slammed the government as hypocrites but is likely to support the legislation.

However, two Liberal moderates, Russell Broadbent and Judi Moylan, said they would cross the floor and not support it.

Since 2008, after Labor was elected, only 211 people have reached the mainland by boat whereas more than 28,200 have reached islands such as Christmas Island, which are already excised from the migration zone.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said excising the mainland was necessary because more people are expected to try to reach the mainland to avoid being sent to Nauru or Manus Island.

"These are difficult decisions for everybody but we do need to have in place a properly integrated system which says to people there's a safer way of getting to Australia," he said.

Mr Bowen also tabled legislation yesterday appropriating money for the $1.6 billion asylum seekers will cost the budget this financial year. This includes $1.2 billion in costs detailed in the midyear budget update last week and another $267 million taken from the contingency reserve for initial construction costs on Nauru and Manus Island.

Mr Bowen said excising the mainland did not contravene Australia's obligations under the UN Refugee Convention but refugee advocates were outraged.

The human rights lawyer Rachel Ball said the excision was without precedent for a country signed on to international conventions.

"Excision is an affront to justice and the rule of law," she said.

The Labor Left is uncomfortable with the policy direction. Senior figures have sought a dialogue with Mr Bowen to ensure it is at least kept abreast of changes and can monitor them.


Students suspended following comments on Facebook page

The Principal sounds rather high and mighty but the school does appear to be a rather violent one so maybe that is relevant.  Some  posts do appear to have been genuinely abusive.  Suspending students over it is pretty dubious however.  Should we not expect a school to try education instead?

A GOLD Coast principal has launched a crackdown on cyber bullying, suspending any student who posts abusive messages on a school Facebook page.

Southport High School principal Steve McLuckie has suspended several students behind a series of vicious cyber attacks on the Facebook page.

The move has divided education heavyweights and the school community.  Some parents say the principal is going too far and limiting their children's right to free speech, but supporters praise Mr McLuckie for taking on "trolls".

"I am not backing away from this," Mr McLuckie said.  "We are taking a stand. This type of bullying and harassment should not be tolerated."

The offensive messages have been posted on Facebook page Souhtport (sic) High Memes which has more than 500 "likes".

Other posts ask students to name which teacher is their least favourite, sparking a tirade of abuse from past and present students.

The page was created on August 23 and Mr McLuckie yesterday confirmed several students had been suspended.

"It is not a private page, this is a public page," he said.  "The comments are inappropriate and will not be tolerated. If you are going to be inappropriate, then we will take action.  "Bullying and harassment will simply not be tolerated, and we stand by that."

Mr McLuckie said the students were posting highly offensive material on a public page and had to understand it was unacceptable.

"We, as a society, do not put up with anyone putting people down and belittling them," he said.  "As a society we do not accept that, and we are trying to educate and train students to be a part of that society."

Parents have had a mixed reaction to the school's tough stand, with some completely unaware that their children were posting the offensive material.

Mr McLuckie said several parents and students had apologised, but not everyone was supportive.

One mother, who asked not to be named, had two students at the Southport school and said they had a right to free speech.  "They haven't done anything wrong. They have posted on a Facebook site - so what," she said.  "They have accessed the site in their own time. The school has no right to punish my children for what they do in their own time.  "That's my job. The school is out of line."

The Southport High School is not the only meme page - hundreds of the Facebook pages have popped up around the country.


Coalition mocks Labor's 'on track' surplus

The Federal Opposition is mocking the Government's economic strategy, accusing it of walking away from its promise to deliver a budget surplus this financial year.

Labor is no longer guaranteeing it will achieve a surplus, instead saying it is "on track" to achieve the $1.1 billion surplus forecast in last week's budget update.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says the Government will abandon its commitment.  "Every time, they try and look for a different word," he told Parliament.  "You get your promise, you get your guarantee, you get your road map, but this is a government that has not delivered a surplus.  "It's now planning to have a surplus - 'maybe we'll get there, we hope to get there' - I mean it is a scene out of Thomas the Tank Engine."

Treasurer Wayne Swan points to Labor's record in the financial crisis.  "When our country was threatened we saved it," he said.   "And who voted against that? Everyone over there."

He says it is impossible to predict what the global economy will do and the Government will take decisions to protect jobs.

The Coalition interrupted Question Time to try and condemn the Government over the issue, but lost the vote 67 to 69.

Government frontbencher Anthony Albanese says the Coalition is being hypocritical because it has not promised to support budget spending cuts.


30 October, 2012

Julia Gillard's Asian Century plan causes divisions in Labor

JULIA Gillard faces a backlash from elements in her own party over key aspects of her plan to reach out to Asia with more free trade and easier immigration.

Outspoken Labor Senator Doug Cameron said he was concerned about the expansion of free trade agreements canvassed by the "Asian Century" White Paper and called for a "a proper critical analysis" within caucus.

He demanded the Government explain how it would protect Australian wages and conditions as it embarked on "economic integration".

Labor faces further turmoil over its policy to allow mining companies to sponsor foreign workers in bulk.

A committee of 14 Labor MPs is set to today debate a plan drafted by Senator Cameron to further restrict the use of migrant workers through enterprise migration agreements and 457 visas. The plan, which has already caused Labor MP Andrew Leigh to quit his role as deputy of the committee, will also call for more regulation of conditions for fly in, fly out workers.


Questions over "Asian" white paper implementation

Critics are questioning how the Federal Government plans to implement its Asian Century white paper, particularly whether there are enough teachers and diplomats to fill the roles required.

The white paper, released on Sunday, outlines 25 major objectives - all aimed at building stronger ties with Asia.

They call for Australia to be listed in the top five countries for ease of doing business, and they say every student should have the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education.

The review focuses on four key languages dubbed the priority languages: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese.

The director of the Asian Studies Program at the University of Sydney, Adrian Vickers, says it is a good list, but he wonders why it has taken so long to identify the growth potential in Australia's relationship with Asia.

"The Asian Century is already well underway. Shouldn't we have been planning for that quite a while ago?" he said.

"I think we've got a lot of catching up to do. And particularly in terms of the ways that, in my own sector say, Asian universities are racing ahead.

"If you look at all of the international rankings, Asian universities are climbing up very quickly.

"And certainly the rapid advances in technology, in social change, in political change in Asia are things that we are struggling to keep up with as a nation."
Audio: Questions over Government white paper (PM)

Professor Vickers says there is a lack of money and no resources to do implement the white paper properly.

He says the attempts to increase language levels come at a time when students are deserting university language programs.

"Given that a lot of universities are seeing the teaching, say, of Indonesian as not economically viable.

"Two other universities in Australia recently have attempted, or thought about, cutting the program altogether because they're not getting enough money or there are not enough students to make it viable.

"If you translate that across the board, it's hard to see how market forces are going to give you the student numbers to keep language programs going."

Targets for the Asian Century include:

 *   By 2025, Australia's GDP per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th in 2011, requiring a lift in our productivity.

*    This will mean Australia's average real national income will be about $73,000 per person in 2025 compared with about $62,000 in 2012.

*    Globally we will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world's top 10.

*    By 2025, our school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of our universities in the world's top 100.

*   All students will have continuous access to a priority Asian language - Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

*    Our diplomatic network will have a larger footprint across Asia supporting stronger, deeper and broader links with Asian nations.

*   Our leaders will be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of Australia's top 200 publicly listed companies and Commonwealth bodies having deep experience in and knowledge of Asia.

A parliamentary committee has also raised questions about whether Australia's diplomatic network is up to the job of supporting them.

The sub-committee says the Department of Foreign Affairs has been under-funded for the past 30 years.

Chairman Nick Champion says Australia lacks a significant presence in many areas, including Asia.

"Well it's mainly resources. If you put resources in, you'll get more posts. And one of the things we just lack is presence in many places, particularly in Asia, particularly in Africa,"

Mr Champion says what is needed is a white paper into diplomatic representation.

He says an external review of DFAT itself is needed and there should be an increase of 20 diplomatic posts around the world.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr says extra funding for DFAT would be welcome but he is confident there are enough diplomatic positions already to meet the goals of the white paper.

"Australia is punching above its weight in diplomacy," he said.

"You've got our biggest embassy in Jakarta. You've got successful Australian diplomacy in East Timor, in Myanmar and Mongolia, and among the 10 ASEAN nations.

"In the last few weeks we had visits from Singapore, from Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, The Philippines, Japan; the ASEAN secretary general. Our diplomacy is moving ahead very strongly."


Uncool, but grammar should rule the schools

The nation's English teachers must be rubbing their hands with glee regarding the recent debate about the definition of feminism, sexism and (gasp) misogyny. It has made consulting the dictionary kinda cool. Even the head of the Macquarie says it's livened things up a little in the office, with the editors busy musing about the evolution of the terms and how to update the newest edition.

I just hope this newfound interest in our language extends into a nationwide clean up day to remedy our discourse from glaring grammatical blunders. Before I go on, I must declare that as a Gen Xer, we were blighted from the beginning.

Apparently, in the 1970s, our baby boomer teachers thought "to heck with bras and virginity before marriage, and while we're at it, this grammar palaver is really uncool, man. Let the words be free, unshackled from conventional rules." Right on dude. What seven-year-old wants to have their story about Uncle Bob's sheep that got away on the weekend sullied with worries about past participles and the like?

So we traipsed through the hallowed halls of academia, blissfully unaware of terms like dangling modifier, conjunction and adjectival clause. Sure, we learnt the basics. Capital letters. Full stops. A couple of commas ("To mark a breath for the reader") were thrown in for good measure. Probably the most remembered rule was: don't end a sentence with a word like of. Oops. That last one is a fragment, which you'd only know nowadays, because it ends up with red underline on your word processor.

I was always regarded as "Good at English". That is, comparative to my physics marks, I was an absolute genius. But years later, I found myself at a professional writing course and the first thing we did in the compulsory editing 101 subject was to take a grammar test. "Bring it on!" I thought, fully expecting to blitz the exam.

I scored three out of 20. Most of my classmates scored less than 50 per cent and we looked around in horror at each other. This was a selective course in graduate writing. How the heck could we be turning in that sort of result?

"It's not your fault," our teacher said soothingly. "Grammar was taken out of the curriculum in the '70s and '80s," she said. What?! That's like saying addition was taken out of the maths curriculum.

Later, at the pub, our shock turned to anger, then denial. "What the hell does it matter anyway?" we cried. "We've got this far. We're all 'Good at English'. Who cares if we don't know where to put commas, when it's all said and done, around a non-restrictive phrase?"

Well, it does matter, I hate to say. Once you know what it is you didn't know, you cross the Rubicon. You're born again. And everywhere, you start to see wanton neglect of that which you now hold so precious. On a daily basis, I'm confronted with assaults to my newfound grammatical piety.

First, there seems to be an apostrophe for every occasion. As a writer for hire, I'm often called in to add a spit and polish to corporate copy. The number of times I see an apostrophe plopped in the wrong context is extraordinary. It's KPIs, not KPI's.

A legitimate use of the apostrophe is for a possessive noun, or in easy speak: if the thing you're writing about owns the thing you're referring to, you bang an apostrophe in before the 's'. The book's title. The King's Speech. Tick. The meeting is in five minute's. Wrong. "The biscuit's are here for everyone". Observed in a corporate kitchen, this induces a ghastly shudder as one reaches for the last remaining Kingston.

So, I offer one more tip for those for whom grammar was just a word added to the name of an expensive school. I'm on a personal mission to eradicate the chronic misuse of "amount", where "number" is the apt and grammatically correct choice.

The rule is: If you can count it, don't use "amount". Television journalists are the worst offenders. "The amount of people here today is absolutely unbelievable." Uh-uh. People can be counted, therefore it should be: "The number of people here today…" The amount of hyperbole in sports reporting? Yeah, that's OK.

I welcome debate about the meaning of our political verbiage. While we're at it, let's start a campaign to help grammar get its groove on like it's 1975.


Adults conceived via IVF are well-adjusted with a positive perception of their environment

ADULTS who were born through IVF are just as well-adjusted and satisfied with life as those conceived naturally, the first longitudinal study into IVF children's quality of life has found.

The only significant difference discovered was that young IVF-conceived adults had a more positive perception of their environment, including of their safety, finances and learning opportunities.

Melbourne researchers surveyed about 1100 adults aged 18-29, half of whom were IVF-conceived, measuring 26 life quality factors including satisfaction with relationships, medical treatment needed, sleep and moods.

The research also took into account the person's work status, birth weight and their parents' financial situation.

The findings were presented at the Fertility Society of Australia's annual conference in New Zealand yesterday.

IVF experts say the findings are an important validation that the procedure is safe for children's social and psychological health in the long term.

The first generation of IVF babies are now starting to have their own children, including through artificial fertilisation.

"The results aren't surprising, because there's no doubt these kids were wanted," said Melbourne IVF's medical director Dr Lyndon Hale.  "Common sense suggests that these kids would have lots of input from their parents."

The study was a collaboration between researchers from Monash and Melbourne IVF, the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the Jean Hailes Research Unit, the Royal Women's Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

The mother's smile says it all

Bianca and Matt Smith's two children, nine-week-old Mason and 22-month-old Isla, were both long-awaited arrivals with the help of Melbourne IVF.  Ms Smith, 35, said that after years of trying to conceive naturally, she was investing her energy in raising happy, well-adjusted children.

"You long for them for so long. You spend a lot of money and time going through a lot physically and emotionally, and it's all worth it," Ms Smith said.


29 October, 2012

Private schools not just for wealthy according to figures by independent report

ABOUT half of Queensland's richest families sent their children to state schools last year instead of the private sector, a report released today shows.

The report also found independent schools had a slightly higher percentage of children from the state's poorest families in its student population than the Catholic sector.

Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) executive director David Robertson said figures in ISQ's "Research Report: Income Levels of Families with Students in Queensland Schools" - compiled using 2011 Australian census data - busted a myth that its sector only served the wealthy.

He said the figures also raised the question of whether the children of high-income state school parents, who could afford to pay more for education, should receive less money under the new school funding model. The ISQ report states 48 per cent of families earning more than $2260 per week - or $117,520 a year - sent their children to a state school, compared to 28 per cent to Catholic schools and 24 per cent to Independents.

"Of those students from families with incomes in the highest decile ($3278 per week), 39.7 per cent attended government schools, 30.1 per cent attended Catholic schools and 30.3 per cent attended independent schools," the report stated.

"This pattern of the Government catering for more of the highest-income families than either independent or Catholic schools was replicated at both primary and secondary levels."

The one exception was in secondary for the highest wage bracket of more than $3278 per week - $170,456 plus a year - with the independent sector schooling 37.5 per cent of those children, compared to 32.5 per cent in the state sector.

At the other end of the income bracket the report found "19.6 per cent of students attending independent schools were from families that earnt less than $1,108 per week, compared to 18.1 per cent for Catholic school students and 36.0 per cent of government school students".

Mr Robertson said there had been significant growth in independent schools catering for disadvantaged families and they would be able to cater for more if funding arrangements were more equitable.

"It would be a surprise to many that close to 10 per cent of students from families with a weekly income of less than $488 per week attended independent schools," he said.

Mr Robertson urged the Government to closely examine the data "which clearly dispels some public myths" before deciding on the nature of its school funding reform.


Corrupt bureaucrats

A corruption watchdog says an investigation into allegations of bribery and kickbacks at public authorities and local councils across New South Wales has uncovered widespread corruption.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been investigating claims that staff from a number of councils accepted gifts from suppliers to encourage them to keep placing orders with their companies.

The commission's report found it was common practice in some places - with gifts including ipads, vouchers, clothing and holidays.

Although the investigation only looked at 14 local councils, and the then Roads and Traffic Authority, the report has made corruption recommendations that apply to all councils, stating that the problems are systemic.

The commission also made corrupt conduct findings against 41 people.

It will forward the findings of its investigation to the Director of Public Prosecutions this week, recommending that nine of those involved face charges.


Facts favour nuclear-powered submarines

Australia’s $40 billion project to replace six Collins Class submarines with 12 Future Submarines is at risk of failing. In addition to the potential gap between the retirement of the Collins Class and the commissioning of the Future Submarines, unsolved problems with the Collins Class threaten the viability of our future submarine fleet.

Australia’s diesel-powered Collins Class submarines are expensive and unreliable. These problems are likely to be inherited by any Australian-designed Future Submarine, which is why Australia must explore leasing the US Navy’s nuclear-powered Virginia Class attack submarine.

Nuclear-powered submarines can travel faster and farther, and remain deployed for much longer than their diesel-powered rivals; they also operate more powerful sensors, systems and weaponry.

Despite these advantages, the government has refused to consider the nuclear option, instead preferring to substantially redesign an existing diesel submarine. The same process gave us the Collins Class; we don’t need to repeat the mistake to know the likely outcome.

Each Collins Class submarine costs more than $110 million a year to maintain and operate, with total costs for the six submarines likely to exceed $1 billion a year by 2021. Nor has the higher cost meant greater reliability. Typically, no more than two Collins Class submarines have been available for deployment. The rest have been in maintenance or awaiting repair of serious defects.

By contrast, the Virginia Class submarine costs the United States approximately $50 million per submarine per year and is proving very reliable.

The acquisition costs are lower too. The upfront cost of leasing eight Virginia Class submarines (together with establishment costs) is $23 billion to $27 billion, substantially lesser than the $40 billion estimate for the diesel-powered Future Submarines.

Arguments against nuclear-powered submarines don’t add up. The defence minister cited self-reliance as the main reason for rejecting nuclear-powered submarines. However, the Collins Class submarine was the poster child for self-reliance and it is hardly a success story.

Moreover, Australia depends heavily on foreign defence companies (and their Australian subsidiaries) for the development and sustainment of its platforms now, and that dependence will only increase given Australia’s declining defence budgets.

The United States has agreed to give nuclear submarine technology to Canada and the United Kingdom in the past. As Australia is an important ally and has close defence ties with the United States, the latter would seriously consider a request from Australia for nuclear-powered submarines. Leasing submarines would also increase the effective force level of the United States and its allies, and take some of the pinch out of proposed budget cuts.

Safety concerns and skills gaps are also important considerations, but these are manageable issues. What is important is getting the best submarine we can for the money the government is willing to spend. On that basis, Australia must consider nuclear-powered submarines.


Queensland Health leaves trainee doctors out of work

HUNDREDS of trainee doctors have not been re-hired by Queensland Health, sparking fears the medicos will be left "driving taxis and washing windscreens" while patients languish on waiting lists.

Up to 500 doctors in their final years of training at state tertiary hospitals were recently sent emails telling them "you have not been selected for a position with Queensland Health in 2013".

The news has outraged doctors' groups and comes at a time when patients are waiting up to five years to be seen by specialists before they even have surgery.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Alex Markwell said postgraduate doctors in their second, third and fourth years were the workhorses of public hospitals.

"We've never seen anything like it in Queensland. We've got doctors and they are being told to go away," she said. "Doctors need training and do not graduate 'ready to use'."

She said the State Government had given hospital and health boards their budgets and a directive on how many people they could hire.

Queensland Health deputy director-general Michael Cleary said it was too soon to determine how many doctors would not receive positions in Queensland Health, but he doubted it would be 500.

Professor Cleary said it was expected more jobs would be offered later in the year because doctors usually applied for more than one position, leaving a vacancy for another.

He said Queensland Health had offered jobs to 4400 doctors next year, more than in previous years.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said Australia was still recruiting large numbers of overseas-trained doctors to fill junior medical officer positions.

In 2011-12, 1260 applications for 457 Class visas were granted by the Department of Immigration for junior medical officer positions.

"You're going to have (locally trained) doctors driving taxis and washing windscreens," Dr Hambleton said.

In the meantime, patients are left waiting for specialist treatment. Bundaberg retiree Carmel Daniel, 67, has waited two years for a specialist doctor to operate on her twisted, broken arm.

A letter from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital recently advised her that the specialist doctor needed to treat her was on holidays for three months, and was booked up to almost Christmas.

Data provided to The Sunday Mail under Right to Information laws showed almost 200,000 were waiting to see a specialist in 2010.


28 October, 2012

Asia to be core part of school education

Given Australia's geographical location and trade patterns this is reasonable enough -- as long as our own history and and culture plus the history and culture of our major country of origin -- Britain -- is also covered.  I don't see Muslims (for instance) disrespecting their own history and culture so why should we?  And the Chinese and Japanese would laugh at any idea of prioritizing the cultures of other countries over their own

ASIAN studies will become a core part of Australia's school curriculum under the federal government's ambitious plan to capitalise on the region's growing wealth and influence.

The government on Sunday released its long-awaited Asian Century white paper, a policy blueprint that sets out how Australia can increase integration with Asia over the coming decade and beyond.

The document reveals a number of targets for the nation over the 13 years to 2025, aimed at ensuring Australia fulfils its ambitions and competes effectively within Asia.

By 2025 Australia's gross domestic product (GDP) per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th last year. That would lift Australia's average real national income to about $73,000 per person in 2025, compared with about $62,000 now.

The school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of its universities in the world's top 100.

The paper places a heavy emphasis on education, saying Asian studies will become a core part of the Australian school curriculum.  All students will be able to study an Asian language and the priorities will be Chinese Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

Australia's leaders will also be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of the top 200 publicly listed companies and commonwealth bodies to have "deep experience" in and knowledge of Asia.

The Australian economy will be more deeply integrated with Asia, with Asian trade links to be at least one third of GDP, up from one quarter today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the document lays out an ambitious plan to make sure Australia grows stronger by capitalising on the opportunities offered by the Asian Century.

"The scale and pace of Asia's rise is staggering, and there are significant opportunities and challenges for all Australians," she said in a statement on Sunday.

"It is not enough to rely on luck.  "Our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in. We must build on our strengths and take active steps to shape our future."

Australia should be in the top five countries for ease of doing business by 2025, the white paper says.

Its diplomatic network should have a larger footprint across the region.

While the white paper sets out what actions governments can take, it also calls on businesses and communities to play their part.

New work and holiday agreements between Australia and its Asian neighbours will mean more opportunities for work and study in the region and to take up professional opportunities.

Financial markets will be better integrated, allowing capital to flow more easily across borders.

The government will enter into a National Productivity Compact with the states and territories, focused on regulatory and competition reform.  "We want to ensure that Australia is as competitive as it can be," Finance Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

The compact is expected to be agreed at the next meeting of the Business Advisory Forum between business leaders, prime minister and senior ministers.

The white paper also reinforces the need to attract skilled migrants and students from Asia.

The government is expanding its network to support online visa lodgment, multiple entry visas and longer visa validity periods and is streaming the student visa process.

Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia's migration program are in the Asian region, including India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Students from Asia already account for about 77 per cent of the more than 550,000 international enrolments each year.

In agriculture, the government says Australia's primary producers can benefit from rising demand by Asia's middle classes for high quality food and farm product.


Royal Australian Air Force warns military personnel not to send gift-wrapped presents to Afghanistan

THE Air Force has warned staff against wrapping gifts for military personnel serving overseas in Christmas paper due to "cultural sensitivity".

A Flight Lieutenant based at RAAF Base Pearce near Perth sent an email to staff and cadets encouraging them to send Christmas care packages to Australians deployed in the Middle East Area of Operations this festive season.

After the usual warnings about not sending alcohol or pornography and some helpful gift ideas the officer offered the following packaging advice.

"Contents should be securely wrapped in stiff brown paper (no Christmas wrapping due to cultural sensitivities, please) and clearly addressed to: Australian Defence Force Member AFPO 60 Australian Defence Force NSW 2890."

Presumably he was concerned that bright paper featuring Santa Claus, a reindeer or baby Jesus might offend some Muslims.

Defence said it did not even have a policy on Christmas wrapping paper, but was aware of the "cultural sensitivity" issue.  "We are aware of advice posted on a Defence web site and are taking steps to correct the information in the public domain," it said.

It is not clear if it was aware of the comments before News Limited asked several questions about the email late last week.

Opposition defence personnel spokesman and former army officer Stuart Robert said someone had lost the plot.  "This is a case of political correctness gone mad. The Grinch this Christmas will be the government if it doesn't right this wrong," Mr Robert said.  "On the back of 'no beer for Christmas' it's now no Christmas for Christmas."

The now infamous email told RAAF staff that the most popular gifts for troops overseas were; "Lollies, beanies, gloves, hand cream, chap sticks and lip balm, crossword puzzle books, newspapers (any date), magazines, including sports, Women's Day, home and gardening, Street Machine and similar. Packets of cappuccino sachets, Tim Tam biscuits and Christmas puddings."


Criminals reoffending while doing community service

CRIMINALS sentenced to community service are committing crimes every month while they should be cleaning up Queensland.

Shock figures show 62 per cent of offenders, or 1147 of 1840, broke the law while on the orders in the past financial year. That's almost 100 a month.

Instead of working in jobs such as sorting clothes at Lifeline, and council natural revegetation and graffiti removal projects, they've been caught committing fraud, breaking into homes, stealing cars, assaulting police and using drugs.

They originally fronted courts on assault, stealing, prostitution, vandalism, graffiti, drug and traffic-related charges but were spared jail time.

Despite committing crimes and being sent back to court, many remained on the orders.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers told The Sunday Mail criminals were "making a mockery of the system" and called for harsher penalties.

Since 2008-09, 77 per cent of people on community service reoffended 6018 out of 7772.

Twenty per cent of orders were terminated in 2011-12 after people failed to meet court-imposed conditions.

The overall order completion rate was 2102 of 3499 orders or 60.1 per cent.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said in a statement: "It is always concerning when offenders treat a community service order with contempt and it is something I will continue to monitor."

Queensland Corrective Services manager of operational practice Jo Dansey said the reoffending was a concern but it was a reality when there were no supervision or intensive rehabilitation programs involved.


Pork barrelling along, singing a song

In the aftermath of Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), the discussion has focused on big ticket items such as the mining tax, company tax, baby bonus, and private health insurance.

But MYEFO also provides a detailed list of government patronage to favoured organisations. The Australian Ballet received $2 million to build a new production facility in the Melbourne suburb of Altona, which also happens to be in the prime minister’s electorate of Lalor.

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie also did well out of the MYEFO pork barrel: the Moonah Arts Centre received $4 million; the New Town Bay Centre for Rowing Education got $2.5 million; Wellesley Park got $1.2 million to upgrade its sporting facilities; and Hobart received $3.4 million towards energy-efficient street lights.

Millions are going towards restructuring businesses. Alcoa Australia is receiving $42 million to restructure its Point Henry Aluminium Smelter; Australian Paper’s mill in Maryvale, Victoria, is getting $9.5 million to establish a ‘de-inked pulp facility’; and the Boyer Mill in Tasmania is getting $28 million to help diversify its production so it can ‘produce magazine grade paper’.

The sports sector too was on the gravy train. To help the Football Federation of Australia prepare for the 2015 Asian Football Cup, which will cost taxpayers more than $55 million, the government forgave FAA’s $4 million debt to the Commonwealth. Two million dollars went towards building a multicultural centre for the Greater Western Sydney Giants, and a half million dollars went to install a synthetic hockey pitch at the Centre of Excellence for Hockey in Western Australia.

Think tanks didn’t miss out either: $4 million went to the Lowy Institute to set up a G20 Studies Centre, and $7 million for ongoing support to the United States Studies Centre and to set up an office at the University of Western Australia. The government will also spend $12.1 million over four years to establish the ‘Centre for Workplace Leadership’.

Not all announcements in the MYEFO were bad. The cuts to middle-class welfare and the Export Market Development Grant program, which subsidises the marketing of exports, are welcome. However, this MYEFO clearly shows the government gravy train is chugging along quite nicely.


26 October, 2012

Asylum rioters rewarded with visa to stay in Australia

ASYLUM seekers convicted of participating in riots that caused more than $5 million damage to the Christmas Island detention centre have been handed protection visas to stay in the country.

Just one of seven offenders convicted over the riots had his visa application rejected by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on character grounds.

Three men found guilty of offences relating to the March 2011 riots - in which accommodation and administration facilities were burned down and rocks thrown at police - have been granted protection visas to remain in Australia.

Two others convicted were found not to be refugees and another has a current protection claim but is appealing against his conviction. Six of the seven remain in Australia.

At the time of the riots, Mr Bowen talked tough about the 200 participants, most of whom had their faces covered. Only 22 were charged, leaving just seven with convictions.

"Again, a group of around 200 protesters seem to think that violent behaviour is an acceptable way to influence the outcome of their visa application or influence government decision-making," he said at the time.

A month after the riots, Mr Bowen said he was toughening the character test provisions "to make it very clear that anybody who commits an offence, regardless of the penalty, regardless of the sentence, while they are in immigration detention will fail the character test and can be denied a permanent visa".

It has been revealed to parliament that the three rioters given protection visas received a warning on their character assessment before being handed their visas.

The character test clearly states if an asylum seeker has been convicted of an offence while in detention they fail the test. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said that the rioters' visa applications should have been rejected.

Australian Federal Police and dog squad in riot gear prepare to relocate asylum-seeker detainees within the detention centre on Christmas Island, following the March riots.

"Minister Bowen has proved himself a soft touch on our borders at every opportunity," Mr Morrison said.

"Every chance he has had to send a strong message on our borders, he has rolled out the welcome mat.

"The fact that he granted permanent visas to those who rioted and burnt sections of detention centres to the ground on his watch is a disgrace."


Testing the new teacher - the plan to lift classroom quality

TEACHER graduates should be tested on literacy and numeracy skills, ability to communicate and passion for teaching before fronting a classroom, the Australian Centre for Educational Research said.

ACER chief executive Geoff Masters said quality teaching was the key to lifting achievement levels in Australian schools, a key goal of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Governments must enhance the status of teachers so the best and brightest are attracted to the profession and admission to teacher education programs is highly competitive, he said.

"Teaching can be highly rewarding, but is also increasingly complex," Professor Masters said.

"Teachers must keep abreast of rapidly changing technologies and provide support for a wide range of personal and social issues that students now face. Work of this kind requires highly skilled, caring individuals."

Speaking ahead of World Teacher Day today, Prof Masters said one way governments could enhance the status of teachers was to ensure that teacher graduates met minimum national standards of literacy and numeracy, as well as the standards for teaching these skills.

Second, make entry to teacher courses more competitive by reducing the number of teachers trained and setting higher hurdles for course admission.

Governments should also develop research-based descriptions of effective teaching practices, provide professional learning to develop practices and recognise and reward great teaching.

High-performing school systems also assess interpersonal and communication skills and the candidate's commitment to teaching as a career.

The state government has released a discussion paper on improving the quality of teaching amid concerns that it is becoming an easy career choice.

As a way of attracting quality people to the profession, responses have suggested a minimum ATAR requirement, increasing teacher wages and universities being more willing to fail unsuitable candidates.

Education department Director-general Michele Bruniges, Board of Studies president Tom Alegounarias and Institute of Teachers chief executive Patrick Lee will make recommendations to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli early next month.


Aboriginal MP lashes gas hub protesters

THE first indigenous woman elected to an Australian parliament has come out swinging against Browse gas hub opponents, saying the Broome community is not divided over the proposal and it's only a small but vocal group causing all the fuss.

Outgoing Kimberley MLA Carol Martin has told the West Australian parliament that she supported a bill underpinning the Woodside-led Browse project because many indigenous people in the Kimberley region believed it would benefit them, not just state revenues.

Premier Colin Barnett has long argued that a land agreement signed with native title claimant groups, which included a substantial benefits package, was "the most significant act of self-determination by an Aboriginal group in Australian history".

Ms Martin agreed, saying Aboriginal people needed to take control of their own destiny.

The Kimberley's indigenous communities were still mired in abject poverty, she said, and they did not want to keep living with a welfare model that was not only humiliating and demoralising, but made some young people feel as if they did not have a future, leaving them contemplating suicide.

After being colonised by "the British", "do-gooders", "missionaries" and "industry", indigenous people were now being colonised by "the bloody greenies" who opposed the hub, who should "go and check the headstones".

"They have loud voices, they have the media on their side and they have bands," she said, referring to a recent, free John Butler concert in Broome that anti-hub activists said had been watched online by "tens of thousands in over 65 countries".

The organisers of the event did not ask the shire for a permit and interfered with an annual surf competition at Cable Beach, Ms Martin said.  "How disrespectful is that?" she asked.  "These people stuffed it up."

Those who attended the concert were not necessarily opponents of the gas hub, she said.

Ms Martin said she thought it was wrong that some activists had threatened Browse staff and police had been criticised for sending officers to Broome to protect them.

"The public has a right to know what is happening; these people are being assaulted on their way to work and at work.  "It is disgraceful. I do not support people who break the law, get arrested, and then stand as if they are some sort of martyr."

Ms Martin said the "200 people on the news" were not the 17,000 people who lived in the area.

Mr Barnett on Thursday said Ms Martin's speech was one of the most moving and passionate he'd heard in parliament.

It "might not suit the politically correct media that we have" and "an essentially urban, middle-class Australia".

"She talked about the famous, the rich and famous who would come to the Kimberly in a self-righteous way as if only they cared about the environment or only they cared about the whales or only they cared about the dinosaur footprints," he told parliament.

"And implicit in that is an attitude that we see too often ... that somehow this state is a redneck environment, that we don't care about heritage, that we don't care about the environment, and somehow we're not capable enough to look after marine life in the Kimberley."


Big fadeout for Greens in ACT

The ACT Greens slipped into deeper electoral trouble last night with updated vote counting showing for the second night running that their leader Meredith Hunter is heading for defeat.

And history is against Ms Hunter in her Ginninderra electorate, where no independent or minor party MLA has ever lasted more than one term.

Last night's updated interim preference figures show the Greens heading for a near wipeout, losing three of the four seats they won in their historic 2008 showing.

Last night's update has Labor challenger Yvette Berry in front of Ms Hunter for the fifth seat in the northern electorate in a result that would see the new assembly made up of eight Labor MLAs, eight Liberals and the Greens still hanging on to balance-of-power with one member in the chamber.

In Molonglo, senior Labor frontbencher Simon Corbell was ahead, for the second night running, of fellow ALP challenger Meegan Fitzharris but the Liberals' education spokesman Steve Doszpot has fallen behind his party colleague, newcomer Elizabeth Lee.

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury remains ahead of his colleague Caroline Le Couteur for the seventh Molonglo seat, and in Brindabella the Liberals' Andrew Wall still leads Green Amanda Bresnan for the fifth seat in the southern electorate.

Labor also nudged back into a narrow lead over the Canberra Liberals in the popular vote yesterday by just 55 votes across the territory, with 85,532 votes to the Liberals' 85,477.

Both Labor leader Katy Gallagher and her Liberals opponent Zed Seselja have claimed success in the popular vote as they have sought since Saturday's election to bolster their chances of forming government.

Vote counting will resume this morning and is not expected to be finished before tomorrow night, and it could even be Sunday before Ms Hunter and the other candidates in tight races know their fates.

But Ms Hunter's task in holding her seat is made more complex by the electoral history of the Ginninderra electorate.

Since its creation before the 1995 election, no independent or minor party MLA has managed to hold a seat in the Belconnen-based electorate for more than one term.

The first election, in 1995, established a pattern with the ALP and the Liberals each winning two seats and the final seat going to the Greens' Lucy Horodny.

Ms Horodny did not contest the 1998 election and independent Dave Rugendyke was elected in Ginninderra on a social conservative ticket.

In 2001 Mr Rugendyke was replaced by Australian Democrat Roslyn Dundas, who in turn was beaten in 2004 when Labor managed to get three MLAs elected in Ginninderra.

But in 2008, the ALP failed to retain their third spot and the final seat went to Ms Hunter, who now looks in grave danger of becoming another one-term MLA.

But Ms Dundas, now director of the ACT Council of Social Service, says she believes it is simply changing times that lie behind the inability of smaller players to last in Ginninderra.

"My election in 2001 was at a time when there was a real feel for a need to change and a focus on supporting women to get elected and a focus on big social issues that hadn't been treated in step with what the community was feeling," Ms Dundas said.

"But then in 2004, Jon Stanhope as chief minister did what party leaders do in seats, gathering more than 30 per cent of the votes, which made it hard for prefer-ences to flow to small parties.

"Then in 2008, we saw a reaction to [Labor] majority government which was then a swing back to the non-old parties … That's the great thing about democracy, new ideas will come forward and people will respond to those new ideas."

Ms Dundas says she believes the Greens now find themselves in such deep trouble because they failed to promote themselves as a party that had been in the Legislative Assembly for 17 years.

"There's been a Green in the ACT Parliament since 1995 … but the campaign they ran this year was much more short-term than that," she said.


25 October, 2012

Black parents walk out on their children

This is something Aborigines have always done.  They "lose" children. If they turn up at a place with six children in tow they are likely to leave with five -- and not notice it.  Mostly the kids catch up by themselves eventually but it is obviously a survival mechanism for the parents that is left over from hunter-gatherer times when food was short

CHILDREN have been left abandoned in hospital for up to a year in the Central Queensland community of Woorabinda as parents lose interest in their welfare, an inquiry has been told.

Rockhampton lawyer and former nurse Katina Perrin said she had seen kids who arrived with burns or violence-related injuries end up so close to hospital staff they went to weddings.

"I have seen situations where they were page boys at doctors' weddings," Ms Perrin told the child protection inquiry which sat in Rockhampton this week.  "It is very different out there, it is very sad."

Ms Perrin worked as a nurse in the community during the 1990s said she still had occasional contact with Woorabinda, west of Rockhampton, while working as a lawyer in child protection.

Alcohol abuse was the prime cause of community problems which manifested themselves in all areas of life including teen pregnancies and violence, she told the inquiry.

Ms Perrin said many parents in the community had no idea how to raise children because they had not learnt the skills from the previous generation.  "They don't know how to be a parent, they may not even want to be parents," she said.

When child safety officials removed a child from a family in Woorabinda the child lost not only their family but their entire community because there were no facilities in the community to care for the child.  "There is no family-of-origin contact ... the family are often not even seeking that contact because of alcohol issues," she said.

Ms Perrin conceded things may have improved in the community but she doubted there was even a will to improve life among the locals.  "I just think it is about complete apathy - not just about birth control but about everything in their lives," she said.

Ms Perrin said she had been told recently of a Woorabinda woman with serious alcohol abuse problems who had been sent to rehabilitation and was now sober.  "'But she said - 'I don't want to be sober'.

"Even intelligent people still choose to go back to that lifestyle.  "How do you assist? I don't know."

The inquiry is due to hear evidence in Ipswich next Tuesday.


"The Sydney Morning Herald" and "Melbourne Age" are going broke

Rupert Murdoch will be amused

The head of Fairfax Media has told shareholders that revenue continues to shrink and the outlook is "impossible" to predict.

Fairfax has sought to assure shareholders that the company is doing everything it can to adapt to the shift to digital media.

At its annual general meeting in Melbourne, chairman Roger Corbett said Fairfax even considered selling off its flagship metropolitan newspaper business.

Chief executive Greg Hywood says revenues are down 7.5 per cent in the last six weeks compared with last year and it is "impossible" to offer guidance on future earnings.

"But at Fairfax Media we have a clear strategy to negotiate our way through this perfect storm of cyclical weakness and structural change," he told shareholders.

In August, Fairfax announced a $2.7 billion annual loss and slashed nearly 2,000 jobs in a major overhaul of its operations.


Gillard's mining tax fails to raise any revenue in first three months

THE Federal Government has raised zero revenue from its mining tax in the first three months, putting its promised budget surplus at risk.

Falling commodities prices mean major miners BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata have no liabilities under the minerals resource rent tax (MRRT) for the financial year to date, and the industry has warned global economic forecasts could seriously reduce their company tax contributions.

The Australian reports the federal government did not receive any money from the MRRT by Monday's payment deadline.

The government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, released earlier this week, cut predictions for the MRRT revenue from $3.7 billion to $2 billion for the 2012-13 financial year.

Lower commodities prices, a high Australian dollar and falling mining profits means tax payments from the big three miners, which account for more than 90 per cent of mining revenue, will be significantly lower.

A spokeswoman for BHP told The Australian: "The MRRT is a profits-based tax; the level of company liability for it will naturally vary each year.

"In working out what MRRT we are liable for in any year, there are a number of variable components . . . The structure of the MRRT is exactly the same since it was announced in 2010 and it was then that Treasury forecasts were made about likely MRRT receipts."

But Labor frontbencher Simon Crean said the lack of revenue from the MRRT in its first three months is not a cause for concern.

"It was never projected to raise (revenue) in the early part ... because these mining companies are making massive infrastructure investments, which are tax deductable," Mr Crean told the Nine Network.

"Arguing that this is a failure based on the first three months is just ludicrous."

Mr Crean said the surplus would "absolutely" be delivered as promised.

The mining tax blow comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces a potential battle with the Labor caucus over a report from a committee of MPs condemning cabinet's policy of fly-in fly-out foreign workers in the mining industry.

A confidential draft report of Labor MPs has called on the Prime Minister to appoint an industry watchdog to ensure more local workers are used in the mining industry.

A copy of the draft report, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, has also accused cabinet of not spreading the benefits of the boom to Australians, by giving too many concessions to foreign mining companies.

It also called on Ms Gillard to appoint a special cabinet minister to redraft the government's current policy, demanding stronger commitments to use Australian labour ahead of foreign workers.

The report's finding have already led to the resignation of the committee's deputy chairman, ACT MP Andrew Leigh, after a dispute over the committee's findings.

The committee was set-up following the government's special deal to allow billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart to bring in 1700 migrant workers.

Caucus sources said Dr Leigh strongly disagreed with the findings and quit in protest.


Ill-educated youth

Knowing the times tables obviously so yesterday

I GO to a gym for my daily constitutional. I love it – lots of mature women like me, trying to compensate for years of now-abandoned bad habits taken up when young and seemingly invincible. And no one laughs at us as we run, crunch, lunge and cycle furiously, sweat pouring down our faces into nooks and crannies that younger women have yet to develop.

The lockers at my gym are tiered vertically in threes: small, small and large, with large at the bottom. Recently I asked the receptionist (a nice young woman and long-term employee who is usually a personal trainer) for a key for a large locker because I was carrying a number of packages, as well as my gym bag. "Oh," she said, "the keys aren't labelled that way. I don't know which keys are for large lockers."

I suggested that given they were in vertical rows of three, with large lockers at the bottom, any locker number that was a multiple of three would be a large locker. She looked at me as though I had asked her to explain Pythagoras' Theorem. Then she offered me a key for locker No. 20. I said no, that would not be a large locker. Next, she offered me the key for No. 26, assuring me that one would be a biggie. Wincing slightly but still smiling, I decided to humour her, and took the key to the locker room where I noted, not unexpectedly, that No. 26 was a middle row, small locker.

Still smiling (almost giggling, in fact) I broke the bad news and suggested she give me the key for No. 27. Alas, that one was already taken. For a moment, I waited for her to come up with 24 or even 30, but nope, she was now leaving it it to me to choose a number, which I did – 18 – an effortless multiple of three that my kelpie, Bluey, could have calculated easily.

This was a pleasant enough, easygoing encounter, but I must say I was astounded that this young woman seemed not to know simple multiplication. Are times-tables not taught in schools these days? No one could accuse me of being a mathematical genius, but really, this is kid stuff. I did wonder how she would cope with counting exercise repetitions when on PT duty, but perhaps there's a phone app that does the job.

When I was a gel back in the day, we had to learn multiplication tables parrot-fashion. It was tedious at the time but people never forgot them. A minor skill, but one that has come in very handy in the intervening (ahem) decades. I can recommend it.


24 October, 2012

Homework controversy

Working by yourself is an important part of learning and that is what homework is for

HOMEWORK has no benefit for very young children and only small benefits for those in upper primary, academics say.

Their comments come after France announced last week it was planning to ban homework altogether for children under 11.

Controversy around homework is set to reignite with the launch of a new book today urging reform of homework policies in Australia.

Central Queensland University professor Mike Horsley, co-author of Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies, said research showed students who did the most homework on international exams performed the worst, while those who did the least performed the best.

Fellow author and University of Sydney professor Richard Walker said Australian students needed more challenging homework that gave them some autonomy and control.

"A lot of homework in schools is just drill and practice worksheets that students get to take home and that is really of no benefit to students," he said. 

"There are a whole lot of ways in which the quality of homework can be improved. I think there is a very strong case that (younger) students should be doing other things."

Prof Horsley said they were not calling for a homework ban.

"We argue that far too much homework involves tasks kids can already do and isn't challenging enough," he said.

"Instead, there is scope for less homework that is of a higher quality and more highly structured."

Education Queensland's homework policy states Prep pupils generally aren't assigned any, while Years 1 to 3 students could have up to one hour each week. From Year 4 homework can be set daily, with Year 4 and 5 students set "up to but generally not more than 2-3 hours per week".

"Homework in Year 8 and Year 9 could be up to but generally not more than five hours per week."

Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said homework remained "the subject of significant debate" and individual school communities needed to make their own decisions on whether to use it.

"I don't necessarily accept the view 'it is not good to do just drilling', in that practice is an important part of the whole learning process. For some children sight words and doing word lists is an important part of the process of picking that learning up," Mr Bates said.

"To have anybody from outside come in and say this is how homework will be done is totally unacceptable because it has to fit within the school's ethos of learning. It is equally valid for a school to decide to have no homework or to have regular weekly homework."


Qld govt publishes 'waiting, waiting' list

MORE than 230,000 Queenslanders are waiting to see a specialist to determine if they need surgery, new data shows.

The Queensland government says it has released for the first time the true picture of the state's hospital surgery waiting lists by revealing the number of outpatients waiting to see a specialist.

The data published at shows 232,043 people in Queensland are waiting to see a specialist who will decide if they require surgery.

More than 130,000 patients are waiting to be put on the surgery waiting list, about 81,500 for specialist medical care and about 17,000 for other health needs including psychiatry.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg is calling it the "waiting list for the waiting list".

"This isn't the surgery waiting list. It is the wait to get on the surgery waiting list," Mr Springborg said in a statement.


Another "Green" firm folds -- messily

The Federal Court is being asked to decide who owns more than $600,000 worth of solar credits left after a Canberra renewable energy firm went into administration earlier this year.

Enviro Friendly Products owed more than $750,000 when it went into administration in January.

Liquidator Worrells Solvency and Forensic Accountants wants the court to direct how to deal with the solar credits, known as STCs.

Issued by the Commonwealth government's Clean Energy Regulator, they are trading at a little over $30 a certificate and collectively are worth more than $600,000.

Klaus Matthaei, one of 260 customers issued with certificates, said customers included pensioners who had borrowed money to buy solar panels or solar hot water systems and still had quite a lot to pay back.

In documents filed with the court, Mr Matthaei has raised concerns that many customers were unaware of the court proceedings, and that he had tracked down 59 other customers who had little idea of what was happening.

Also, Mr Matthaei said 15,000 STCs worth $475,000 were missing and those funds should be reimbursed before any other creditors were paid.

He told the court the remaining STCs should be treated as separate from the assets of Enviro Friendly Products and administered by the eligible beneficiaries and the profits distributed among them.

"The cost of the missing STCs should be claimed from the liquidation of the company and if necessary from the assets of the directors," he said in his statement to the court.

Mr Matthaei told The Canberra Times he and his wife spent about $24,000 on panels and believed they would get back $8000 from the credits over 18 months.

Worrells Solvency partner Stephen Hundy said customers were entitled to a certain number of certificates depending on the size of solar hot water or solar panel systems they bought.

They had been given the option of assigning their rights to an agent.

EFP was a registered agent and some of those rights could have been assigned to the company to create certificates.

He said the company indicated to customers they would register the 21,000 certificates and hold them on the customers' behalf, even though they were registered in the company's name.

"The first thing we need the court to find or direct, is whether they were certificates held in trust for the customers.

"As the liquidator, we're not putting any positions forward, we have simply put facts before the court and provided options how to deal with certificates, and because different customers are affected in different ways.

"Some no longer have certificates in the system. Some still have them in the system, in the company's name."

Mr Hundy told The Canberra Times earlier this year factors contributing to the demise of Enviro Friendly Products included changes to the ACT government's feed-in-tariff scheme, which ended abruptly in May.

At the time the government said the feed-in tariff contributed to growth in the ACT solar market, and interest was mostly driven by the high level of assistance from the federal government's solar credits program.


Queensland's past a focus of Qld. curriculum reforms

STUDENTS will learn more about Queensland history in state schools under the new national curriculum to be rolled out next year.

History will be taught as a stand-alone subject in Queensland primary schools, with the national curriculum subject rolled out in all Prep to Year 10 classrooms across the state from Term 1, 2013.

It follows the introduction of the English, mathematics and science national curriculum in Prep to Year 10 this year.

While history is currently covered under Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) in state primary schools, Education Queensland (EQ) assistant director-general Mark Campling said individual schools made decisions around SOSE time allocations.

"It has been a long time since we have specifically taught history in our primary schools," he said.  "I think it is a great step forward."

Mr Campling said writers of EQ's Curriculum into the Classroom (C2C), Australian Curriculum support documents, included lessons about Queensland when they could.

"Where there is an opportunity to learn more about Queensland, we do that," he said.

"For example, when they talk about colonisation, we then are able to take the concept of colonisation and actually take it from the Queensland perspective and talk about the Moreton Bay Settlement."

Mr Campling said students would learn history topics next year which in Years 3 to 6 might have been missed by some schools under SOSE.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus said the new history curriculum would be a challenge for primary school teachers but they would be supported by C2C.

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said a greater level of professional development was still needed around the new history curriculum and he hoped teachers would be given time to do that by the start of the next school year.


23 October, 2012

Uranium mining go-ahead in Queensland a blow to the Greens

THE State Government's snap decision to overturn a 23-year ban on uranium mining paves the way for an $18 billion industry, thousands of jobs and $900 million in royalties.

Premier Campbell Newman's announcement yesterday came just 11 days after writing to the Australian Conservation Foundation saying he had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Green groups have slammed the move, labelling it dangerous, rushed and made with little or no consultation.

Mr Newman said the backflip was sparked by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's trip to India to open negotiations on uranium exports, which put the issue back on the agenda.

He said the world had moved on from the conflict the issue caused decades ago when the ban was put in place and he had personally never been opposed to uranium mining.

"It was not until the events of last week where we said 'this is crazy'," Mr Newman said.  "South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are all in the game and the Prime Minister and her ministers are urging us to overturn the ban," the Premier said.

"In fact, Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson urged Queensland to overturn the ban, back in June.  "Why do we have this position given our own party is extremely supportive?"

He said the only real surprise had been the strong views in support from the Labor Party.

Mr Newman said he took the option of a policy review to yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Goondiwindi but Ministers urged him to go further and were "adamant" that the ban be overturned.

"There has been serious public debate about the issue over the course of several months," Mr Newman said.

But the Government is facing criticism it rushed the decision without consultation after going to the polls claiming it had no plans to lift the ban.

Green groups said it took less than 11 days for Mr Newman to change his mind after he wrote to the Australian Conservation Foundation on October 11 stating that the Government's position was "crystal clear" and it had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".

Mount Isa City Council recently called on the Government to resume uranium mining, to reinvigorate the area and offer employment.   Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady said the lifting of the ban allowed explorers to move in and search for deposits and that could lead to discoveries of other commodities.

Cr McGrady - a former Labor mining minister - defended the Premier.  "What Mr Newman said was that uranium mining was not high on his list of priorities," he said.

"It's come down now to making a decision on uranium and he's done so because he realised there's jobs involved and royalties for the State Government."

Cr McGrady said his council had only last week called for Mr Newman to "at least instigate an inquiry as to whether there should be a uranium industry in Queensland".

A three-person committee will be named shortly to oversee the recommencement of uranium mining.

The decision even took the mining industry by surprise because it had been expecting a preliminary review.

But the Queensland Resources Council said it seemed that when there was "no marching in the streets" following the call for a debate on the issue the Government decided to move ahead.

Chief executive Michael Roche said the Government's decision would provide a strong boost to the regional economies of the north and northwest.

"It will create jobs and economic opportunities, including for indigenous Queenslanders," Mr Roche said.

He said three mines in Queensland would generate about 1000 permanent jobs and 2500 in construction. Most would be in the Mt Isa-Gulf area.

The estimated economic value of uranium in Queensland is $18 billion and a royalty of 5 per cent would deliver $900 million in royalties.

Several companies have spent years exploring for uranium in Queensland, speculating the ban would be overturned. Summit Resources has spent about $40 million in recent years in exploration in Queensland.  Its share price spiked dramatically yesterday when the decision was announced.

However, it is likely that it will take at least four years for any project to get developed because of the strict environmental approvals needed from both the State and Federal governments.

A hazardous materials port would also have to be built to cope with the exports.

Queensland's last operating uranium mine, Mary Kathleen, about 80km west of Mount Isa, closed in 1982 after 30 years in use.

The Goss Labor government won office in 1989 with a policy of no new uranium mining, an effective ban that has applied ever since.

Ironically on the exact same day in Brisbane in 1977, 371 people were arrested at an anti-uranium protest in Brisbane, including a Labor senator.


Must not be critical of whites who claim to be black

Gerard Henderson

"There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather" ... Aboriginal boxer Anthony Mundine.

I'm with boxer Anthony "Choc" Mundine - in his most recent battle, at least. Last Thursday, during a media conference to publicise his forthcoming International Boxing Federation world middleweight contest with Tasmanian Daniel Geale, Mundine questioned his opponent's Aboriginal identity.

Mundine said he "thought they wiped all the Aborigines from Tasmania out" and added Geale had "a white wife and white kids". He later apologised for both statements. However, he did not resile from his comments about identity and declared yesterday: "There are people who get jobs, and are claiming benefits, who claim to be Aboriginal because they have a great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather. That, I think, is wrong."

Mundine's recent comments about Aboriginality have been denounced by journalists and others, most notably by the Tasmanian indigenous activist Michael Mansell. He linked Mundine's attitude with that of the Ku Klux Klan and claimed his position resembled a "neo-Nazi type of thought". According to Mansell, Mundine is in need of re-education since his comments were "worse than what Andrew Bolt said" last year.

Mansell is an extremist, as is obvious from his statement that Mundine is not welcome in Tasmania until he issues a grovelling apology. Yet Mansell's position reflects a pattern in left-wing thought in recent years to call for the silencing of opponents from both the right-of-centre (like Bolt) or even the left-of-centre (like Mundine).

In his rush to censor Mundine, Mansell seems to have forgotten that, in the past, he himself has raised the issue of Aboriginal identity. On August 26, 2002, Four Corners ran a program titled "Blackfella, Whitefella" concerning disputes in Tasmania as to who was indigenous. Mansell told the reporter Quentin McDermott anyone who wanted "to participate in elections that are set up for Aboriginal people … should be able to satisfy the criteria that they are, in fact, Aborigines".

That was a decade ago. Now Mansell says calls for individuals to meet certain criteria before claiming to be indigenous is profoundly racist. What's changed? Well, it's possible that the likes of Mansell have taken comfort from Federal Court Judge Mordy Bromberg's decision in the 2011 case of Eatock v Bolt concerning what were called "fair-skinned Aboriginal people".

Bromberg found Bolt had made a number of factual errors in his comments on the "fair-skinned Aboriginal people" whom he had offended. But the judge went further by criticising the "tone" of Bolt's columns in the Herald-Sun, which had included "mockery and inflammatory language" and threatened "social harmony". Yet Bolt's comments last year were not more threatening to social harmony than Mundine's outburst last week.

Moreover, there is an issue of social policy involved. Professor Henry Reynolds stated it when interviewed by Four Corners in 2002. He argued that when "identity becomes the basis for a claim on the rest of us - that is, on the state or on the taxpayer - we all have to be concerned".

Last week, after upholding complaints against the broadcaster Alan Jones, the Australian Communications and Media Authority entered into an agreement with 2GB. As a result, Jones will be subjected to a form of re-education. He will be trained on "factual accuracy" and broadcasting "other significant viewpoints".

It's true 2GB has not one left-of-centre presenter for any of its key programs. But it's also true the ABC has not one conservative presenter or producer or editor for any of its prominent outlets. What's more, senior ABC management refuses to correct errors in documentaries broadcast on the ABC - as I have documented on my Media Watch Dog blog. Yet there is no call for the ABC to be re-educated with respect to fact-checking or to present other significant viewpoints.

It's surprising just how many academics and journalists are seemingly indifferent to demands to limit free expression. On October 12, Lateline ran a debate between Rod Tiffen (who was a paid consultant on the media inquiry of Ray Finkelstein, QC) and Campbell Reid (from News Limited).

The presenter Emma Alberici agreed with Tiffen that there was no big deal in the fact the ultimate sanction recommended by Finkelstein was jailing journalists - since editors could simply do as they were told by the proposed news media council. So, that's all right then, apparently.

Despite the fact there would be no right of appeal against a decision of the NMC and despite the fact the NMC would be chosen by senior academics who have historically been deficient themselves in overseeing plurality in the social science departments of universities which, like the ABC, resemble conservative-free zones.

Sure, Mundine may have offended some last week. But he did strike a blow for free speech in a society in which there is a growing demand to censor unfashionable opinion.


Kokoda a war myth?

A PROMINENT military historian has cast doubt on the legend of the Kokoda Track, questioning the significance of the WWII campaign in a move that has outraged veterans.

In what is viewed by Kokoda Diggers as a stinging insult, professor of defence history David Horner said it was a myth that the Japanese were going to invade Australia, adding the nation had developed a tendency to exaggerate the significance of military battles due to the reverence in which Gallipoli was held.

"It's all the Anzacs' fault," Prof Horner said. "Gallipoli was one of our most significant military campaigns (and now) everybody wants to be an Anzac. Everybody wants a medal. Everybody wants to be recognised ... every child gets a prize. If you fought in a battle, it has to be a battle that was really important. Whatever you do has to be given more credit and be seen as being more significant."

Defending the statements, made during his speech as part of a two-day celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda campaign at the Australian War Memorial last month, Prof Horner said Japanese records show troops in PNG did not intend to come to Darwin and questioned whether Australian troops were as outnumbered as previously thought.

"The (Kokoda) campaign did not save Australia from invasion by the Japanese," he said.  "The original orders were to come to Port Moresby (but) Japanese orders were to stop after crossing the crest of the Owen Stanley range."

His claims have been slammed by Kokoda veterans and opposing experts.

An angry Bob Iskov, a 92-year-old veteran of the Kokoda campaign, said he knows the Japanese were bound for mainland Australia.  "I was part of a battalion which was sent to attack a village outside Gona," Mr Iskov said.

"I heard voices and so I took cover and saw three Japanese officers walking down the track towards me. I shot them and when we searched them, the colonel had maps on him, including maps of Darwin and its defences. Was he coming here to play golf?"

Bestselling author and Kokoda Foundation member Patrick Lindsay said the Japanese campaign had always intended on coming to Australia.  "I've interviewed 17 Japanese veterans of Kokoda and, without exception, all said they were coming to Australia," Mr Lindsay said.

Prof Horner stressed it was not his intention to lessen the memory of Australia's Diggers.  "They deserve every bit of credit and respect but as a historian I have to state what is accurate," he said.


Pregnant women turned away

OVERWHELMED public maternity hospitals are rejecting bookings for pregnant women, forcing them to find hospitals further away or switch to expensive private care.

In a trend being investigated by the Victorian Health Services Commissioner, staff at the recently expanded Werribee Mercy Hospital have told several local women this year that the hospital is too full to book them in for antenatal care.

This is despite a $14 million redevelopment that opened eight new maternity beds and four special care nursery cots last year to cater for a surging population of young families.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said she had also received complaints from women who had been turned away from the Royal Women's Hospital, which cared for more than 7000 births last financial year despite being built for 5000.

Ms Wilson said she was particularly concerned about women being denied public maternity services close to home and said the government needed to invest in growth corridors, particularly in Melbourne's west.

"The west is one of the fastest growing districts in the world. There are new suburbs springing up and there are young people buying houses and moving in, but the health services are not keeping up with that spurt of growth. Unless we do something about this quickly there are going to be big problems," she said.

Doctors told The Age the shortage of beds at Werribee and the Royal Women's was affecting Sunshine Hospital, which was now taking many additional bookings despite a lack of birth suites. They said it was also causing many women to be discharged home one day after birth, jeopardising post-natal care.

Last year, Victorian Auditor General Des Pearson revealed more than 200 women had given birth at Sunshine's emergency department due to a shortage of space in its maternity unit. The audit also found the Department of Health had failed to manage maternity services across the state during soaring demand over the past decade, particularly in the booming northern and western suburbs.

While the state government has funded Sunshine Hospital to build two new birthing suites this financial year, which will bring its total number to 12, Western Health's director of clinical services for women and children, Associate Professor Glyn Teale, said the hospital needed five more to bring it up to par.

"On the basis of the averages around the state in the Victorian Auditor General's report, we need in the region of 17 birth suites rather than 12," he said.

Executive Director of Mercy Public Hospitals, Linda Mellors, acknowledged Werribee Mercy was turning some women away, but would not say how often this was happening.

"Demand is constant and booking requests sometimes exceed the hospital's ability to ensure that every pregnancy is managed safely and appropriately. When this is the case we may need to refer the booking to another local hospital," she said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Women's said it referred women living outside of its local area who did not have a complex or high risk pregnancy to their local maternity hospitals because they had to prioritise

those needing specialist care. When asked how the hospital was delivering 2000 more births than it was built for, the spokeswoman declined to say whether beds had been added, but said there was "appropriate capacity".

President of the the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr Rupert Sherwood said public hospitals needed to be funded in line with growing demand because maternity units were already running efficiently.

"A lot of the slack has already been taken up," he said.

"If a service gets overwhelmed, the risks to individual patients increase. You can't help that when you're dealing with large numbers … the potential for errors increases."

Dr Sherwood said while Victorian women were still getting excellent care in the public system compared to other countries, the average length of stay had reduced to about two days for women giving birth, meaning some would be sent home with problems, especially with breastfeeding.

A government spokesman said it had funded three new neonatal intensive care cots this financial year and had established a new Ministerial Perinatal Services Advisory Committee to help plan neonatal and maternity services for the state.


22 October, 2012

Leftist bitchiness makes alleged conservative "misogyny" look mild

Comments from a Labor politician comparing a Nationals MP's partner to a "B-grade porn star" have been labelled "sexist and derogatory" by New South Wales Minister for Women Pru Goward.

Labor MP Amanda Fazio reportedly wrote a Facebook update at the parliamentary Spring Ball last Thursday, which stated: "At the NSW Parliament Spring Ball. Excellent singers from Bankstown Talent Program. Geoff Provest has a date that looks like a retired B-grade porn star."

The post, which was made on her private Facebook page and reported by News Ltd, has since been deleted.

Ms Fazio is no looker herself

Ms Goward said this morning the fact the comments were made by a woman made them no less offensive, and hit out at the hypocrisy of the Labor party.  She said the post highlighted the danger in the Labor party setting itself up as "the arbiter" of sexist behaviour.

"Of course it's sexist and derogatory," she said.  "It's not only sexist but tells you where the woman's focus is. Where it should be is on matters of public interest."

The comments come after weeks of attacks by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her federal Labor colleagues on opposition leader Tony Abbott, accusing him of being sexist and misogynist.

Ms Goward said the fact that Ms Fazio was a woman herself did not make the "porn star" comment less offensive. "Some people don't think it's possible for a woman to make a sexist comment about another woman," she said.  "But the question is, how does the comment characterise a woman, and does it characterise her in a way that's demeaning to her gender?"

Opposition leader John Robertson this morning tweeted his disapproval of Ms Fazio's comment.  "Comments reported in Tele today from Amanda Fazio towards Geoff Provest's partner are inappropriate & offensive. There's no place for it," he wrote.

Ms Fazio released a statement this morning apologising "unreservedly" for the remark.  "I am deeply sorry for the comments I made on Facebook and the hurt and offence they have caused," she said.  "The comments were wrong and completely unacceptable. I apologise unreservedly to Ms Hamilton and Mr Provest."


Qld. Labor still behind the secrecy wall

SOME people learn by their mistakes while others are condemned to repeat them.

State Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk appears determined to dwell in the latter camp as she plays I've Got A Secret with Health Minister Lawrence Springborg over the contents of a consultant's report into the future bed needs of Queensland hospitals.

Given that the report was paid for by Queensland taxpayers and relates directly to their needs, you would think that Ms Palaszczuk would be delighted to hand it over to her successor and wish him all the best in his efforts to oversee the crisis-plagued health system.

To do otherwise would seem to be churlish and could serve only to remind the electorate of the walls of secrecy erected around the decision-making process in the Beattie-Bligh years, and behind which cabinet ministers and their Labor "mates" had such a merry old time.

Ms Palaszczuk, however, has been steadfast in her refusal to release the report, saying at first that it was not possible under parliamentary rules - love to help and all that but rules are rules and my hands are tied.

This alludes to the cabinet-in-confidence strategy employed with such industry by the Labor government that saw cartloads of material it wished to hide from the public being trundled into the cabinet room, there to be carefully cloaked in the premier's hand-woven shroud of secrecy.

Ms Palaszczuk, however, was left swinging in the parliamentary breeze when an email sent on July 13 from Cabinet Secretary Anthony Crack to her Chief of Staff Angela MacDonagh surfaced, which made it clear that there was, in effect, nothing to stop her agreeing to the release of the documents.

Oops! Either the Cabinet Secretary was wrong or the Opposition Leader was being economical with the truth. Gee, which could it be?

What, you might wonder, could there be in a report into the future bed needs of Queensland hospitals that Ms Palaszczuk would want to keep stashed under her political mattress?

Had it been a report into what Labor cabinet ministers had been doing in bed and with whom they had been doing it, Ms Palaszczuk's reticence to release its contents would be understandable, but the bed needs of Queensland hospitals would surely make for dull reading.

And the Bligh government spent $30,000 having it compiled so let's see it.

No way, says Ms Palaszczuk. The beds report is staying under the mattress!

Could it just be, some cynical souls have wondered, that this is more about the notorious Health Department payroll stuff-up, which took place under the Bligh government and which continues to bleed the Treasury, than how many hospital beds we might need over the next 10 years?

Mr Springborg is also mightily curious about what is contained in the legal advice that was obtained by the Bligh government as it ever so slowly dawned on it that in buying the IBM payroll system, it might have been sold one of the great IT lemons of the decade.

Legal advice that has been leaked makes it clear that Labor was told IBM may have been guilty of misleading conduct and been in breach of its contract, yet the Bligh government refused to take legal action against it. Why?

In a Pythonesque aside, Ms Palaszczuk has said that she will allow Mr Springborg to look at the legal advice, but there is a catch.

Should he agree to take a quick peek, he must promise not to make a copy or take notes or tell anyone what he has seen and only the cabinet secretary and crown solicitor can accompany him.

It does still not seem to have fully penetrated Ms Palaszczuk's cortex that the voters of Queensland tossed her party on to the electoral scrapheap for exactly the kind of behaviour in which she is indulging and that Mr Springborg, as much as she might wish it were not so, now represents the legitimate government of the state.

She should hand over the reports and the legal advice and suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. The longer she stalls, the deeper becomes the hole she is digging for herself and her party


Experts concerned about the amount of soft drink we're consuming

And exactly what business is it of "experts"?

AUSTRALIANS are swilling a staggering 100 litres of soft drink a head each year - prompting calls for the fizz to be banned from home fridges.

Dentists say children as young as six are having rotten baby teeth pulled out after substituting water with sugary and highly acidic soft drinks.  Adult addicts downing as much as six bottles or cans a day are being left with mouths full of fillings and root canal work.

Soft-drink consumption has bubbled from an average 65 litres in the early 1970s to about 100 litres today, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Australian Beverage Council figures show.  That equates to 267 standard cans a year.

Dr Harleen Kumar, of Smile Solutions in Melbourne, said some young patients had up to four glasses daily.

The problem tended to be worse with teenagers.  "In my opinion, soft drink should be for special occasions only such as birthdays and going out. I say to adults to ban it from the fridge," she said.  "I treated one child who was decay-free and then started drinking a can of soft drink a day. He came back a year later with 20 cavities."

The industry says consumption is slowing after peaking in the 1990s.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton said sugar-sweetened drinks pumped in calories without giving people a feeling of fullness.

Draft national dietary guidelines advised limiting added-sugar drinks, she said.

Australian Beverage Council chief executive officer Geoff Parker said soft drinks had been unfairly "demonised" in the obesity debate.

One in three soft drinks sold were diet versions with artificial sweeteners and no calories.

Dr Stanton said artificial sweeteners still eroded tooth enamel and maintained a sweet taste habit.


Illiterate teachers

TEACHERS are filling lessons, report cards and letters home with errors, including SMS-style spelling, grammatical mistakes and misspelt spelling lists, parents have claimed.

A survey of 480 people about the literacy skills of the nation's teachers found half thought the quality was poor.

More than 40 per cent had noticed spelling or grammatical errors on letters sent home from school and 35 per cent had seen mistakes in report cards and marked assignments.

Other parents claimed their child's teachers lacked passion and skill, taught incorrect information and provided misspelt word lists for children to learn from. Some had even noticed teachers using SMS-style spellings, like l8r (later) and coz (because).

The "must do better" grading comes as the federal government reveals current teachers will be given specialist training to make sure future educators get better mentoring.Current and ex-teachers who took the survey were among those who complained about substandard quality, saying it was depressing.

One teacher from a state high school said many graduate teachers lacked a basic understanding of grammar, spelling and punctuation through their own schooling.  "It's those 20-somethings who just missed out and I'm scared that they're going to be teaching my kids," she said.

Some respondents defended teachers, however, saying they had a difficult job and passion was more important than perfection. Others were angry about "teacher bashing" and argued educators should be afforded more respect.

The survey findings come as the government works on its goal of pushing Aussie children into the top five world performers in numeracy and literacy by 2025.

Under the plan, student teachers will spend more of their degree inside a classroom paired with a specialist mentor. They will get clearer instructions on what's expected of them as their teaching methods are scrutinised.

State governments and independent education authorities will decide what training their mentors will need. At the moment trainees can be instructed by teachers with very little experience themselves.

Parents and teachers who spoke to The Daily Telegraph did not want to be identified, but told of the profession changing from one full of passionate people, to people "just filling in their work day".They wanted graduate teachers tested to validate their skills before they were put into classrooms.

The qualification bar has already been set higher, with entrants to teaching courses needing to score in the top 30 per cent for literacy and numeracy to get in.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the government wanted the "best and brightest" in classrooms.

Parents who took the survey wanted teachers paid more to attract the best candidates.


21 October, 2012

Regular sex does not mean you're in a relationship, rules judge

Maybe there's a need for marriage after all!

HAVING regular sex with a housemate does not mean you're in a "relationship" - even if the arrangement lasts more than a decade, a judge has ruled.

Family Court Judge Jane Crisford entered into the "friends with benefits" debate when she ruled that a man and woman who had regular sex as friends over a 14-year period were not in a de facto relationship.

Judge Crisford said it did not matter that the pair had been living in the same house, socialised on occasions and initially took short holidays together because they essentially lived separate lives.

"He continued to associate with her as it was a convenient and uncomplicated arrangement," she said.

"On one level they were companions and could co-exist amicably - in common parlance, they were friends with benefits.

"(He) was simply biding his time. For a reduced rent he had some domestic tasks performed for him. He had a companion when it suited him and he had sex when the need arose."

The court was asked to define the relationship as part of a property dispute between the housemates, who cannot be identified and are referred to as "Mikhail Markhov and Kanya Shelley" by the judge.

In total, Dr Markhov had 10 properties while Ms Shelley owned five. This included a property they bought together in 2006.

The application was lodged in the Family Court a few months before Dr Markhov married another woman in 2009.

Ms Shelley, a registered nurse, moved into Dr Markhov's unit as his tenant in 1995, a few years after they met.

A few months later she then bought her own unit in the same complex and Dr Markhov, a scientist, then moved into that unit with her as a tenant while his home was being renovated.

Over the years the pair bought other properties and resided in them together as landlord and tenant. Ms Shelley claimed over that time the pair were in a "committed and marriage-like" relationship and slept together "every night".

Dr Markhov at first claimed the relationship was platonic, but later admitted having sex with Ms Shelley in most of the houses, justifying his actions by saying he had "needs".

In handing down her decision, Judge Crisford said while she found some of Dr Markhov's attitudes "dishonourable", she was not satisfied there was a marriage-like relationship. He never intended to have a long-term relationship with her, she said.

Judge Crisford said Ms Shelley benefited from the arrangement in much the same way and disputed her claims of an exclusive, marriage-like relationship.


Green/Left alliance on the nose in a Leftist stronghold

ACT is Australia's version of DC

TRIUMPHANT Liberal leader Zed Seselja says ACT voters have rejected a Labor-Greens alliance in Saturday's election.

But he's stopped short of claiming victory, with the opposition falling one seat short of majority government in the 17-seat legislative assembly.

It will take days of negotiation with the Greens before a new minority government can be formed in the territory.

The Liberals, on the back of their biggest-ever primary vote, are on track to take eight seats to Labor's seven giving them their highest representation in the 23-year history of self-government.

With more than 70 per cent of the vote counted at 10.50pm (AEST), Labor had 39.1 per cent of the overall vote (up 1.7pc on 2008), to the Liberals 38 per cent (up 6.4pc) and the Greens 11 per cent (down 4.6pc)

A surprise Labor casualty could be Attorney-General Simon Corbell who might lose his seat to fellow Labor candidate Meegan Fitzharris.

The Greens drop from four seats to two with their leader Meredith Hunter still in a tight race with Summernats car festival founder Chic Henry, running for the Australian Motorists Party.  If she loses, the Greens would have only one seat in the assembly.

Mr Seselja said the election result was a rejection of both Labor and the Greens.  "Most importantly it is a rejection of their alliance," he told the party faithful.  "It would be a rejection of the verdict of the people if the Labor Party and the Greens were to now forge a closer alliance.  "We are ready to deliver the kind of government the ACT deserves."

Labor leader Katy Gallagher said it was not the night for victory speeches from any party.  "We're not arrogant, we're not coming out saying we have won this election," she told supporters.  "We've won the highest primary vote, we've increased our vote, we've held our seats and we've seen a swing towards us."

Ms Gallagher noted more than half the electorate voted for "a progressive government", referring to the combined Labor-Greens vote of 50.1 per cent.

Mr Seselja reiterated earlier pledges that he wouldn't offer the Greens a ministry as part of any negotiations, unlike in 2008.

But he shied away from questions on whether or not he would negotiate with them at all.

Liberal MLA Jeremy Hanson said: "Should we get eight seats we have a very strong case for government."

However, Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said the minor party would not be taking the number of seats won into account.

"We want to make sure there's a stable government for four years," he told AAP.  "We delivered that this term, we expect to deliver it in the coming term."

The Greens had a duty to the one-in-eight Canberrans who voted for the party to deliver on as many of their policies as possible, Mr Rattenbury said.

"We're quite open to talking to both of them (major parties) and that's something we will start in the next few days," he said. "We won't see an agreement to form a government, one way or the other, for quite some days yet."

Labor MLA Andrew Barr said a Liberal-Greens alliance would be "extraordinary" since "they are just a world apart".


ASIO seen as serious threat to innocent citizens

THE powers of Australia's domestic spy agency, ASIO, are rotten at their core, could be used against innocent Australians by an unscrupulous government and should be repealed, the law professor George Williams has warned.

Launching a campaign last night to wind back the "excessive and disproportionate powers" given to ASIO since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Professor Williams said that collectively the laws "represent the greatest assault on civil liberties in Australia since World War II".

Professor Williams, the Anthony Mason professor of law at the University of NSW, was speaking at the NSW Council for Civil Liberties dinner in Sydney where a national campaign to roll back the nation's anti-terrorism laws was unveiled.

The anti-terrorism laws have sunset clauses which come into effect in 2016. At that time they can be repealed, amended or made permanent.

The national campaign aims to force decisions of intelligence agencies, which negatively affect human rights, to be subject to a merit review and to ensure any future laws are scrutinised by the community before they are enacted to stop further erosions of civil liberties.

The council launched the campaign on the back of the public outcry about asylum seekers who had been assessed as refugees but who had adverse ASIO assessments resulting in them being held in detention indefinitely.

The campaign comes as the director-general of ASIO, David Irvine, launches a publicity campaign of his own with a rare interview to defend ASIO's proposal to extend its powers under national security laws to search phone and internet data and to allow ASIO officers to commit crimes without being charged.

Mr Irvine has told the ABC's Background Briefing that ASIO is being left behind because of advances in technologies. He also said that it had experienced intelligence failures because of changing technology.

"Today there are hundreds of different ways of communicating electronically and the law does not cater for those ways in the way it should," Mr Irvine told the ABC.

However, Professor Williams said there had been a frenzy of lawmaking in the past decade with 54 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation introduced - 48 of them under the Howard government - making an average of one new law every seven weeks.

He said there was no need for any new powers.

"The powers are more consistent with the apparatus of a police state, such as General Pinochet's Chile, than the laws of a modern democracy," he said.

"They have no place in Australia, should be repealed."


Self-sustaining leviathan

Has Australia’s welfare state become so large that it can now sustain itself and grow through the ballot box? This is the key issue raised by recent controversies in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful, drew fire for his remarks about the 47% of US households that pay no federal income tax. Romney was factually correct (although many of the 47% do pay social security payroll tax, which is like an income tax), but his analysis was so clumsily expressed that his essential point was lost in the frenzied commentary that ensued. In democratic welfare states, the proportion of the electorate that attracts more in social benefits from government than it pays in tax has become so large that candidates who promise to curb the welfare state have a hard time winning elections.

The same issue has been raised in the United Kingdom, where a recent study by the Centre for Policy Studies revealed that 53.4% of households receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes, and that this proportion has been rising dramatically in recent decades.

Given these developments, it is instructive to consider how Australia compares in the welfare dependency stakes. Here, 26.4% of individual taxpayers (who are different from households) paid no net income tax in 2009–10. Twenty years ago, this proportion was only 14.3%, and it is likely to have risen further since 2009–10 in light of an increase in the effective tax-free threshold. (Whereas the bottom 47% of US households paid no income tax, the bottom 47% of Australian individual taxpayers accounted for 10% of total income tax paid, although much of this would have been offset by family tax benefits.)

But there is no reason to stop at income tax. People also pay GST and many other taxes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has compiled data on total taxes paid and total social benefits (cash and in kind) received by households in 2009–10 classified into five slices (quintiles) from bottom to top according to their private income. The first three quintiles (that is, 60% of households) each received more in direct social benefits than they paid in taxes. It is impossible to determine from the ABS data the exact income level at which households, on average, move from being net beneficiaries to net payers, but it is probably close to the median household private income (around $75,000 a year).

Whether households are aware of the balance between the taxes they pay and the benefits they receive is another matter. If we compare total benefits with income tax alone, which is the tax households are most aware of paying, then only the top 20% are left paying more than they collect in benefits.

It is hardly surprising or objectionable that the population is divided into net beneficiaries and net funders of the welfare state, but there is ample scope for argument about the coverage and size of welfare state benefits, where the dividing line should be drawn between net recipients and net payers, and the size of the burden that the net payers – whether the top 20%, 40%, 50% or whatever – can reasonably be expected to carry.

Some things are clear. The welfare state has gone far beyond a ‘safety net’ concept. There is a large constituency whose direct financial interests are best served by the preservation or enhancement of social benefits, whether or not that is in their broader self-interest or the national interest. And the top 40% of households are bearing the burden, paying 72% of the taxes and receiving 22% of the benefits.


20 October, 2012

University of Queensland gets a new head in time to deal with a new corruption scandal

A distinguished Dane replaces a distinguished Jew.  Let's hope he turns out better than his corrupt predecessor.  A pity that it again took a newspaper article to get attention to the problem.  The initial response from the university was again to clam up -- but Hoj now appears to have bitten the bullet

There would seem to be a culture of corruption and coverup in the senior echelons of the UQ administration.  One must remember that Greenfield was not alone in being forced to resign. As a graduate  of UQ, I always have had an ear for news about the place but can recollect nothing similar prior to the Greenfield adminstration.  The culture concerned would then seem to be a Greenfield creation.  "A fish rots from the head down".

I may have missed it but I can recollect no mention of what happened to the student -- Greenfield's daughter -- who was improperly admitted to the medical school.  Since she was at least an accessory to the deed, I can see to reason why she should be shielded.  If the university refuses to confirm that she is no longer in the medical school,  I think we will know what to conclude

There has also been no plausible reason given for the whistleblower behind the Greenfield revelations (Phil Procopis) no longer being employed by the university.  Hoj has a real job if he wants to dispel the stench

News reports from both yesterday and today below:

University of Queensland misconduct scandal as dental school involved in Medicare rort

19th October: THE University of Queensland is embroiled in a fresh misconduct scandal, refusing to come clean about how its dental school was involved in a Medicare rort.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that hundreds of members of the public who let UQ dentistry students practise on them in January 2010 were sent for expensive X-rays to businesses connected to two senior members of staff.

They were sent for Medicare-funded full-jaw OPG X-rays to businesses, one of which, Q-Scan Dental JV Pty Ltd, is half-owned by the school's deputy head Camile Farah. This was despite UQ having its own X-ray equipment available.

After an internal investigation, UQ tried twice to contact Medicare, but failed to follow up when it got no reply.

Vice-Chancellor Paul Greenfield, who was later forced out over a nepotism scandal, did not inform UQ's governing body, the Senate, raising questions about transparency at UQ.

UQ this week began a "review" of the investigation and has written to Medicare again after the original whistleblower made a further complaint.

"The complainant has since raised some concerns about the way in which the matter was handled," senior deputy Vice-Chancellor Deborah Terry said.

"On this basis, UQ's new associate director (investigations) will be undertaking a review of the case.

"The (Crime and Misconduct Commission) is aware of the review, which has now commenced."

The original probe, by UQ investigator Phil Procopis, found "unmanaged conflicts of interest" at the school. It also substantiated a claim that the Health Insurance Act had been breached, recommending UQ contact Medicare "to seek their advice on whether any compensatory action by UQ is needed".

But UQ, which received $750 million in taxpayer funding last year, will not say what action, if any, was taken against staff or what happened to the money generated.

UQ said the CMC had been "satisfied with the University's responses" to the recommendations that emerged from the initial investigation.

Whether to inform the Senate had been up to the then Vice-Chancellor, Paul Greenfield, Professor Terry said.

Medicare declined to comment, citing privacy and secrecy laws.

Documents show supervisors were told in January 2010 to send patients for 360-degree scans to pathology businesses in Brisbane, including QScan Dental JV which is half-owned by Professor Farah, an oral cancer specialist. He is also the consultant pathologist to that business. A colleague, Paul Monsour, is consultant to the other business, QDI.  Neither could be reached yesterday.

Each of the scans, known as an OPG, costs about $100, which would have been covered by Medicare.

On January 20, 2010, Brad Wright, clinical operations manager, wrote an email headed "OPGs" to almost 50 tutors at the School: "Please ensure patients go ONLY to QSCAN and QDI and ONLY where they take OPGs. These arrangements do not exist with other radiology clinics."

There's no suggestion QScan or QDI were involved in the rort.

Then on January 28, Mr Wright sent another email to students and staff in which he wrote: "RADIOGRAPHY Do not allow any more students to refer out OPGs."

Mr Procopis, who was the first to brief then chancellor John Story about the Paul Greenfield nepotism claims, was made redundant by UQ in June.


University of Queensland vows to get tough on staff misconduct after evidence of dental decay

20th October:  THE University of Queensland's new Vice-Chancellor has vowed to crack down on misconduct and make an example of staff who abuse their positions for personal gain.

"We can't just say: 'trust us'," Professor Peter Hoj said yesterday. "The only way we can change perceptions is by setting an example."

It comes after The Courier-Mail revealed details of a rort at UQ's dental school in which hundreds of patients were sent for expensive x-rays to businesses with financial connections to two senior members of staff. UQ this week said it had begun a "review" of the case after the original whistleblower made a further complaint.

But Professor Hoj said yesterday the matter would now be "re-examined in its entirety", including to check whether patients were sent for the x-rays on the basis only of clinical need.

Fresh misconduct scandal hits UQ

UQ said two members of staff had been disciplined after an internal investigation that also found the Health Insurance Act had been breached.

But Professor Hoj said that if he found "on balance" that the way patients were dealt with was not justified, "I would ask whether disciplinary action was proportionate".

"The example we're setting now will diminish the risk of inappropriate behaviour happening again," he said.

UQ tried to contact Medicare twice after the original investigation found there had been a breach of the Health Insurance Act but did not hear back from them.

Senior Vice-Chancellor Deborah Terry said yesterday UQ had expected to hear from Medicare "in the fullness of time".

UQ has refused to disclose the amount of money involved in the rort or what happened to the money.

Professor Terry said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had signed off on all aspects of the original investigation and the fact the whistleblower had come forward was evidence her governance reform package was working.

In a message to staff yesterday Professor Hoj did not directly address the misconduct issue.

But he said he was "looking forward to continuing working with all of you to address the challenges that our fine university is facing - these are challenges that cannot be ignored and will require an adjustment of some approaches".


Leftist crooks:  The fall in Australian poverty ignored

This week is Anti-Poverty Week, and the media repeated the welfare lobby’s line that there were 2.2 million Australians living below the poverty line, and that the proportion of people in poverty rose by ‘approximately one third of a percentage point from 2003 to 2010.’

What they didn’t bother to report was that according to the ACOSS report Poverty in Australia, the proportion of Australians living below the poverty line actually declined from 14.5% of the population in 2007 to 12.3% in 2010 (see pp. 32–33).

The fall in poverty was largely a result of the global financial crisis reducing growth in median incomes, combined with increased government expenditure on payments to pensioners, which pushed some people above the 50% median income threshold. As a result, welfare payments grew faster than income, and poverty fell.

If you think something is wrong with the picture of poverty in Australia since 2003, then you would be right. Commonsense suggests poverty should decrease when the economy is growing (2003–07) and increase when the economy is in trouble (2007–10). However, commonsense doesn’t seem to apply to poverty.

The problem lies in the definition of poverty as 50% of median income (about $358 per week for a single person). It is an arbitrary line that measures inequality, not poverty, and does not consider the numerous other benefits and subsidies (public housing and education) received by those on welfare.

Because the measurement of poverty is flawed, the proposed policy solution of increasing welfare payments like Newstart is equally flawed. It is telling that more than 50% of the 2.2 million people identified by ACOSS to be in poverty aren’t in the workforce at all. Less than 20% of those 2.2 million in poverty are in full-time work and more than 60% receive most of their income from welfare payments.

However, more money for welfare recipients will not address the causes of poverty. It would be better to focus resources on encouraging people capable of working into the workforce and tackling unemployment instead of spending increasing amounts of taxpayer money on welfare payments.


Woman's $55,000 compo award for slipping on gumnut overturned by Brisbane court

The doctrine that someone else is always responsible takes a tumble

QUEENSLAND'S highest court has overturned a decision to award an elderly woman $55,000 after she slipped on a gumnut while visiting family.

Florence Agnes Welch was 76 when she fell while walking down the stairs at Tim and Jane Graham's Brisbane home in 2006.

Ms Welch slipped on a gumnut that had fallen onto the step from a nearby tree. Ms Welch, who is Mrs Graham's aunt, sued the couple and NRMA Insurance.

Brisbane District Court judge Bill Everson found in Ms Welch's favour in May, ruling that the Grahams "were negligent in failing to provide and maintain a safe access to the house via the stairs by taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the stairs remained free of gumnuts".  He awarded Ms Welch $55,000 in damages.

However, the Grahams took the matter to the Court of Appeal in Brisbane.

In a judgment handed down on Friday, the court overturned the original decision on the grounds that Ms Welch knew about the presence of gumnuts on the steps and that the risk of injury was small as the steps were regularly cleaned.

The court ruled it was impossible to have native Australian trees in suburban surrounds without the possibility of seed pods on walkways.

The court found it was unreasonable to expect homeowners to trim or remove all trees that posed any remote risk.


No cigar for photography phobia

A MOTHER and daughter who were refused drivers licences because they would not allow themselves to be photographed for religious reasons were not discriminated against, a tribunal has found.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, in a just-published decision, dismissed complaints of discrimination made by Sunrise Eliza Kayah Celeste Emanuel and Mimi Yahjah Emanuel (previously known as Wilhelmina Maria Anthonia).

The pair had claimed they had been discriminated against when the Queensland Government's Transport Department refused to issue them with licences when they declined to be photographed - a statutory requirement.

QCAT member Robert Wensley, QC, in a decision handed down late last year but only published this week, said the Emanuels claimed the refusal of Queensland Transport to issue them with licences due to their religious beliefs was a breach of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Mr Wensley, in his 21-page judgment, said: "Each of these ladies complains that they have been unlawfully discriminated against because the State of Queensland has refused to issue them with driver licences because they declined to allow themselves to be photographed."

"Each (woman) says that she cannot agree to having her photograph taken for this purpose because her religious beliefs prevent it, the taking of a photograph being in direct violation of God's Second Commandment."

The Second Commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Source: Wikipedia)

The women's complaint arose when they changed their names, legally, and attempted to have their existing drivers licences reissued, the tribunal was told.

"Queensland Transport refused to do this, when the ladies said that they could not have their photographs taken because of their religious beliefs," Mr Wensley said.

The pair, in presenting their case to the tribunal, tendered a copy of the Holy Bible in support of their argument.

"(They also tendered) a copy of a book written by Mrs Mimi Emanuel called 'Who's on the LORD's side', which deals in some detail with Mrs Mimi Emanuel's study and understanding of the Second Commandment," he said.

However, Mr Wensley dismissed the pair's complaint, saying it was reasonable for photographs be on licences.

"I conclude that the imposition of the requirement, to have a photograph on a Queensland driver licence, is a reasonable one in all of the circumstances," he said.

"Therefore, the claims of indirect discrimination must fail."


Bowel cancer screening:  Queensland Health Complaints Commissioner demands open waiting lists

THREE bowel cancer patients have complained to Queensland's independent health watchdog in the past nine months about diagnostic delays after long waits for colonoscopies in the public hospital system.

The issue has prompted Health Quality and Complaints Commissioner Russell Stitz, a colorectal surgeon, to call for colonoscopy lists to be published on the Queensland Health website.

Although public hospitals are required to publish their elective surgery waiting lists, colonoscopies are not included because they are considered medical procedures, rather than surgical operations.

"There's no doubt in my mind that there's a problem out there with delayed diagnosis as a result of delayed access to colonoscopy," Dr Stitz said. "We have anecdotal evidence from colorectal surgeons that delays are having an impact on patient outcomes."

The problem has been exacerbated in recent years by increased demand for colonoscopies created by the Federal Government's bowel cancer screening program.

Cancer Council Queensland spokeswoman Anne Savage supported the call for colonoscopy waiting lists to be reported in hospital performance data.

"Every week bowel cancer kills about 17 Queenslanders," she said. "We know nearly all cases can be cured if found early enough. If the cancer is detected before it has spread beyond the bowel, the chance of surviving for at least five years after diagnosis is 90 per cent.

"Symptoms of bowel cancer often don't become obvious until the cancer has reached a relatively advanced stage, which is why screening and early detection is so important."

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Alex Markwell said patients requiring colonoscopies should be informed about public hospital waiting times to give them the option of making alternative arrangements, if possible.

"If you know it's going to be four years before you'll have any opportunity to have a particular procedure, then you may decide to cash out some leave, or take on some extra work, and pay for it yourself," Dr Markwell said.

"But if you're stuck on a list and you don't know when, or if, you might get seen, that's a horrible position to be in and people can't make informed decisions about their healthcare.

"That's a really important area that we need to improve."

Bundaberg patient advocate Beryl Crosby, who has been lobbying for colonoscopy lists to be made public, described the long waits for the procedure as "shameful".

"I have been told that there are already patients who have waited too long and have had bad outcomes," she said.

More than 2800 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed in Queensland each year.


19 October, 2012

Tiny loss is  first loss for an  Australian bank in 20 years

What a contrast with the U.S. and U.K. bank situation!

BANK of Queensland (BOQ) says it has turned a corner after posting a full year loss of $17.1 million, the first full year loss by an Australian bank in 20 years.

The loss for the year to August 31 compares to a net profit of $158.7 million in the previous 12 months. BOQ had forecast the result, which was caused by its exposure to the struggling southeast Queensland property market and other one-off items.

Chief executive Stuart Grimshaw said the bank was profitable in the second half of its fiscal year, and the next 12 months should be more positive.

"We've addressed the basics to become operationally fit and are focused on delivering better services for our customers and profitable growth for shareholders," he said. "I believe we have reached a crucial turnaround point and I'm looking forward to the next 12 months."

BOQ shares were down 11 cents, or 1.4 per cent, at $7.25 at 10.50am AEDT.

Mr Grimshaw said the bank's asset quality and risk management had been addressed.

"We have seen a fall in mortgage arrears over the past few months. However, we continue to be prudently provided for, hence the top-up of our collective provisions," he said.

BOQ raised its provisions for bad debt expenses in the second half of its fiscal year, which contributed to the full year loss.

"We are seeing stabilisation in the commercial portfolio with no new large impaired exposures in the second half," Mr Grimshaw said.

There are also some early signs of consumers returning to the housing market, he said.

However, the wider economic conditions remained challenging, with consumers still cautious and demand for loans subdued, Mr Grimshaw said.

BOQ's normalised cash profit in the year to August, which excludes one-off items, was $30.6 million, down from $176.6 million in the previous year.

BOQ declared a fully-franked final dividend of 26 cents per share, taking the full year dividend to 52 cents per share, down from 54 cents in the previous year.


Parents lose fight over religion in school

A TRIBUNAL has ruled that children who opt out of special religious instruction classes in state primary schools are not being discriminated against under the Equal Opportunity Act.

Psychologist Sophie Aitken and two other parents argued the Education Department discriminated against children who did not participate in the classes because they were identified as different and separated from their classmates on the basis of their religious belief.

They also claimed the fact students could not be taught the normal school curriculum while their peers attended the religion classes was discriminatory.

But Judge Timothy Ginnane dismissed their request that he order the Education Department to hold the classes outside school hours, make parents explicitly opt their children into the classes, or provide equivalent instruction for students who did not attend.

In his decision in the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal, published today, he said the parents had not established the state had discriminated against the eight children, who were aged between 6 and 12.

"Attendance by a child at special religious instruction does not, necessarily, indicate that the child, or the parents, hold any particular religious beliefs," Judge Ginnane said.

He said Parliament had authorised the provision of religious instruction in Victoria 60 years ago and the law was re-enacted six years ago.

"Instruction is not compulsory and parents have a choice whether their children attend. If they do not, they engage in useful, non-curriculum activities under teachers' supervision."

He said the religious classes had been implemented at the three schools in a thoughtful manner.

"The evidence did not establish that the children, who did not attend SRI at the three schools, were treated in any discriminatory manner."

Special religious instruction, which is mostly provided by Christian education provider Access Ministries, is offered at about two-thirds of the 1200 state primary schools in Victoria. The half-hour classes, which are held once a week, were changed from opt-out to opt-in last year after the parents lodged their complaint.

If an accredited instructor is available, schools must offer special religious instruction.

Ms Aitken, whose children attend Ivanhoe East Primary, told the tribunal her son Toby brought home a colouring sheet stating "God made the world" when she forgot to hand in his form indicating he had been opted out of special religious instruction.

When Ms Aitken told Toby this is not what she believed, he asked: "Why would a teacher say it if it wasn't true?"

The classmate of another son, Howard, told him he would go to hell if he did not believe in God.

But Judge Ginnane said he accepted the teachers' evidence there was no teasing, bullying or pressure on students to attend special religious instruction.

Education Minister Martin Dixon and Access Ministries chairman Bishop Stephen Hale welcomed the finding that the Education Department had not discriminated against students.

"It is very reassuring to know the judge upheld our belief the guidelines aren't discriminatory and we respect the right of parents to have the option to opt out," Bishop Hale said.

But Ms Aitken, who is yet to decide whether she will appeal, told The Age she was disappointed by the decision.

"This leaves kids as young as five being separated from their peers on religious grounds, where non-Christian children are treated differently by not being offered proper instruction during this time," Ms Aitken said.

"I would encourage families, whatever their religious affiliation, to protest against this system by opting their children out of SRI."

Parent group Fairness in Religions in School said the judgment simply highlighted that the act itself was insufficient. "The fact that the judge found no discrimination does not make Special Religious Instruction right, it simply means that the schools have done their best under difficult circumstances," said spokeswoman Lisel Thomas.

"Teachers don't want to segregate children on religious grounds. We say, let's take this burden off government schools and let them deliver inclusive education, where children of all faiths can learn together. State schools are not church playgrounds."



Three current articles below

Renewables energy target 'driving up prices'

THE Australian Energy Markets Commission has warned that the renewables energy target is distorting power markets, both driving up power prices for consumers while causing uneconomic outcomes for generators and their owners.

"I do have some issues with the competitive sector of the electricity market," the commission's chairman, John Pierce, told a business forum earlier today.

"The renewables energy target, especially, [since] one consequence is to depress wholesale [electricity] prices and drive retail [electricity] prices up." This is because electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as wind earns much of its revenue from renewable energy certificates and not primarily from the electricity market, unlike competing generators.

And, due to its intermittent source of energy, it will produce electricity even when it would not be economic to do so, which forces down power prices to unrealistic levels.

As a result, the wholesale price of electricity has been driven down by rising renewables output, which can make it uneconomic for larger generators to produce electricity, and make it difficult for investors to back new projects in the future.

"That is reflected by changes of state regulators changing wholesale producer allowances, moving away from marginal cost basis to using estimates of spot prices on the [national electricity market]," he said.

This will undermine the competitive position of the smaller, independent power retailers, who do not own their own source of electricity supply, and ultimately may reduce the level of competition in the electricity markets.

Separately, the NSW Minister for Energy, Chris Hartcher, said the poor management of the electricity sector had resulted in electricity distributors over-investing as much as $1.8-1.9 billion over the past five years.

In Victoria, the figure was a more modest $400 million, he said.

This is due to the poor way the sector has been managed by the Australian Energy Regulator, which approves spending plans of the network companies. As a result, NSW wants the AER to be separated from the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, he said.

Mr Hartcher ruled out reducing the reliability standard of electricity supply in NSW, which has been the subject of some debate as the source of much of the over-investment in capacity in the network.

"Reliability is not an area of compromise," he told the forum.  Rather, he is looking for greater spending efficiencies, along with changes to work practices, to keep a lid on power prices.

Earlier today, the Productivity Commission released a report, highlighting the poor management of the electricity sector in unnecessarily driving up power prices.

Mr Pierce's comments followed the decision earlier this week of EnergyAustralia, known formerly as TruEnergy, to shut down one of its generators at the Yallourn power station in Victoria. It blamed weak demand and the impact of the carbon price for its decision.


Despised  HOV lanes of freeway to be scrapped by new conservative government

The High Occupancy Vehicle lanes beloved of Greenies are called T2 and T3 lanes in Queensland.  Brisbane also has a "Green bridge" over which buses only are allowed.  Lets's hope that nonsense ends soon too

THE despised T2 lanes on the Pacific Motorway will be scrapped next year and replaced with a total of four general traffic lanes, increasing the road capacity by 50 per cent.

Transport Minister Scott Emerson will announce the changes on Thursday which will be in place by mid-2013 at a cost of $5 million.

The reconfiguration means the removal of two of the "shoulders" or "police enforcement lanes" which flank the three existing traffic lanes.

Mr Emerson said the price tag was a bargain compared with the $100 million it would cost to build the extra lanes, if the T2 lanes were retained.  "The T2 lanes had 10 years and the feedback that I get from most people who use this road is that they don't think it's being used sufficiently to justify it continuing," Mr Emerson said.  "It's important to realise that by getting rid of the T2 lane we actually get an extra lane as well.  "That's a pretty big win for motorists."

He said the eight-lane section would run for 5km from the Klumpp Rd interchange to the Gateway Motorway merge, before reverting to six lanes.

"The Pacific Motorway during peak times looks like a car park and so this announcement will mean greater capacity for motorists travelling on this stretch," Mr Emerson said.

Paul Turner from peak motoring body RACQ welcomed the decision and urged the Brisbane City Council to also consider the future of its T2 and T3 lanes on suburban streets.

"The T2 lane (on the M3) has caused more congestion than it's solved because it's forced traffic into two lanes which could be three, or even four as it turns out," Mr Turner said.

"Overall we think lanes that artificially limit the traffic haven't worked and we'd like to see them removed."

He said the lanes' removal would reduce poor behaviour by frustrated motorists.

A spokesman for Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said BCC recently removed the T2 lane on Tiber St at Norman Park which was less than 1km long.


"Public" bikes in Brisbane spark little interest

WITH some 165 cities around the world now operating public bike-sharing schemes, it seems that any globally-aspiring city must have one.

They are part of a familiar checklist for cities striving to become the greenest, the most innovative, the most liveable.

* Show-stopping architecture? Check.

* Thriving cafe/restaurant/bar scene? Check.

* Non-stop stream of cultural events? Check.

* Bike share scheme? Check.

In 2010, Brisbane and Melbourne introduced Australia's first schemes, which work by allowing subscribers access to a network of bicycles docked in stations scattered around the city. Brisbane has up to 2000 bikes and 150 stations, while Melbourne has 600 bikes and 50 stations.

Such schemes show a lot of promise in helping address critical environmental, social and planning issues faced by cities, but only if they are implemented with local conditions in mind, not copied and pasted, as appears to have been the case in Australia.

As a result, the Australian schemes are at risk of being more ornamental than functional.

Both Brisbane and Melbourne's have attracted criticism for their underwhelming performance, leading to adjustments on the run.

Prices have been lowered, helmets made available and sign-up methods streamlined in the hope of enticing more people to subscribe.

Recent reporting indicates that the measures have had some impact in increasing usage, albeit from a low base.

Although, when set against the experience of similarly-sized schemes in comparable cities, usage rates are still much lower.

So, why haven't people taken to bike sharing in Australia yet?

New research led by Elliot Fishman from the Queensland University of Technology sheds some light on this. He and his colleagues asked people about their attitudes and behaviours regarding Brisbane's CityCycle bike sharing scheme.

The results are instructive, though not all that promising for a quick fix.

First, participants indicated that they would be more likely to use CityCycle if they could do so spontaneously. This is related in large part to mandatory helmet requirements.

Being required to wear a helmet for schemes such as CityCycle is akin to "opening up a pub and then asking everybody to bring their own glasses", Fishman told the ABC.

Australia is the only country operating a bike-share scheme with mandatory helmet requirements. Mexico City, for example, repealed its helmet law in preparation for its bike-sharing scheme.

The problem in Brisbane is not helped by other compounding factors, including the prohibitively lengthy sign-up process and 10pm closing of docking stations.

Survey participants were apprehensive about using CityCycle because of concerns about safety, which result from a lack of appropriate bicycle infrastructure and the perceived negative attitude of car drivers toward cyclists.

Although safety is an issue relating to cycling in general, the success of CityCycle is dependent on it being approachable for people without extensive cycling experience.

If unchanged, this is likely to fundamentally undermine the success of the scheme. Overcoming such barriers will not be quick and easy.

Mandatory helmet laws have considerable support, infrastructure takes years to rollout, and the attitudes of cyclists and drivers toward one another will likely be slow to change.

Nor is it a good look, in the meantime, having 150 fully-stocked bike stations around Brisbane acting as gentle but ever-present reminders of the scheme's limits.

In rushing to keep up with the Joneses, it seems that local realities have been underestimated or, worse, overlooked. It is, of course, not a bad thing looking for inspiration over the fence. It would be foolish to think that other places didn't have worthwhile ideas for making Australian cities better places to live, work and visit. It's just not much use unless you have your own house in order. And worse if you forget about the house altogether.


18 October, 2012

Boat People arriving in Australia now a flood

IMMIGRATION officials have conceded that more asylum seekers have arrived by boat since the budget than had been predicted, but they refused to be drawn on how much the extra numbers will cost taxpayers.

The government says people smugglers are profiting by as much as $2 million for each vessel that arrives.

The Coalition has seized on budget forecasts in May of 450 asylum seeker arrivals each month - a predicted total of 5400 for the financial year, which has already been eclipsed in the first three months starting in July.

The arrival of almost 500 asylum seekers on five boats at the weekend underlined the pressure on border controls. Nearly 8000 people have arrived by boat since July.

Labor's revised Pacific plan for Nauru and Papua New Guinea will accommodate about 2100 people, far fewer than the number who have arrived since August 13, when the policy was embraced.

The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, said people smugglers were making more money than some drug smugglers and they would fight hard to keep making money. People smugglers earned more than $1 million per boat and sometimes up to $2 million, he said.

Immigration officials were questioned in parliamentary hearings yesterday about the surge in arrivals but deflected the potential cost to the budget, which Labor brought down with only a thin surplus.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, denied offshore processing on Nauru, embraced by Labor in August after months of political stalemate over the people swap with Malaysia, had failed to deter arrivals.

"There is no doubt that there is wide awareness now of our new policies and that they are being noted," he told ABC Radio. "However, as I've consistently said, we have a very significant challenge in that we are tackling the lies and the spin of people smugglers."

The Immigration Department chief, Martin Bowles, said the number of asylum seekers was higher than expected. He said the costs were a matter for the government to deal with in the midyear budget update.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked officials who would bear responsibility for the psychological health of asylum seekers on Nauru.


Indian PM and "loose shoes" Gillard agree to start negotiations on uranium, international students

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has wrapped up her visit to India falling flat on her face saying the two biggest obstacles in the relationship - a ban on uranium sales and problems for international students - have been resolved.

Ms Gillard held formal talks with her counterpart Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and attended a state dinner in her honour.

The two prime ministers formally agreed to start talks to put in place nuclear safeguards so Australian uranium could be sold to India.

They also decided to boost military ties, have greater intelligence sharing to combat terrorism and piracy and to begin talks on a prisoner transfer deal.

They also announced there would be a formal leaders meeting every year either in each other's country or on the sideline of international forums they attended.

"This is important because having an annual leaders meeting keeps momentum in a relationship, gives high level oversight about how a relationship is developing and what more needs to be done," Ms Gillard said.

An Indian PM has not visited Australia for 26 years. Indian media said Dr Singh pulled out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth 12 months ago because of the issues of uranium and students.

Ms Gillard said she invited Dr Singh to visit and he "would love to come" but it was a question of finding a time that will work.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the presidential palace at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi. Picture: BM Meena/AFP

Dr Singh thanked Ms Gillard for removing the uranium ban, saying it was recognition of India's energy needs but also a sign of confidence in India's "record and credentials".

"I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard India's appreciation of this development," he said.

Ms Gillard said she believed Australia's image in India is "better than it was" when she last visited in 2009 as deputy PM at the height of claims of racism against Indian students in Australia "when the issue was hot and there was a media feeding frenzy".

India accounts for the second highest number of overseas students in Australia. Dr Singh raised the issue of student safety with Ms Gillard to thank her for protecting the welfare and security of Indian students in Australia.

Ms Gillard said she was pleased with her visit to India.

"I do believe in terms of the obstacles that were there in our relationship, that they have been dealt with, that we have reassured people about the circumstances for Indian students in Australia and we've changed our attitude on uranium and that has been appreciated here," she said before departing.

Dr Singh predicted a new phase of more intense and structured co-operation between the two countries.


Rich public housing tenants evicted in Canberra

The ACT government has begun evicting its wealthier public housing tenants, including one household earning more than $230,000 a year.

To date, 43 Housing ACT residents have been served with a notice to vacate as part of the government's crackdown on middle class tenants, which has caused concern amongs local welfare groups.

Approximately 250 households of the 1000 public housing renters paying market prices have declared household incomes of more than $80,000 a year over one or two financial years. Of these, more than 100 have reported household incomes in excess of $100,000 a year.

Housing Minister Joy Burch said the process, which began five years ago, would deliver housing to those most in need throughout the capital.

"With about 1900 individuals and families on our social housing waiting list, and almost 200 in the most urgent category, we need to ensure that our public housing is allocated to those most in need," she said.

"It is difficult to continue to support a situation where we have some public housing tenants who are in public housing are in a position to buy a house or comfortably rent in the private market when we have families experiencing homelessness on our waiting lists."

But Genevieve Bolton, from the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre, said the process failed to recognise the contribution that market renters made to public housing.

"It's a very short-sighted policy on behalf of the ACT government," she said.

Ms Bolton said people generally left public housing when they felt they could, and continuing tenancies could be due to mental and physical health issues, as well as finances.

"Often people remain in public housing due to a great level of uncertainty," she said. A spokesman for Ms Burch said each matter under review was considered case by case.

"For example, one tenant assessed by the panel will continue to reside at his ACT Housing property because of health reasons, for having a lower income than that reported in 2010-11, and another because he was retiring at the end of the year," he said.

Tenants can also appeal to ACAT against the decision of the panel, as well as ask for a second level review by the Housing and Tenancy Review Panel.

The Sustainable Incomes Multi-disciplinary panel established by the government has so far considered 59 matters relating to household incomes from $115,591 gross a year to $230,058.

Of these cases, 43 tenants are leaving while 11 will remain in public housing. A further four cases have been deferred and one matter has been withdrawn.

The spokesman for Ms Burch said the process had also prompted many public housing recipients to either buy their home or vacate voluntarily. Thirty-five tenants have already left without an order being issued.

As of mid-October, 26 market rent paying tenants had applied to buy their properties through the government's Sale-to-Tenant or Shared Equity schemes.  "Any properties sold will be replaced.

ACT Shelter executive officer Leigh Watson said the government needed to go one step further and increase its public housing stock.

"While ACT's percentage of housing stock is the highest nationally, the need is greater as those on the public housing waiting list are in a double bind due to the very high costs of private rental in the ACT," she said.

"The long waiting list also reflects a longstanding undersupply of public housing generally."


Many Australian homebuyers "underwater" too

MORE than 35 per cent of homebuyers who purchased the properties after 2008 are facing the prospect of being in negative equity.

And analysts warn that those homeowners with negative equity - their house being worth less than they owe on it - are likely to stay in that scenario for up to six years as property values remain "soggy" for some time to come.

The damaging JP Morgan report, released yesterday, comes as the Reserve Bank released the monthly minutes from its October meeting, which points to further rate cuts on Melbourne Cup Day.

The report shows large numbers of aspiring buyers are being locked out of the market as banks lift their lending requirements post-GFC. The level of new monthly mortgages being written has dropped from about 60,000 pre-GFC to about 45,000 this year.

Digital Finance Analytics principal Martin North warned house prices are likely to remain weak for years to come and may even fall as they are still at historically high levels compared to the average income.

The report defines negative equity as any house that has seen its value grow by less than 10 per cent - below inflation - in the past four years.

Queensland is the worst hit state, with 54 per cent of properties purchased since 2008 in negative equity. NSW is least affected with just 24.5 per cent of homes affected.

Since 2008 the national average home price has risen almost 10 per cent from $375,000 to $412,000, according to RP Data.

But in the same period the national level of negative equity jumped almost six-fold, from about 6 per cent of homes bought before 2008 to a whopping 35.6 per cent of homes acquired in the past four years.

JP Morgan banking analyst Scott Manning said despite the Reserve lowering interest rates to their lowest level in three years borrowers are finding it harder to get funds.


Brainless bureaucrats brewing a railway disaster

In response to a small accident they are going to bring in central locking for all train doors -- meaning people may not be able to get out in a crash

A boy fell from the Sunlander train after managing to open an external door. Source: The Courier-Mail

AN investigation into how a five-year-old boy fell out of the moving Sunlander train last December has found a child could have opened the door with little difficulty.

The child told investigators he was playing in the carriage vestibule area when he opened the "slam-shut" door and slipped on the wet floor, falling out of the train south of Aloomba in North Queensland.

Fortunately the Sunlander was travelling at only 15 to 23km/h at the time, and the boy was relatively unhurt, and managed to walk to a nearby road to get help.

Earlier, the boy and his ten-year-old brother were warned against playing in that part of the carriage, noted the Transport and Main Roads' report tabled in Parliament.

Despite the door having a two-stage locking mechanism, investigators found it was "easily opened".

"The first stage is labelled 'pull'. The second stage is a lever pulled down similar to many residential lever door handles," said the report.

"Investigators were able to open the door with one hand with minimal force required for either action. It is considered that a child would be able to open the door using two hands with little difficulty."

The wet floor was attributed to a water fountain, which may have overflowed.

Since the incident on December 21, 2011, Queensland Rail has reported another occurrence on April 17, 2012 in which an external door was found open on a moving Sunlander service.

The report recommended Queensland Rail implement additional engineering controls on current Sunlander rolling stock, and any other trains that use similar locking mechanisms on external doors.

Queensland Rail is now planning to install a modern central door locking system, which means doors remain locked when the train is in motion.

In the time since the boy fell out of the train, more rail safety announcements have been implemented and staff training increased.

Transport Minister Scott Emerson is yet to formally respond to the report.


17 October, 2012

Thank you, scum Gillard:  Wounded troops warning as health cuts hit Aussie soldiers

A small cut in Greenie nonsense would easily finance proper care

ABOUT 80,000 military personnel will receive lower standards of care, delays in treatment and won't be able to choose their preferred doctor under sweeping changes to defence health care.

Medicos have warned wounded troops could be forced to take out private insurance to avoid the impact of the contracts those who treat soldiers, sailors and air force staff are being forced to sign.

Surgeons and other specialists will be hit by a "not negotiable" 40 to 50 per cent drop in fees to treat military personnel at bases around Australia under government-imposed budget cuts.

The new military fees are well below Australian Medical Association rates.

All personnel, including those wounded in action or hurt on base or at home, are covered for full medical and dental care.

The latest assault on military entitlements, part of a $154 million 10-year budget cut to defence health services, follows an aborted attempt by top brass to remove family reunion travel from members over the age of 21.

Specialists are refusing to sign so-called garrison health services contracts with Medibank Health Solutions after the government-owned firm won a new $1.3 billion four-year contract in June.

"I urge the decision makers to look at the potentially destructive effect these contract changes will have on morale by limiting access to quality medical care for injuries they suffer in the service of their country," one orthopaedic surgeon said.

Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons national co-ordinator Stephen Milgate said members were very concerned about the trend towards US-style managed healthcare and many senior surgeons would refuse to sign the contract.

MHS spokesman Dr Ian Boyd said: "Our goal is to provide the best healthcare options for every eligible ADF member, but we also have to be responsible and cost-effective with the program's delivery."

"They either take a lower fee or they don't get the work," Mr Brown said.

A top orthopaedic surgeon, who asked not to be named, said he would not sign despite working with the military for the past 11 years.  "Cheapest price is unlikely to provide best practice outcomes for the personnel that should be valued by Defence," the surgeon said.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said he was concerned that Defence Budget cuts were impacting directly upon the men and women in service.

"These are the very people we ask to put their bodies and lives on the line to defend our country and yet the Gillard government is resorting to a cut price solution to their medical care," Senator Johnston said.


Being straight no longer normal, students taught

STUDENTS at 12 NSW high schools are being taught it is wrong and "heterosexist" to regard heterosexuality as the norm for human relationships.

The "Proud Schools" pilot program, implemented in 12 government schools in Sydney and the Hunter, is designed to stamp out "homophobia, transphobia (fear of transsexuals) and heterosexism".

Teachers are given professional development to learn to identify and stamp out any instances of "heterosexist" language in the playground, such as "that's so gay".

But at least 10 Liberal MPs are "extremely concerned" about the program, and will complain to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli this week.

The program defines "heterosexism" as the practice of "positioning heterosexuality as the norm for human relationship," according to the Proud Schools Consultation Report.

"It involves ignoring, making invisible or discriminating against non-heterosexual people, their relationships and their interests. Heterosexism feeds homophobia."

The program should "focus on the dominance of heterosexism rather than on homophobia," according to the minutes from the Proud Schools steering committee on March 22, 2011.

The $250,000 pilot program was initiated by the Labor government but Mr Piccoli has overseen its implementation in terms three and four this year at six high schools in Sydney and six in the Hunter.

"It is envisaged that this program will be made available to non-government schools as well," he said last year.

Upper house MP Fred Nile yesterday attacked the program, calling it "propaganda" and promised to raise the issue in parliament.

"I'm totally opposed to the brainwashing of high school students, especially when they are going through puberty," Mr Nile said.

"Homosexuals at most make up 2 per cent of the population - I don't know why the education department would give priority to promoting this (program).

"We will have more confused teenagers than ever ... children should be allowed to develop themselves."

In June, Mr Piccoli pledged the government's ongoing support of the pilot.

But last night his spokesman distanced the Coalition from the project, saying it was launched by his Labor predecessor Verity Firth in 2010.

"Minister Piccoli has continued to support the initiative. Professional learning is being developed to assist schools provide a safe and supportive environment for all students. All schools encourage their students to speak to each other and treat each other in a respectful manner."

He said any material prepared by a "third party" would not be approved for use in NSW.

The pilot drew on a similar program in Victoria, the "Safe Schools Coalition" to "support sexual diversity" in schools, which holds that gender and sexuality are not fixed but fluid concepts. In Victoria, each participating school is advised to erect a noticeboard specifically for gay, lesbian, transgender and "gender-questioning" young people.

Mr Piccoli's spokesman said Proud Schools was not based on the Victorian model, and noticeboards would not be required in NSW.

A Proud Schools consultation report also recommended that schools review existing PDHPE programs from Year 7 to "incorporate learning about same-sex attraction and sexual diversity".

The program was based on LaTrobe University research that schools are the "primary site of homophobic abuse".


Health concerns over sustainable fuel

BIODIESEL made from soy and canola produces compounds that can cause serious respiratory disease, researchers say.

A team from the Queensland University of Technology says the discovery could lead to restrictions on the use of biodiesel as an alternative to fossil fuel.

The team looked at a range of biologists made from soy, tallow and canola.

They found that burning diesel fuels with a high percentage of biodiesel - up to 80 per cent - produced higher emissions of compounds linked to respiratory disease.

The compounds, called reactive oxygen species, form on surface of small soot particles in exhaust emissions.

Reactive oxygen species can lead to the cell damage called oxidative stress which, over long periods of time, can progress to serious respiratory disease.

Postdoctoral fellow Dr Nicholas Psoriasis says care must be taken to guard against respiratory illness that could result from new fuels.

"Now we've identified a component of the emissions that causes the problem we can start to look for solutions," Dr Psoriasis said in a statement on Wednesday.

The team is now trying to understand the way the reactive oxygen species in the emissions are generated, and how to remove them.

Their work is aimed at providing the transport industry with fuels that have a favourable environmental impact and are acceptable from a human health perspective.


Constipated bureaucracy dealing with medical negligence

Nothing out of them for two years

THE parents of a young boy who died before he could see a doctor at a regional hospital have been heartened by a promise from Premier Campbell Newman to speed up an investigation into the tragedy.

Andrew and Trudy Olive, of Mooloolah on the Sunshine Coast, lost four-year-old Tom at Nambour Hospital on August 25, 2010.

In a 30-minute emergency department ordeal, a student nurse tended their son with faulty equipment and Mr Olive had to begin CPR when medical staff failed to notice Tom's heart had stopped.

They have since discovered that a rare, muscle-destroying condition caused their son's death, but say they will always be left wondering whether he could have been saved with different care.

With an investigation by the Health Quality and Complaints Commission yet to be finalised after two years, the family recently wrote to the Premier and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg asking why it was taking so long.

The Premier has responded, saying he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of Tom.

"My heart goes out to you and your wife. As a parent, I can appreciate how painful it must be to lose a child and I am sorry you are yet to receive the answers you need," Mr Newman wrote.

Mr Newman has written to the Health Minister and asked him to personally find out why the investigation was taking so long.

He said he had asked the minister to let him know if there were any reasons for the delay.

Mr Olive said it was a step forward. He said he and Trudy wanted to make sure other families did not have to go through what they did.

"We are dealing with our third health minister since that day and we are still waiting for the HQCC to complete interviews of staff," Mr Olive said.

"The community expects far more."

Mr Olive said Tom's condition did not have to be fatal and they had learned that with proper observation, death can be avoided.

The Olives said a coronial inquest could not be conducted until the HQCC investigation had been completed.

They have set up the Shine for Thomas Foundation to raise awareness of the illness.


16 October, 2012

Representing Australia as misogynist is the lie

Feminist hysteria over the top

According to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, it is wrong to talk down the economy since Australia has one of the best performing economies in the Western world. Fair enough.

However, supporters of the Prime Minister such as Anne Summers have expressed delight that Gillard's speech in Parliament last Tuesday has been noted in New York and London and has had more than 1 million downloads from YouTube. Yet the message of the Prime Minister's address is that Australia is a society riven by sexism and misogyny.

Gillard presented herself as a political leader who is attacked because of her gender. More seriously, the lead attack-dog is Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition and, as such, the alternative prime minister. According to the Prime Minister, she hears "misogyny, sexism every day from this Leader of the Opposition".

The message is clear. All that is standing between a civilised society, in which women play their proper role, and rampant woman-hating is the continuation of a Labor government. Yet such a message to overseas audiences is much more negative than talking down the Australian economy.

The facts are obvious. Women occupy senior roles in politics, business, the judiciary, medicine, law, even sections of the clergy. Labor's Gillard is Australia's first female prime minister. If the Coalition wins next year's election, the Liberal Party's deputy leader, Julie Bishop, will become the most senior female Coalition minister ever.

Certainly Gillard has experienced a degree of misogyny - especially from the likes of cartoonist Larry Pickering, who, these days, is a bit player on the edge of Australian politics. Some of this unpleasantness is documented in Summers's 2012 Human Rights and Social Justice Lecture.

The problem is that, at times, Summers goes right over the top. For example, she claims the word liar "was not a term used against back-flipping male prime ministers". But it was. In the early 1980s, Bob Hawke called Malcolm Fraser a liar. Summers went on to work for Hawke. In 2006, Kevin Rudd called Howard a liar. There are all too many examples.

I agree with Summers it is "terrible" to call the Prime Minister a liar. However, when I asked her if she had expressed such a view when Howard was called a liar, she declined to answer the question. Summers also takes offence that, on occasions, Gillard is referred to as "she" or "her" and maintains that "previous prime ministers were accorded the basic respect of being referred to by their last names".

This is manifestly not so. Moreover, last Thursday Gillard used the words "he" and "he's" in one sentence when referring to Abbott.

This is normal conversation.

It seems that Summers's evident sensitivity has had an impact on Gillard. Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister complained that Abbott was "now looking at his watch because, apparently, a woman has spoken for too long". In the 1992 US presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush was criticised for looking at his watch when debating Bill Clinton. This is not a gender specific act. Nor is being told to shut up. Nor is being called a "piece of work". Last year I was called a "piece of work" by the Sydney University academic Simon Chapman. It took me a full eight seconds to recover.

The problem with such over-readiness to take offence is that it can lead to setting impossible standards. Last Tuesday, Gillard stated Liberal parliamentary members who were present when Alan Jones made an offensive comment about her late father should have either left the room or walked up to Jones "and said this was not acceptable". Yet neither Wayne Swan nor Tanya Plibersek took either course of action last Wednesday when a comedian at a trade union function they attended made an indefensible reference to a senior female Coalition staffer.

Conservative female leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel - and social democrats such as Hillary Clinton - have learnt to accept criticism and to dismiss abuse. Last week in Greece, for example, Merkel was confronted with banners depicting her as a Nazi. It is difficult to imagine a greater insult. But she did not take offence. Likewise Thatcher, when some radical feminists declared she was really a man.

Gillard was very popular when she became Prime Minister in June 2010. Her credibility was diminished by Abbott doing his job as Opposition Leader and by the damaging leaks against her from inside Labor. Then, after the election, the Prime Minister did the unnecessary deal with the Greens and broke her promise not to introduce a carbon tax. Her problems stem from politics, not gender.

Gillard has suffered no greater abuse than that experienced by such predecessors as Fraser, Keating and Howard. Commentators who look at contemporary Australian politics and see wall-to-wall misogyny, diminish the very real achievements of Australian women in recent decades.


Turning back boats discussed: Opposition

THE federal opposition says people smuggling was discussed at leader Tony Abbott's meeting with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  However, Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, who was in the meeting on Monday, says Mr Abbott did not raise the coalition policy of turning back boats.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has confirmed Mr Abbott discussed people-smuggling issues with Mr Yudhoyono.

The issue of turning back the boats was discussed in a later meeting with Mr Natalegawa.

"The content of these discussions is private, as it should be," Mr Morrison told ABC Radio on Tuesday, adding the opportunity to discuss a broad range of matters at such a senior level was unprecedented for an opposition.

"(It) has been invaluable, serving to add further to the understanding and trust that already exists."

That would be critical to working in partnership with Indonesia to address people smuggling if the coalition was elected to power, Mr Morrison said.

In a speech to a business function in Jakarta on Monday, Mr Abbott said for Australia, people smuggling had become "a first order economic and security issue".

Border protection blowouts had cost almost $5 billion during the past four years.

As things stood, Australia had partially subcontracted its immigration program to people smugglers, Mr Abbott said.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he had zero concerns about Mr Abbott's one-on-one with the Indonesian's president.

"No, I think it's very positive," he told ABC radio.  "Any Australian opposition should have an engagement with Indonesia."

Senator Carr said the government had nothing to be worried about given its own excellent relationship with Jakarta.  "I've had more meetings with Marty Natalegawa ... than I have with any other foreign minister," he said.


New study finds migrant doctors working in Australia get more complaints

I suspect that this even more so in Britain.  I monitor British medical disasters daily at EYE ON BRITAIN and the erring doctors named mostly seem to have foreign names, with names like Mohammed, Hussein and Ali being particularly common.  I will have to do a formal count of them some day

OVERSEAS-trained doctors are more likely than Australian-trained ones to have complaints made about them and disciplinary action taken, a new study says.

The University of Melbourne research, published in the Medical Journal of Australia's October 15 issue, found that the results differed markedly by overseas country of training.

The study found that doctors who qualified in Nigeria, Egypt, Poland, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines and India had more complaints to medical boards than Australian-trained doctors.

The researchers analysed over 5000 complaints resolved by the medical boards in Victoria and Western Australia between 2001 and 2010.

They found that overall, overseas-trained doctors had 24 per cent higher odds of attracting complaints than Australian-trained doctors, and 41 per cent higher odds of having adverse disciplinary findings made against them.

The numbers of international medical graduates in Australian clinical practice have grown and now account for nearly 25 per cent of doctors in Australia.

The study's lead author Katie Elkin and research group leader David Studdert said high-profile cases featuring incompetent overseas-trained doctors had ignited public concerns.

But they said there had been very little hard evidence about whether the quality of care delivered by this large section of the national medical workforce was better or worse.

They found complaint rates against doctors trained in some countries were more than five times greater than complaint rates against doctors trained in other countries.

The authors said more research was needed into the reasons for the inter-country differences.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Balakrishnan Nair said the report highlighted the need for better assessment, mentoring and support systems for overseas-trained doctors.


More carelessness at Qld. hospital

Is Redcliffe a second Bundaberg?

A MOTHER-of-four's dream of having more children was dramatically cut short when she was caught up in a southeast Queensland hospital's clerical mix-up.

Disability pensioner Lisa Beckwith said she remained "shattered" and "distraught" after she was mistakenly told by staff at Redcliffe Hospital she had stage 3 cervical cancer and was advised to have a tubal ligation.

She has spoken out about her ordeal that occurred in 2006 after The Courier-Mail's exclusive reports last week revealed the death of 87-year-old grandmother Lillian Ivy Lane of Margate.

She died after receiving "excessive" doses of drugs at Redcliffe Hospital after routine knee surgery.

Mrs Beckwith, 42, yesterday told of how the birth of her daughter Olivia, now aged six, turned to heartbreak.

"Two weeks before I was to have my daughter Olivia in 2006 I was told to have a tubal ligation," she said.

She said she went to see hospital staff before her daughter Olivia was born to be told she would need a biopsy six weeks after delivering her baby. I said, 'excuse me, what for?' and (they) said 'for the cervical cancer you have'."

Mrs Beckwith said she was so concerned with the news she had been told, she signed a form to have a tubal ligation after Olivia's birth.

Several months after Mrs Beckwith had the procedure she was called in by hospital staff and told there had been a mix-up.

She said she was informed her details had been jumbled up with another patient's information which showed they had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Mrs Beckwith contacted the Health Quality and Complaints Commission, an independent and impartial statutory body, in September 2006 regarding the issues relating to her care at Redcliffe Hospital.

She also lodged a complaint which stated during her caesarean delivery of Olivia she was given an epidural that a contained a drug she was allergic to morphine.

An internal review was conducted by the hospital's senior officers and she was provided with a written response which the HQCC said was resolved to their satisfaction.

Mrs Beckwith contacted the Health Minister Lawrence Springborg this year outlining her complaints regarding poor treatment at the hospital and received a letter from him in August.

In the letter Mr Springborg stated "the results of the hospital's internal investigations concluded that the treatment provided was reasonable".

A spokesman for Mr Springborg yesterday said Queensland Health "handles hundreds of thousands of cases each year and, unfortunately, in a very small percentage of cases mistakes do occur".


15 October, 2012

Qld.: Fat-cat union bosses to be forced into the open

UNION bosses could be compelled to reveal their pay and perks under Newman Government plans to expose how members' money is spent.

In a move set to spark a war with the labour movement, Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has confirmed the extraordinary legislation is being considered.

Under the proposal, union officials would have to declare an array of personal professional interests, such as credit card statements, similar to state MPs.

Individual unions could also have to publicly account for all spending, with particular emphasis on political party expenditure.

Mr Bleijie yesterday told The Courier-Mail that union members had a right to know how their fees were being spent.

"The Newman Government will be pushing for legislative change at a state level to stamp out corruption and ensure the law provides more safety nets, checks and balances," he said.

Mr Bleijie denied the move was political payback for union campaigns against Premier Campbell Newman during the state election and their crusade against cuts under which thousands of public servants were effectively sacked.

He insisted the decision to consider the legislation came after several recent scandals, including allegations of credit card misuse levelled at federal Labor MP Craig Thomson.

The Commonwealth's bid to increase union accountability through amendments to the Fair Work Act had not gone far enough, he said.

"The amendments don't reform financial disclosure and reporting guidelines for registered organisations, so they are pointless," Mr Bleijie said.

"The problems we are now trying to solve were highlighted in the Cooke inquiry over 20 years ago. It recommended aligning accountability standards for unions and corporations.

"However, successive state Labor governments refused to introduce these accountability measures recommended by Marshall Cooke, QC."

When the legislation would be introduced is yet unknown with the content now only the subject of informal Cabinet discussions.

But it is understood the Government may reconsider introducing the legislation if unions agree to adopt a voluntary code and have independent auditors pore over their books.


Free speech rights in flux

Everyone has their own little megaphone and when herded together the noise can be louder than the racket from the most strident demagogue or shock jock in earshot. Now the law is being asked to step in and draw some lines in the sand, or on the wall, or in the cloud, or somewhere.

In England the Department of Public Prosecution and a bunch of "stakeholders" - lawyers, journalists, police - are trying to come up with guidelines as to what constitutes "offensive" communications on open or social media networks.

In our own lively backyard, the NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, has commissioned a "working group" to examine the impact of social media on the sanctity of the criminal trial process and what can be done about it.

These are examples of authorities flailing about and trying to look as though they are doing something. Whatever emerges by way of worthy recommendations, it is unlikely that this genie is going to get back in its bottle.

In Canberra, our High Court is being asked to decide where the freedom to speak stops, particularly when it comes to the implied, but not enshrined, constitutional right of free speech on matters of government and politics.

For instance, does a person in breach of a council bylaw have a right to preach fire and brimstone god-bothering sermons on the street, to the annoyance of shopkeepers and shoppers?

Even more "out there", does the constitutional protection extend to someone, who in defiance of the criminal law, sent offensive and distressing messages through the mail to the relatives of Australian soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan?

These are two actual cases heard this month by the same bench of the High Court (French CJ, along with justices Hayne, Heydon, Crennan, Kiefel and Bell). The decisions in both are reserved.

In the offensive letters case radical Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis was found guilty in April last year of using the postal service to cause offence and to menace and harass. In this instance it may have been difficult to glean the precise meaning of the letters but there was the suggestion that the dead soldiers were murderers. Amirah Droudis was charged with aiding and abetting.

Apart from the relatives of dead Australian Defence Force personnel, letters were also received by the relatives of an Austrade official who had been killed in the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on July 17, 2009.

There was lots of argument around what constitutes offensiveness. In its submission the Commonwealth said the mail could have provoked retaliation, including "civil commotion or riot".

David Bennett, QC, for Droudis, said "it is very easy to discard what one doesn't want to read". In that sense he was suggesting that not reading the letters was akin to turning off the radio if Alan Jones got on your wick.

But are these distressing letters on political matters constitutionally protected or, put another way, did this part of the criminal law dealing with offensive articles in the post exceed the legislative power of the Parliament because it infringed the implied right of free speech?

The trial judge thought the legislation did burden the freedom of communication about government or politics, but that it was nonetheless reasonably appropriate. The Court of Criminal Appeal basically agreed.

Now it's the High Court's turn, and it has the last say.

The Adelaide preachers Caleb and Samuel Corneloup have had a better run in the courts so far. An Adelaide City bylaw was used to stop the brothers Corneloup proselytising in a loud and aggressive manner in Rundle Mall. No one in Adelaide is allowed on the streets to "preach, canvass or harangue" without a permit.

The Corneloups won in the South Australian District Court, and the City of Adelaide lost an appeal in August last year, when the full Supreme Court found the bylaw was inconsistent with the implied constitutional freedom of political communication. The preaching, it appears, contained a good dose of political content. Again, the High Court will have the last word on whether the bylaw is an unreasonable burden on free speech.

What is refreshing is that these two cases, which are at the forefront of a free speech advance party, don't involve the new media. The "champions" are users of snail mail and street corners. How fitting it is that these overlooked communication devices are at the cutting edge of free speech jurisprudence.

Justice Michael Kirby has been relatively quiet since leaving the High Court but he was momentarily revived in the course of this bout of litigation. Here he is in an earlier free speech case. He's worth quoting at a little length because he rings a few bells for me:

"One might wish for more rationality, less superficiality, diminished invective and increased logic and persuasion in political discourse. But those of that view must find another homeland. From its earliest history, Australian politics has regularly included insult and emotion, calumny and invective, in its armoury of persuasion. They are part and parcel of the struggle of ideas.

"Anyone in doubt should listen for an hour or two to the broadcasts that bring debates of the Federal Parliament to the living rooms of the nation. This is the way present and potential elected representatives have long campaigned in Australia for the votes of constituents and the support of their policies. It is unlikely to change.

"By protecting from legislative burdens governmental and political communications in Australia, the constitution addresses the nation's representative government as it is practised. It does not protect only the whispered civilities of intellectual discourse."


Abusing the logic of human rights

Andrew Baker

Welfare reform is now a human rights abuse, according to the welfare lobby and the special interest groups they represent.

At the heart of the matter are the Gillard government’s reforms to Parenting Payment, which will move tens of thousands of parents of school-aged children onto the less generous Newstart Allowance, which also has tougher job search requirements. The reforms were passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

This move will save taxpayers more than $700 million over the next four years and will improve the incentives Parenting Payment recipients have to move from welfare to work.

However, these sensible and relatively modest reforms have been branded a potential human rights abuse worthy of the United Nations’ attention by the welfare lobby, led by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and the welfare-dependent parents affected by the reforms.

They argue that the government’s legislation violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states that everyone has a right to social security, including social insurance.

Additionally, the welfare lobby alleges that the government’s reforms violate the ‘principle of non-retrogression,’ which means if you have a right, that right cannot be reduced or removed.

By combining Article 9 of the convention with the principle of non-retrogression, the welfare lobby has added 1 + 1 to get 3.

A right to social security plus the principle of non-retrogression supposedly means if you receive welfare payments (in this case Parenting Payment), you can’t have that payment removed or reduced, which is what would happen if Parenting Payment recipients are moved to Newstart Allowance. Hence, the welfare lobby concludes, the government’s reforms are an abuse of human rights.

Clearly there is some very dodgy logic being employed here.

First, the right to social security is not being violated – people are simply moving from one social security payment to another – in this case, from Parenting Payment to Newstart.

Second, the principle of non-retrogression is not being violated – the right to social security as outlined in Article 9 is not being reduced or removed at all. The reforms do not ban or prevent people from receiving welfare – the only change is to the welfare payment they receive.

Third, Article 9 is being interpreted incorrectly – if you accept that everyone has a right to social security, it does not follow that everyone, or even a particular group of people, has a right to a specific payment paid at a specific rate – in this case, Parenting Payment.

Individually, each of these points repudiates the welfare lobby’s claims that the government’s reforms are a human rights abuse. Together they smash the claim out of the park.

Parents of school-aged children who move from Parenting Payment to Newstart Allowance should not be branded as victims of human rights abuse. What they really are is just another special interest group wanting to take more money out of taxpayers' pockets.


Leftist haters want to abolish private schools

Since 40% of Australian teens to private, this hasn't got a snowflake's in real-world politics

Jennifer Buckingham

A few weeks ago I was a panellist at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. The title of the session was ‘Abolish Private Schools.’ It became apparent within the first few minutes that a large number of people in attendance at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall that day held that sentiment as their personal motto. As a defender of non-government education, I was not just the devil’s advocate, I was the devil incarnate.

Pasi Sahlberg, the English-speaking world’s oracle on Finnish education, gave the introductory address. He argued that Finland’s high average and high equity in scores in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is due to universal comprehensive public education and the status and calibre of school teachers. With Sahlberg as the protagonist, the premise of the session was this: Finland has very few private schools, and they are not publicly funded. So, if Australia had no private schools, couldn’t we too achieve these things?

The first question posed to the panel was what would Australia’s education system be like without private schools and school choice? My response was that it would be pretty boring. I like the variety in Australia’s schools, and highly value the freedom parents have to be able to choose their child’s school. It’s fair to say I wasn’t a crowd-pleaser.

Most of Australia’s students in both public and non-governments schools do well by international standards. What we have, unfortunately, is a group of students whose performance is well below that of their peers. These students are typically from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and attend schools with similarly disadvantaged students. These struggling students need and deserve better, but abolishing private schools would do nothing to further this cause.

The different levels of socioeconomic inequity in Australian and Finnish schools reflect the different socioeconomic inequities in our societies. If all non-government schools became public schools overnight, there would be very little transfer of high-SES students into low SES schools. And, here’s the clincher – the public school system would become even more cash strapped. Instead of subsidising students to attend non-government schools at an average of $6,500 per student, each of those students would be entitled to the full public education rate – more than $11,000 per student at last count. Voluntary private investment in education would be replaced with scarce public money.

If you were trying to increase the impost on taxpayers with absolutely no educational benefit, it’s hard to think of a better way than this. A dangerous idea, indeed.

At least I can cross ‘be heckled at the Sydney Opera House’ off my to-do list.


14 October, 2012

Tasmanian dams exporting electricity to the mainland

If you want to get Greenies frothing at the mouth about this, just say "Lake Pedder".  Even better, say "enlarged Lake Pedder".  Greenies hate dams, even ones that just enlarge an existing lake

HYDRO Tasmania has sold $41 million worth of electricity across Basslink in the first three months of the carbon tax.

In a bonus for the state, a wet spring means that despite the exports, Hydro storages are higher than at June 30.

Hydro had stored water equivalent to 8890GWh of electricity on October 12 compared with 7794GWh on June 30 -- the highest level since 2006.

Hydro exported an average of 63GWh a week in the first quarter of the financial year, a total of 836GWh, at an average price of $49 a megawatt hour.

The carbon tax appears to have boosted spot prices on the National Electricity Market with the average price of $49 a megawatt hour comparing with last year's average for the same period of $31 a megawatt hour.

The carbon tax helps Hydro because it receives the higher price for electricity without having to pay the carbon tax, because water and wind generation does not produce carbon dioxide.

With an ability to store power, Hydro is well placed to export in summer when prices can shoot up to $12,500 per megawatt hour as Victorians and South Australians turn on air-conditioners.

In the mid-financial year report last year, the State Government increased the dividend it expected from Hydro from 50 to 70 per cent of underlying profit.

A State Government spokesman said recent Treasury modelling suggested that increased dividends from the government business enterprise would be worth $60 to $70 million a year to the Tasmanian budget.

"Dividend tax and rate equivalent income from GBEs is estimated to be $233 million in 2012-13 an increase of $14.8 million," the spokesman said.

"Beyond 2012-13, the forward estimates indicate that dividend, tax and rate equivalent income is forecast to grow to $310.7 million by 2015-16."


Sri Lankans not genuine refugees

ELECTRICIANS, security guards, government workers and businessmen were among a wave of middle-class asylum seekers caught leaving Sri Lanka by boat, the country's navy has revealed.

In a briefing to a Liberal MP on a study tour, Sri Lanka's navy revealed that most of the 2279 people arrested leaving on 52 boats this year from 24 locations were "economic migrants" looking for a better life in Australia.Sri Lankan authorities believed the asylum seekers had mortgaged property, taken out loans, pawned jewellery and received support from others to fund the $10,000 payment for people smugglers to take them to Australia.

The navy claimed in a briefing that asylum seekers chose to board unseaworthy one-engined boats for the dangerous 25 to 30-day journey to Australia in "appalling conditions" because of the "success rates" of Australia's asylum processing claim system.

Almost 100 of those arrested were businessmen, 179 were fishermen, 27 government workers, 87 drivers, 158 labourers, 15 electricians, 87 farmers and 43 masons.

Photographs taken by the navy (above) show filthy hulls into which dozens of people had been crammed along with pictures of each boat and a separate image of the asylum seekers, sometimes more than 100 from each boat, including pregnant women and very young children.

Sri Lankan officials have arrested eight people-smuggling kingpins, six of them in the Sri Lankan port city of Trincomalee.

Despite the arrests, 4109 Sri Lankans have reached Australia this year, including one boat carrying 70 people which arrived at the Cocos Islands yesterday. An unknown number have drowned.

Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, said yesterday there was no way of knowing how many had died on voyages but that relatives had reported family members missing to police.

Liberal MP Don Randall was briefed two weeks ago by the head of the navy in a region of Sri Lanka.

He spoke with 36 asylum seekers who had been arrested, including a man with his children. All said they wanted to come to Australia for a better life. Others who had been arrested were fishermen wanting to earn more.

"He had the rest of his family with him, he had sold his house, he resigned from his public service job," Mr Randall said before adding the asylum seekers who were arrested were not tortured or mistreated upon their return. Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said that after the largest refugee camp in Sri Lanka was closed last month, following the end of the nation's civil war in 2009, the government had an opportunity to return asylum seekers.

"Labor's inaction is encouraging more people to ... undertake a voyage even more dangerous than the one from Indonesia," Mr Morrison said.Asked about the report, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen declined to comment.

The UNHCR has recently returned more than 230,000 internally displaced Sri Lankans to their villages and assisted 873 who voluntarily returned from overseas.

A spokesman said the UNHCR still recommends "all claims by asylum seekers from Sri Lanka be considered on their individual merits", which the Australian government said it complies with.

Meanwhile, an Iranian man attempted suicide yesterday at the Nauru processing camp.Refugee advocates said the asylum seeker was "blue" when found. A Department of Immigration spokeswoman said he suffered no injuries.

When asked about the report, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen declined to comment.


Schools go man hunting as male teacher numbers sink to all-time low

SALARIES of up to $99,000, 12 weeks holiday and the chance to shape the next generation: they're the selling points that will be put to WA students to boost the number of men taking up teaching.

In the wake of new lows in male teacher numbers, Education Minister Peter Collier met the heads of the Catholic and public primary school principal bodies this week to map out a plan to stem the exodus.

Mr Collier said the state's brightest teachers would be sent into schools to sell the profession to high school students.

He said the teachers would correct misconceptions about the profession, including that it was low paid. Graduate starting salaries would be $60,545 from December.

"My view is we have to market (teaching) and I just don't mean an advertising campaign," he said. "I mean getting out there and marketing it within our school environments and that's what we've come up with.

"It's the best job on Earth. There are so many positive attributes to a teaching career. Our teachers are now the highest paid in the nation, the conditions are really good and there are a raft of different opportunities.

"And the rewards (are) every day you're dealing with a group of children who have got energy. You can make a seismic difference in terms of the direction those kids take," he said.

The latest statistics show men make up 12.21 per cent of teachers in public primary schools and 36.5 per cent in secondary schools. The figures do not include deputy principals and principals.

Men represent 19.72 per cent of the teaching workforce in all public schools, compared with 21.44 per cent five years ago.

WA Primary Principals Association president Steve Breen will meet Education Department and Catholic and independent schools representatives this week to discuss the plan.

Mr Breen said it was the first step in turning around "scary" statistics.

"It's one little cog," he said. "Once people start retiring, I think the percentages will be worse. The next issue will be how do we target the people in other professions who want to come in as career-changers."

Senior teachers earn up to $91,567, but that will increase to $99,201 by the final year of their pay agreement.


Father given apology over 'missing' girl put in care

Slovenly "child protection" again

Child protection authorities were forced to apologise to a Canberra father for placing his three-month-old daughter in foster care without his knowledge.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had reported his wife and child missing to police when the girl was taken into care after his estranged wife had a breakdown in 2010.

It wasn't until this year that a Family Court process informed the father his daughter had been voluntarily entered into care for about three months in 2010.

The man concedes there were allegations of domestic violence against him, but says a police report found them to be unfounded.

In a letter to the Community Services Directorate after a complaint by the father, Children and Young People commissioner Alasdair Roy recommended care and protection services review the case and "give serious consideration to providing an apology".

Mr Roy found the father "should have been contacted by CPS, formally assessed as to whether he was a suitable placement option, and been given the opportunity to respond to any concerns or allegations about his suitability".

In an apology to the father, care and protection services director Helen Pappas said: "I acknowledge that communication should have taken place with you from the very start. I would like to advise that the relevant policies are being reviewed in light of your experiences."

The man, who also lodged a complaint with Community Services Minister Joy Burch, said yesterday his rights as a father had been denied.

"It was only when Alasdair Roy said you've breached the legislation and I strongly recommend that you apologise that they did," he said.

"How many times has this happened before and these people are not accountable? Hopefully by raising this we can make some positive changes."

Canberra Liberals community services spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said Ms Burch was "ultimately responsible" for the matter.

"Apologies after the fact are not going to put this family together," she said. "I think this is an utterly horrifying case but it's an example of all the things that go wrong in the care and protection system.

"This is a matter of leadership. How many times do things have to catastrophically go wrong in her department before this minister will take responsibility and take hold of this department and turn it around?"

Ms Burch said the matter had occurred more than two years ago and reforms to the care and protection sector had been made since. She said an unreserved apology had been made and accused Ms Dunne of politicising the case.

"For the Canberra Liberals to play politics with a sensitive case without knowing the circumstances, and to attack the difficult decision made by a front-line worker without knowing the context is deplorable," she said.

"A week out from the election we are yet to see a single policy from the Canberra Liberals on vulnerable families or care and protection.

"All we get is more attacks on front-line staff whose jobs would be at risk under a Liberal government."


13 October, 2012


Today is my Sabbath but since I am already a bit belated in my response to the matters below, I have decided to put up my response today

Gillard's cheap shots in defence of a low-life

After the offensive statements about women from Peter Slipper came to light, Gillard defended him!  But she did so only by attacking past statements from Tony Abbott in which he expressed standard conservative views about the differing abilities of men and women.  She falsely equated such statements with misogyny in order to defend a real misogynist! 

She is always verbally fluent so it was a good example of defence by attack but at the expense of revealing her own internal moral vacuum.  A prominent female Leftist defending a disgusting misogynist with no respect for women?  It not only happened in Australia but was admired by Leftists around the word  -- thus again exposing the fact that for the Left anger and abuse is far more admirable than principles or rational argument

It left her immediate audience confused however  -- confused about what the rules are according to her and her party.  Even her own party members -- who had been vocally condemning Slipper -- were left confused.  Is everything now permissible or is nothing permissible?  And can there ever be any more such a thing as a private remark?

Comments from a long-time Australian political observer below.  Jack Waterford AM is Editor-at-Large of the Canberra Times.

Julia Gillard went impressively ballistic on Coalition misogyny this week. Her words echoed around the world, someone even suggesting that Barack Obama adopt her "I'm not gonna cop this any more" style to his encounters with Mitt Romney.

But as the moment reverberated around Parliament, was played and replayed on radio, social media and television, including overseas, and became an international discussion point, her immediate audience was not impressed.

The press gallery, regularly accused of being anti-Abbott, may have some sympathy to charges of sexist campaigns, but could not miss the irony of the occasion. And her colleagues felt somewhat humiliated about having to climb down from the moral grandstand they had enjoyed for a week to defend (as Gillard herself, to a point was doing) crude and misogynist comments made privately by a Speaker [Peter Slipper] already a corpse obviously swinging in the breeze.

Perhaps Gillard's outburst took some attention away from her defence of what she had admitted to be indefensible. But the contradiction was underlined when the Speaker, told by independents if not Gillard that the jig was up, resigned within a few hours of Gillard's speech.

A new supposedly anti-sexist principle became established as a rule. A private remark with a sexist edge is no longer permissible anywhere, perhaps even in comedy. No jokes, if anyone could possibly take offence.

Slipper had sent a text to a staffer making a derisive comparison of the pudenda and women generally, to the appearance of an unshelled mussel. It was misogynist - if of an ilk heard mostly from an unusual subset of gay men who seemed threatened by women.

Lesbians, too, have a vocabulary of dismissal of men by reference to their genitalia, and also of heterosexual women, or "breeders", and their noisome children or "crotchfruit".

Public figures caught using such phrases, or who use any number of other profane combinations, can now expect little mercy. But there is the world of difference between saying it in a conversation with one other person and saying it to an audience of young Liberals, or middle-aged builders labourers.

Slipper was stupid for committing his view of the world to writing, and to one of his employees. No one should be called to defend such remarks by others. But for the Alan Jones affair, it might have seemed that it was Abbott, rather than Gillard, who was seeking to create the new standard, by which the audience was irrelevant.

John Howard, I fancy, would have said, grumpily but effectively, that all sorts of people said all sorts of deplorable things, but that he did not feel himself obliged to deliver running rebukes.

The new rule has nothing much to do with preventing misogyny or disrespectful words or manners. It will bite people on all sides - Labor particularly I expect - before it is abandoned as unworkable. One hopes that this abandonment does not lead to an immediate outbreak of epic misogynist nastiness, simply so as to celebrate what some writers of the authoritarian right will call the demise of political correctness.

It all reminds of the publicity once given to a consciously teasing talk to law students by eminent Tory judge Roddy Meagher. He commented that in this politically correct age, one was no longer able to use the word "nigger". He personally had never used it and would not dream of doing so, since it seemed a bit hurtful, but he would like to feel that he could if he wanted. He much enjoyed the entirely predictable screams from what Howard might have called the usual suspects.

Close-quarter criticism of Gillard did not come from her complaints of sexism, or her putting some of it at the door of Abbott. It was because Slipper was her own own goal - a piece of cheap and nasty political cleverness at the expense of political principle, that had done Labor and her more harm than good. Another of her chickens home to roost. This was not just because Slipper had proven to be a rogue - although that had been predictable enough

It was clever, up to a point. And it did give her a bit of political leeway - in effect by increasing her majority to two. She used this to betray Andrew Wilkie, made pledges she no longer had the courage to keep - a point that further damaged her credibility. Like so many political tricks and coups, it also excited a degree of political admiration - not least for its poke in the eye of Abbott.

But it also linked Slipper's fate to her own, Slipper's reputation (known and unknown) to her own, and made her look grubby and unprincipled. In this respect, indeed, perhaps it rather more resembled Gough Whitlam's seduction of Vince Gair in 1974, than it did Howard's of Colston.

Gillard has over-egged the pudding in claiming to be a victim of sexism in politics. Certainly she is subjected to sexist abuse - particularly in social media - but it is hardly at the root of her political problems with voters. Yet one cannot blame her for making a big deal of her annoyance, refusing to take it any longer, or the professionalism with which she whacked Abbott between the eyes when he gave her the opportunity.

But even as women generally, or Labor women in particular, rejoice that she is standing up to sexism, they should be careful not to think that she has suddenly found judgment or now knows what she is doing, where she is going or how she will get there.

As Saint John Henry Newman might put it, the night is dark and she is far from home.


Abbott's response

TONY Abbott has refused to take a backward step in the pitched political battle now being called "the gender wars"

FIRING his own broadside at Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who had branded him a serial misogynist during a devastating parliamentary smack-down on Tuesday, Mr Abbott accused her of playing the sexism card to intimidate those wanting to criticise her.

Ms Gillard was unmoved and vowed to continue calling out sexism wherever she encountered it.

Her 15-minute parliamentary speech, ostensibly defending former speaker Peter Slipper, but which wound up as a barrage of rhetoric against Tony Abbott's alleged sexism, yesterday went viral.

Well-known mastheads such as the London Daily Telegraph, and The New Yorker carried positive stories of the feisty Aussie PM slamming sexism, while editorials and opinion writers cast her as a hero to women.

A feminist website praised her as a "bad-ass motherf . . . . .", while a more mainstream journal suggested President Barack Obama should adopt her straight-talking style.

But in Australia - where voters know the background of the issues in play, including the disgusting nature of the Slipper text messages - Ms Gillard's defence of Mr Slipper is seen differently.

Voters here viewed it as just more self-serving vitriol from a political culture that has become long on personal argument and short of substantive policy debate.

Tony Abbott called on people to simply move on from the sexism row and - rightly or wrongly - many voters are likely to agree.


12 October, 2012

Julia Gillard needs to man up

By Brendan O'Neill

YouTube sensation (and Prime Minister of Australia) Julia Gillard has been called a “badass motherf–––––” for her speech on sexism. The video of her laying into the Oz opposition leader Tony Abbott over his allegedly misogynistic views has gone wildly viral, being lapped up by bloggers and tweeters the world over, effectively making Gillard into the Susan Boyle of the feminist lobby. But what did Gillard actually say in her 15-minute excoriation of Abbott? In essence, she just said one thing, over and over and over again: “I am offended.”

In what was essentially a gratuitously ostentatious display of Gillard’s own emotional sensitivity to certain words and ideas, the Aussie PM continually played the offence card. “I was very offended” by something Abbott said about abortion, she said. “I was very personally offended by those comments”, she said about something else. “I was also very offended on behalf of the women of Australia”, she said, in relation to a comment Abbott made about housewives. It goes on and on. “I was offended too by the sexism… I was offended by those things… I am offended by their content… I am always offended by sexism… I am always offended by statements that are anti-women… I am offended by those things… I am offended by things.”

The speech was basically a big, massive offence-fest, a public display of Gillard’s ability and willingness to take offence, both personal offence and proxy offence on behalf of “the women of Australia”, at every slight or slur that she overhears.

That this speech has become a huge hit among web-based feminists says a lot about the state of modern feminism. Once, feminism was about giving offence; now it is about taking it. There was a time when feminists self-consciously and sometimes gloriously offended against everything from family values to Fifties-style morality to religious views of what women should be like. Now, feminists spend most of their time taking offence, and trumpeting their wounded, offended feelings from the rooftops: they’re offended by certain words, by gangsta rap, by Page 3, by porn, by sexist T-shirts, by pretty much everything.

The transformation of feminism from an assertive, offence-giving form of politics into a passive, offence-taking form of therapy reflects a change that has taken place across the political sphere. Feeling offended is the lingua franca of modern politics. Politics used to be about saying, “I believe in something and I am going to make it happen”. Now it is about saying, “I am offended by something and I am going to make it disappear”. From gay-rights groups that fight to have offensive adverts removed from buses right through to hot-headed Islamists in the East who make a fiery, often violent display of their feelings of offence over anti-Muslim movies and cartoons, everyone is playing the offended game; everyone is taking to a soapbox, not to tell the world what they think, but to tell us how they feel.

This promiscuous and weirdly proud offence-taking – where saying “I am offended” is now basically another way of saying “I am a good, moral person with high-level sensitivities” – is a very bad thing. It implicitly demands an end to offensiveness, to anything that certain people or groups might find upsetting. But some of the greatest gains in history were only made possible by people’s willingness to offend against cultural norms or accepted wisdoms – from Copernicus’s offensive suggestion that the earth orbited the Sun to Sylvia Pankhurst’s offensive proposal that women should be equal to men. In contrast, what was ever gained through trying to stamp out offensiveness and make everyone polite and sedate and samey? Nothing but conformism and a stultified public sphere. So, Madam Prime Minister Gillard, please man up. You are one of the most powerful women in the Southern Hemisphere. You should be bigger than this.


Labor failed its own sexism test: Bishop

DEPUTY Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says she knows the "offensive and tasteless" joke that was told during a comedy routine at a union dinner - and by staying in the room Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan had endorsed and condoned it.

Mr Swan's tolerance of the sexist comments meant Labor had failed the test it had set for the opposition, Ms Bishop said on Friday.

The joke was told before Mr Swan, the guest speaker, gave an address to a dinner for the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in Parliament House on Wednesday night.

Mr Swan has conceded he should have at least told organisers of the function that it was out of line, and says he did not walk out because he did not want to give the "offensive" comments another airing.

The joke about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's chief of staff Peta Credlin followed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's tirade against Mr Abbott in parliament this week, in which she accused him of being sexist and misogynistic.

She went on to to say that Australian women have had enough.

"When I see sexism and misogyny, I'm going to call it for what they are," Ms Gillard said after the parliamentary attack.

Ms Bishop told the Nine Network on Friday: "I have been told the content of the joke. It was tasteless. It was offensive to Tony Abbot's chief of staff.

"Labor have failed the very test they set for the opposition and Wayne Swan remained in the room after the joke was made ... by Labor's own test they endorsed and condoned the joke."

Ms Bishop also defended Opposition Leader Tony Abbott against sexism claims.  "I don't think Tony Abbott is sexist in the least," she said.  "He has always been respectful and supportive of me and my other female colleagues."

She also denied Tony Abbott's leadership was under threat from Malcolm Turnbull. "Tony Abbott is our leader and he has the full support of the coalition to continue as our leader," she said.


Uproar as students dress as 'traditional' Aboriginal people

The publication of a photograph of university students at an official college function dressed up to look like "traditional" Aboriginal people, with their faces and limbs painted brown, has forced an internal investigation and rapid re-education program.

The eight female students from the co-educational Cromwell College within the University of Queensland were depicted in the photo - taken last Tuesday - with wild hair, holding sticks and wearing material fashioned into makeshift loin cloths.

The photo made its way on to online social networking sites and quickly raised the ire of a number of indigenous Australians from around the country.

At least one contacted the college and the university directly, sparking the investigation.

"Think #racism and #blackface are unacceptable in Australia? ... Let UQ and Cromwell College know," one Twitter user wrote yesterday.  Another posted the photo again with the words included: "University of Queensland Cromwell College for aspiring racists everywhere."

But the residential college, which is associated with the Uniting Church and was founded in the 1950s, said the students acted out of ignorance, not malice.

The Cromwell College principal, Ross Switzer, said he had called a meeting of the entire college body last night and spoken to the young women involved in the photo.  He described their behaviour as "a young person's uneducated approximation of Aboriginal life".

"They were not aware of the blackface mocking or demeaning indigenous people," he said. "They were trying to give a tribute to indigenous Australians, not mock or demean them.

"I know that ignorance is no excuse for that behaviour [but] it was ignorance rather than an attempt to laugh at indigenous Australians."

Mr Switzer said the photo was taken shortly before an annual college dinner celebrating diversity across the world and that he had, since last night, organised cultural awareness training for his 250 residents.

The dinner was centred on Thanksgiving in honour of the college's exchange students from the US, he said.  However, the group of young women dressed to depict Aboriginal Australians went to the most trouble with their outfits, he said.

The Diversity Council Australia said the incident showed a deep ignorance of Aboriginal culture and religion in Australian society.

"I think is a societal thing," chief executive Nareen Young said.   "Because Australia denied Aboriginality for so long, the understanding of the religious and cultural significance of ceremony isn’t in the community."

Ms Young, who has an indigenous background herself, said Cromwell College responded appropriately yesterday by promising to bring in cultural awareness training. It also needed a reconciliation action plan, she said.


Woman in hospital for routine knee surgery dies due to improper record keeping

A SECRET investigation is under way into how a woman who went to hospital for routine knee surgery died an agonising death because of a clerical error.

The State Coroner heard how it took seven days for bungling hospital staff to discover they had made two separate medical charts for the woman, with paracetamol medications ordered and administered on both.

Five doctors and four nurses are reportedly under investigation by the secretive Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

The case was referred to AHPRA by Queensland's Health Quality and Complaints Commission, which investigated the scandal after a coroner's request.

The woman's death is a tragedy the so-called watchdog agencies do not want you to read about.  They declined to provide details. The woman's identity is unknown and the name of the hospital was suppressed.

A cover-up continues, with Queenslanders - and Parliament - not told whether those responsible were admonished.

It is known that a confidential investigation ordered by the HQCC concluded the medical team at an unnamed Brisbane hospital showed "disregard for basic medication safety practices".

The HQCC would not release the damning report, even to Mr Springborg. The so-called medical watchdog would not even say who conducted the inquiry.

The case highlights the lack of accountability and transparency in the medical industry and the treatment of negligence allegations.

A brief "case study" tabled in Parliament said the tragedy began when a woman went to hospital for an elective total knee replacement.

"Three days after surgery the woman became unwell," it said.  "She had not had a bowel motion after the operation and was experiencing persistent nausea and vomiting.  "The woman was diagnosed with a partial bowel obstruction.

"A nasogastric tube was inserted to feed her (so she was nil by mouth) and she was given intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and a blood transfusion.

"Over the next three days, the woman's condition improved and an oral diet was gradually re-introduced.

"Two days later the woman developed signs of another bowel obstruction, including vomiting, abdominal distention and pain . . . and she became increasingly dehydrated.

"After another two days, a nurse discovered that the woman had two separate medication charts, with paracetamol-based medications ordered and administered on both.

"The woman had therefore inadvertently received excessive amounts of paracetamol throughout the post-operative period.

"She was immediately started on treatment for paracetamol toxicity but her condition continued to deteriorate."  Near death, her family members elected to cease active resuscitation and she died shortly after.

"A coronial autopsy found the woman died of multiple organ failure due to, or as a consequence of, drug toxicity, predominantly paracetamol," Parliament was told.

With the help of an independent clinician the HQCC reported a "concerning pattern of disregard for basic medication safety practices across health professions".

The report noted the five doctors and four nurses "were either directly involved in the woman's care or had reviewed information, such as the woman's medical record, that would have enabled them to rectify the identified issues".

Queenslanders may never know the full story. It was not known whether the woman's family was seeking civil damages.


11 October, 2012

Another "green" firm bites the dust

AUSTRALIA'S largest manufacturer of clean energy producing wind turbine towers has collapsed spectacularly, sending another 156 workers home yesterday.

They joined a further 154 who were laid off immediately on Monday after the company called in voluntary administrator Ferrier Hodgson.

Ferrier Hodgson confirmed the 156 Wacol workers were told to report back to the facility on Monday.

The loss of clean energy jobs enraged the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, which warned that without strong anti-dumping laws and tougher industry participation more manufacturers would shut down.

AMWU State Secretary Rohan Webb said imported turbine towers for major wind farm projects endangered local manufacturing jobs.

"Sadly for these areas, skills and technology will now also be lost to Australian manufacturing," Mr Webb said.

Ferrier Hodgson partners Peter Gothard, Jim Sarantinos and Timothy Michael were put in charge of four companies in the RPG Group on Friday: RPG Holdings, Rollpress Proplate Group, RPG (SA), and RPG Pipe.

"The business is primarily involved in the construction of large steel structures, such as wind power-generation towers, the pilings for wharfs and bridges, pipes and other steel structures for the mining and renewable energy sectors," Ferrier Hodgson said in a statement.

"The administrators are hopeful that ongoing support from all stakeholders will allow for a sale of the remaining businesses to take place and the employment of staff preserved."

Dismissed staff were yet to discover if they would receive their full entitlements, with creditors due to place their claims before administrators at a meeting on Wednesday.

RPG is a 60-year-old Queensland company, which began life as GM Gurr - a small fabricator - before expanding into heavy steel processing and fabrication, and production of wind turbine towers.

A statement by federal member for Oxley Bernie Ripoll, whose electorate encompasses the Wacol facility, said "to date 83 per cent of projects for wind turbines have been locally manufactured. RPG has supplied in excess of 50 per cent of these towers".


Qld. Government considers jail for out-of-control children

The Queensland cxhild protection inquiry has formally asked the Crown to provide advice on what work has been done on a 'containment model' of care for unruly children. Picture: Tim Marsden Source: The Courier-Mail

A RETURN to juvenile detention is on the cards in Queensland as the child protection inquiry looks at a containment policy to house unruly kids who can't fit into a foster home.

The inquiry has heard previous Queensland governments examined a return to a form of institutional care for children removed from parents, but shelved it as too politically sensitive.

Now it has formally asked the Crown to provide advice on what work has been done on a "containment model - a more structured and restrictive placement of a child".

Counsel Assisting Ryan Haddrick said the inquiry wanted to know "what was considered, when was it considered and what structure was considered".

Commissioner Tim Carmody has expressed no view on the proposal but agreed to examine it and possibly include the issue in a forthcoming positions paper.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists backs a proposal relating to a new form of care, somewhere between juvenile detention and residential care in suburban homes.

"Such models provide secure therapeutic facilities for such young people where they can receive the therapeutic help they need before they are on a trajectory towards long term incarceration in the adult prison system," the institution said in a submission to the inquiry.

Largely abandoned by the end of the 1990s, institutional care for "wards of the state" was replaced with residential care, foster caring and juvenile detention only for those convicted of a crime.

The Forde Inquiry delivered a damning indictment of institution-style care more than a decade ago.

But a senior police officer last week made a powerful case for some form of legislatively-backed restraint for troubled kids unable to access one of the dwindling number of foster carers.

Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Waugh, officer in charge of the Logan District Child Protection Unit, revealed police resources throughout the Beenleigh/Logan districts were constantly deployed to residential homes - one home receiving more than 140 visits in six months.

Sen-Sgt Waugh, with nearly three decades policing experience, said a facility was needed where troubled kids were forced to reside to receive the attention they required.

Ian Hanger, QC, representing the Crown, told the inquiry a proposal similar to Sen-Sgt Waugh's suggestion had already been examined by a former state cabinet.

"There was a proposal along these lines a number of cabinets ago," he said. "It wasn't adopted. "

Mr Hanger suggested such a decision might require political courage.

The inquiry which sat in Aurukun yesterday is expected to hear further public evidence in Mount Isa early next week.


Reef Alarmists Jump The Shark

The Great Barrier Reef is doomed again. A recent widely publicised scientific study reports the dramatic finding that it has lost half its coral in the last 27 years. Forty-eight precent of the loss is attributed to storm damage, with bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish being responsible for 10% and 42% respectively. The average annual rate of coral loss over the 27-year period was estimated to be 3.38% and growth was put at 2.85%, leaving a net decline of 0.53% per year. Further effort and research on starfish control is suggested to be the most promising means of reversing the decline. Elimination of the loss due to starfish would leave a net gain of 0.89%.

While the news reports present the appearance of scientific precision and certainty, examination of the study itself reveals a number of doubtful assumptions, undisclosed conditions and instances where strong conflicting evidence is unmentioned. Examples of this include:

*    The margin of error in visual surveys of coral cover is high and unassessed; yet, they are presented to hundredths of a precent without any qualifying explanation, as if they are precisely accurate. Coral cover is highly variable between reefs and over different areas or at different years on the same reef. Visual estimates of the percentage of coral cover can differ significantly, depending on  where, when  and by whom  the observations were made. Also, many of the observers doing the surveys upon which this study is based were inexperienced students primed by learned expectations of threats to the reef.
 *   The reef is vast and in any given year surveys sample only a small portion. The reported sudden decline in coral cover in the last couple of years is almost certain to have been exaggerated by surveys made to assess the damage from severe cyclones crossing the reef in 2009 and 2011, with few or no surveys in unaffected areas in those years.
*    The study states, “Cyclone intensities are increasing with warming ocean temperatures….”

This statement is unsubstantiated and contrary to available evidence. The most definitive recent studies find no increase in tropical cyclone frequency or intensity. On the GBR severe cyclone activity for the past century has also been well below the level for the preceding century. The study also states:

“The recent frequency and intensity of mass coral bleaching are of major concern, and are directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases.”

No evidence exists for this claim. The mass-bleaching events of recent decades have coincided with surface water warming resulting from periods of extended calm associated with strong El Niño events. This impedes normal evaporative cooling as well as wave driven mixing. There is no evidence of any increase in the frequency or strength of El Niño events, and climate models project increased wind speeds from warming, not more calms. The report further states:
“Water quality is a key environmental driver for the GBR. Central and southern rivers now carry five- to ninefold higher nutrient and sediment loads from cleared, fertilized, and urbanized catchments into the GBR compared with pre-European settlement.”

No actual measurements of pre-European sedimentation rates exist. These are only estimates and extrapolations from unverified proxies which may or may not represent what is claimed. What is certain is that the inshore areas of the GBR are heavily blanketed in sediments that have accumulated over thousands of years and turbidity in coastal waters is overwhelmingly governed by re-suspension of these sediments through wave action, not by current day runoff from the land.

The most widely cited study purporting to show a large increase in sedimentation after European settlement was based on an increase in barium in coral skeletons just after 60,000 head of cattle were introduced into the Burdekin area in 1870. This was attributed to an increase in erosion caused by the cattle. But this period also coincided with the ending of an extended period of extreme drought and no explanation has ever been offered for why the barium level has subsequently decreased despite the million head of cattle now in the same catchment.

The assumption that levels of turbidity in flood runoff events are almost entirely attributable to farming and grazing is unwarranted, and it is readily observable that runoff turbidity from crop and grazing areas is often markedly less than from undisturbed natural areas. Crops and grasses are simply better at retaining soil than is either the rainforest or open eucalypt woodland they have replaced. Sediment-trapping by dams and cessation of the widespread annual burning practiced by the pre-European inhabitants of the area can also be expected to have reduced sediment outflows.

There is good reason to expect that agriculture and grazing may well have resulted in a net reduction in levels of sediment discharge, compared to pre-European condition. The claims of multi-fold increases in sedimentation are simply speculation wrapped in techno-waffle and presented as fact.....

The core claim is that the reef has lost half of its coral in the past 27 years and that: “Without significant changes to the rates of disturbance and coral growth, coral cover in the central and southern regions of the GBR is likely to decline to 5–10% by 2022.”

If this is true, the implications for future research and management are profound. It means that the current condition of the GBR is essentially no better than that of the heavily exploited and effectively unmanaged reefs of the Caribbean or SE Asia. It means all the money and effort that has gone into management and research has been an abject failure. It means that the promised “resilience” to environmental impacts that was the major justification for greatly expanded green zones and sundry other stringent and costly restrictions on productive usage have achieved nothing, and that the vaunted resilience has been just another theoretical academic fantasy. It means that the claims of having the best managed reefs in the world have been only a self-serving delusion. It means that all the past assertions of successful management have been untrue and the research supposedly supporting it has been either grossly incompetent or a deliberate misrepresentation.

Worse still, this all took place when, for nearly three decades the reef,  was supposedly dying off in clear view of all the experts and they even had the surveys to confirm it. Were they too slack to look at their data until now or did they hide it because it didn’t suit their agenda at the time? If they were that incompetent or dishonest in the past, why should we now believe them now? 

On the other hand, if the whole business of threats to the reef has simply been grossly exaggerated then it is also time to end the charade. In addition to rent-seekers there is abundant evidence of a variety of other unhealthy influences being involved as well. These include media sensationalism, political pandering for green votes, postmodern scientific corruption, “noble cause” corruption, ill-informed eco-evangelism and bureaucratic empire building.  

Regardless of the reef-salvation industry’s industry’s motives, its efforts can only be viewed as either honest but incompetent or duplicitous and self-serving. It is time to severely cut the funding for this elaborate and costly farce. By their own reckoning the reef saviours have failed miserably and we can no longer afford them.

Personally, I suspect that the surest way to save the reef would be to cut funding for management and research by half and link future cuts or increases to the balance of economic and environmental outcomes. I have little doubt that would soon effect a miraculous recovery.

Much more HERE

I won't back off PM, says Abbott

TONY ABBOTT has accused Julia Gillard of playing the gender card to deflect legitimate criticism as the sexism row between the opposition and government escalates following the resignation of Peter Slipper.

Mr Abbott, who was excoriated by Ms Gillard as sexist and misogynist in a speech on Tuesday that made international headlines, said he would not be backing off one bit.

"Just because the Prime Minister has sometimes been the victim of unfair criticism doesn't mean she can dismiss any criticism as sexism, that she can dismiss any criticism on gender grounds," he said.

"When she does wrong, as she did yesterday by leading the Peter Slipper defence team, she will be criticised."

As senior ministers backed the Prime Minister, she gave notice that she, too, would not be backing off. This included no longer tolerating what she described as "catcalls" frequently made by Mr Abbott across the dispatch table during question time.

In question time yesterday, Mr Abbott called Ms Gillard "a piece of work". Ms Gillard complained to the new Speaker, Anna Burke, who made Mr Abbott withdraw.

"I've had enough, Australian women have had enough, when I see sexism and misogyny, I will call them for what they are," Ms Gillard said.

Mr Abbott also accused Ms Gillard of milking the outrage caused by Alan Jones's offensive comments about her late father and said Labor had to "stop hyperventilating" about Jones.

Relations between Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott have reached a nadir after Mr Slipper resigned as Speaker on Tuesday night. His resignation followed a no-confidence motion moved by Mr Abbott. It failed by just one vote.

It was moved on the basis that Mr Slipper was unfit to occupy the position of Speaker because of text messages denigrating female genitalia that he had sent to his former aide James Ashby, who is suing him for sexual harassment.

As the Herald revealed yesterday, Mr Slipper resigned after being prevailed upon by the independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, with the imprimatur of the leader of government business, Anthony Albanese.

Mr Windsor said yesterday he and Mr Oakeshott voted with the government to defeat the motion because Mr Slipper deserved first to be given a chance to resign.  "I think he's entitled, as any of us are, to come in and explain the situation and he did that."  But Mr Windsor said had Mr Slipper not resigned, the independents would have voted him out next time.

A senior source told the Herald the government had also come to the view that Mr Slipper should resign but did not want to hand Mr Abbott a victory by supporting his motion.

Mr Abbott was accused of hypocrisy yesterday for saying he would accept Mr Slipper's vote while refusing to accept that of Craig Thomson, the former Labor MP sent to the crossbenches due to allegations he rorted his union credit card before entering Parliament in 2007.

Despite Mr Slipper still being subject to the sexual harassment case and a separate investigation into criminal allegations he rorted Cabcharges, Mr Abbott said the two cases were fundamentally different.

"Craig Thomson has been found by a quasi-judicial body to have misappropriated some half a million dollars in low-paid union members' money," he said.

Mr Slipper, he said, "was elected as a Coalition member" and "his electorate would expect him to vote with the Coalition, but I think he will be highly unpredictable on the crossbenches".


10 October, 2012

Qld. Magistrates ignoring tough new laws on dangerous drivers

MAGISTRATES are openly defying the Newman Government's crackdown on catch-me-if-you-can drivers because the penalties are "harsh and oppressive".

In what is looming as a major stand-off between the Government and the judiciary, a Cairns magistrate yesterday started hearing a reopened case into a driver who twice drove away from police before crashing his vehicle into a wall at Kingfisher Estate in Cairns.

Tough penalties for motorists who evade police were a popular part of the LNP's key law and order platform that swept the party to a landslide victory in March.

Matthew Nicolau, 18, unemployed, had pleaded guilty through his lawyer, to twice evading police before his vehicle crashed into a wall.

But co-ordinating magistrate Rob Spencer, in his decision to reopen the case told the court he and other judicial colleagues "in a number of centres" had decided not to accept pleas on similar charges in future matters and would send them all to trial.

He told the court the penalties under the new legislation passed by State Parliament in August were meant for "bank robbers" and high speed chases.

He said the new penalties - the loss of a driver's licence for two years and a mandatory $5000 fine - seemed "harsh and oppressive" and suggested police charge the motorist under a different section with a lesser penalty.

The previous penalty was the same as that for not wearing a seatbelt, a fine of $300.

Police commissioner Bob Atkinson called for a stronger deterrent after a 2011 Crime and Misconduct Commission review into 19 deaths, including three innocent bystanders, in police high speed pursuits.

At the time the legislation was passed, Police Minister Jack Dempsey said: "Those who evade police officers put the community in danger, risk the lives of police officers and under the former Labor government, walked away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist".

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has fielded calls to sack or remove Labor-appointed judges who are refusing to enforce the fresh laws by using the same powers that stood down Supreme Court judge Angelo Vasta in 1989.

Queensland Police Union acting president Shayne Maxwell said the new laws were popular with both voters and police.

"While not commenting specifically on this matter, it would be a worrying situation if judges and magistrates selectively chose which laws they would enforce and which laws they would ignore," Mr Maxwell said.


Secret proposals threaten the end to a free, open internet

It is the "most important meeting you've never heard of" — a behind-closed-doors battle for control of the internet that one of the web's founders fears may "put government handcuffs on the net".

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations organisation representing 193 countries, is reviewing international agreements governing telecommunications with a view to expanding its regulatory authority over the internet.

The ITU will hold a summit in Dubai in December where member countries will negotiate a treaty (last updated 24 years ago in Melbourne) that sets out regulations on how international voice, data and video traffic is handled.

The ITU, founded in 1865 at the dawn of the telegraph, presently focuses on telecommunications networks and radio frequency allocations but some members such as Russia, China and Iran will use the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to try to expand the treaty to include internet regulation.

Secret WCIT proposals from several stakeholders have been leaked on the website, giving rise to fears from civil liberties groups and the technology industry that the days of a free, open internet are coming to an end.

Chris Disspain, chief executive of Australian domain name administrator auDA, said moving from the current multi-stakeholder model to a government-centric UN-run model would "stifle innovation", be non-inclusive and result in new binding regulations on member governments.

"What it could mean is a whole series of ... new regulations reached by consensus or horse trading amongst governments, with no input from the community, on such things as data retention, censorship, usage, charging models, all sorts of things," Disspain told Fairfax.

Disspain, who is a member of the UN Secretary-General's Internet Governance Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group, said he was aware of European telco proposals for the ITU advocating the move to a user-pays model for services such as email.

He said at the UN, many proposals get "nodded through because people can't be bothered objecting" and there was a risk that "active governments like China and Iran and Russia" who were pushing to control the internet "may end up winning the day".

The issues will be discussed in Canberra tomorrow and Friday at the first Australian Internet Governance Forum.

Google Australia, one of the forum's sponsors, said the internet risks becoming a "slow and stale shadow of its former self" and it would use the event "to draw attention to global threats to the web's freedom from undemocratic and totalitarian regimes, using the ITU to drive their agenda, and the risks for Australia".

Kurt Wimmer, partner with Washington law firm Covington & Burling who has consulted on internet governance issues since the 90s, touched down in Australia yesterday ahead of this week's Canberra forum.

He told Fairfax decentralised regulation of the internet had been "more of a feature than a bug" and he worries the ITU proposal will legitimise the internet censorship conducted by some countries.

"It also hurts someone in Australia who is then unable to communicate effectively with a growing number of people on the internet who are going to be fenced off by these country-by-country systems," said Wimmer, former senior vice president and general counsel for newspaper group Gannett.

Washington DC-based Tom Wheeler, who previously worked in telco policy for three decades including as CEO of the US Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), called the Dubai summit "the most important meeting you've never heard of".

"What's really afoot, however, is an effort by some nations to rebalance the internet in their favour by reinstituting telecom regulatory concepts from the last century," he said.

"It is a struggle between nation-states — and their vassals — created in an era when networks aggregated economic and political power, and the new era in which the network's distributed architecture has a disaggregating effect on both economic and political power."

He said countries such as India, South Africa and Brazil would attempt to grab a piece of the internet's revenue in the same way they can apply tariffs and other regulations to those connecting with their telephone networks. Other countries like China and Russia would seek to place controls on the freedom of the internet.

"Seemingly benign proposals to allow for regulation related to 'crime' and 'security' would grant international imprimatur to the exertion of control over internet content," he said.

"The recent sentencing of Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot is illustrative in this regard. The Putin-protesting group was sentenced to jail for being a 'crude violation of the social order', a legal construction that WCIT could permit to be extended to the internet and justified as 'within international accords'."

Vinton Cerf, Google's chief internet evangelist who has been recognised as one of the "fathers of the internet", wrote in The New York Times in May that the internet stands at a "cross roads" and any attempts to make it a more closed, controlled medium could "wreak significant social and economic damage".

"The decisions taken in Dubai in December have the potential to put government handcuffs on the net," said Cerf. "To prevent that — and keep the internet open and free for the next generations — we need to prevent a fundamental shift in how the internet is governed."

He said of the 193 member countries, 40 censor internet content (up from four in 2002), and at the conference repressive regimes had an equal voting power to everyone else. Heavy lobbying was going on in secret discussions.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said last June the goal of Russia and its allies was "establishing international control over the internet" through the ITU. Other countries including China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have also submitted proposals to the UN for international internet regulation.

It is easy to see why Google is freaked out. Wheeler said the European Telecommunications Network Operators were lobbying to regulate "over the top" internet users which he said would add new regulations to companies like Google, Netflix and others who use carrier networks.

"It is another last-ditch effort to return to the day when regulators protected carriers from the nasty realities of innovation and competition," he said.

The US, which already has a significant influence on the internet and its core infrastructure, wants to maintain the status quo. US ambassador Terry Kramer, who will head the US delegation to the ITU conference, told reporters this week that doing nothing "would not be a terrible outcome at all", arguing the internet should be left as free and open as possible.

"We need to avoid suffocating the internet space through well-meaning but overly prescriptive proposals that would seek to control content or seek to mandate routing and payment practices," he said.

"That would send the internet back to a circuit switch era that is actually passing in history."

A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the multi-lateral forums that currently govern the internet have delivered us the "internet as we know it" and "to change the existing arrangements a strong case would need to be made".

While not specifically mentioning the ITU treaty, Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull came out in support of internet freedom in his Alfred Deakin lecture at the University of Melbourne on Monday night.

He criticised the Australian government for its attempts to control the freewheeling internet, previously with its internet filtering policy but now with proposals to store all Australians' internet usage data for two years.


Australia now world's 12th-largest economy

Australia's economy has overtaken Spain's to become the 12th-largest in the world, according to the Government's analysis of new International Monetary Fund (IMF) data.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has described the result as a "remarkable achievement" given Australia's relative population size.

"Since the Government came to office, Australia has moved up three places from 15th-largest economy to now be the 12th-largest economy in the world," Mr Swan said.

"Since 2007, Australia's economy has surpassed the economies of South Korea, Mexico and now Spain.

"These are three very different economies from three very different parts of the world, further highlighting the exceptional performance of our economy."

The comparisons are based on a country's gross domestic product expressed in the current exchange rate for the US dollar.

But it comes as the IMF cuts the growth outlook for the global economy and warns that while the recovery is continuing, it has weakened.

It says the debt crisis in the eurozone remains the most obvious threat to the global outlook and unemployment is likely to remain "elevated" in many parts of the world.

Despite the gloomy predictions, Mr Swan says the Government remains on track to deliver a surplus this financial year.

"The Australian economy remains the standout performer of the developed world, with solid growth, low unemployment, contained inflation, strong public finances and an enormous pipeline of investment in resources which is boosting our economic capacity and export volumes," Mr Swan said in a statement.

The Treasurer is due to deliver a budget update before the end of the year, which is expected to include significant spending cuts given the continuing decline in company tax receipts.


Manus Island designated for offshore processing

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has moved a resolution in Parliament to officially designate Manus Island in Papua New Guinea as a processing centre for asylum seekers.

Mr Bowen declared PNG as a regional processing country under the Migration Act this morning.  He says Manus Island will eventually be able to accept 600 asylum seekers and should be ready to take the first group within weeks.

The Government is already sending asylum seekers to Nauru, with 30 men - 17 from Afghanistan and 13 from Sri Lanka - being the latest group to arrive.

Mr Bowen says Labor's offshore processing policy is starting to work.  "It has been very clear to me for some time that we're in a battle of the truth with people smugglers - people smugglers out there saying 'don't worry about it, even if you get sent to Nauru it'll only be for a short time'," he said.

"And I think the people who've arrived in Australia have learned that that's not the case and several of them have taken the decision to return back to their country of origin."
Audio: Bowen signs off on Manus Island (AM)

Mr Bowen said he was not trying to exaggerate the number of people who had returned home, with hundreds still arriving in Australian waters each week.

"I'm not overstating the number who've returned home but I am pointing to that as something we haven't seen before in very significant numbers," he said.

"Of course we continue to talk to people about their options, but the fact that we've taken two relatively significant groups of people home to their homeland is, I think, a significant development.  "It just points to the fact that they believe they've been misled by the people smugglers and that's clearly what's going on."

Mr Bowen says the Government is continuing talks over its proposed Malaysia deal despite the Opposition saying it has long-term issues with it.  "We believe in it and the expert panel recommends it," he said.

"The Opposition's fanciful position is that all they need to do is introduce temporary protection visas and somehow get some magical agreement with Indonesia or not to turn boats around.

"Either get an agreement with them which they're not going to get or turn boats around to Indonesia without their agreement.

"The difference between the Malaysia agreement and turning boats around to Indonesia is that we have Malaysia's agreement to do it and it's safe, unlike turning boats around on the high seas."


9 October, 2012

Misogynist Peter Slipper still being supported by the Labor party

Slipper is undoubtedly one of the lower forms of life to creep into any parliament

Independent MP Tony Windsor says he plans to meet with Peter Slipper this week to determine if it is appropriate for him to return as Speaker.

Less than a week after Mr Windsor said he would not stand in Mr Slipper's way if he was to return to the Speaker's chair, on the condition was cleared of sexual harassment and CabCharge rorting allegations, the federal member for New England has revealed he is reconsidering his position on the matter.

The rethink comes as a series of crude text messages about women allegedly sent by Mr Slipper to his staffer James Ashby were tendered as evidence to the Federal Court.

Mr Windsor told ABC's Lateline program last night that he had not seen the documents containing the text messages but had read reports about them.

He said if the text messages were true, "I think it might raise other issues in terms of [Mr Slipper's] capacity to maintain himself in that position".

Mr Windsor said last week that if sexual harassment allegations against Mr Slipper were not found to be credible then he saw no reason he couldn't return as Speaker.

Mr Slipper has stood aside from the bulk of his Speaker duties while Mr Ashby's claims are dealt with.

If Mr Windsor withdraws his support for Mr Slipper returning as Speaker, it could make things difficult for the Gillard government because of its slim majority in Parliament.

Meanwhile, the opposition has continued its scathing attacks on the former Coalition member, with Deputy Leader Julie Bishop declaring the party's position is that Mr Slipper cannot remain as Speaker following his "disgusting and offensive" remarks about women.

"I believe Mr Slipper's position is untenable," Ms Julie Bishop told ABC radio this morning.

"He has made deeply offensive remarks about women, including women in the Parliament."

Ms Bishop says if Labor is genuinely concerned about what it terms sexist and misogynist behaviour then there is a serious test ahead for Julia Gillard.

"The Prime Minister must state whether she continues to support a person in the position of Speaker who makes disgusting and offensive remarks about women."

Opposition frontbencher Greg Hunt also said Mr Slipper's position was "untenable" as the language failed the "high standards expected from the head of the Parliament".


Voluble Leftists who once complained of censorship are now going all-out to censor Alan Jones

Jenna Price claims to be just an "ordinary" person who is "sick of the way that Alan Jones speaks to us and tries to whip up hate". Or so she told ABC Radio AM yesterday. Ms Price is the founder of a Facebook page which has campaigned - so far successfully - for companies to withdraw their advertising from Alan Jones's breakfast show on Macquarie Radio 2GB.

On her Facebook page yesterday, Ms Price was identifying with "the small, the defenceless, the vulnerable". Which is quite remarkable self-perception for someone who has worked as a journalist for most of her career, who has a weekly column in The Canberra Times and is an academic at the taxpayer-subsidised University of Technology, Sydney.

Ms Price's Destroy the Joint website was set up before Jones's distasteful and indefensible words about the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard - which were first reported in The Sunday Telegraph just over a week ago. It has achieved national prominence since then in campaigning for an advertising boycott of Jones's program.

Yesterday, Ms Price declined to take responsibility for the fact that some supporters of her cause have intimidated small businesses which traditionally advertise on Jones's program. She merely described such behaviour as "horrible". On Sky News last Sunday, Ms Price was quoted as saying: "I'm not a person who wants to sack Alan Jones; I want to re-educate Alan Jones."

Not content with educating media students at the UTS journalism program, Ms Price wants to re-educate Jones. According to her, people like Jones do not represent "the Australia our community wants". No surprise here. In fact, the UTS journalism community has as many political conservatives on staff as 2GB has leftist presenters. Namely, zip in both cases.

During John Howard's prime ministership, it was fashionable for high-profile left-wing academics to claim they were being censored. This was the thesis of the collection Silencing Dissent, edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison. The book, published in early 2007, accused the Howard government of being intolerant and authoritarian along with controlling public opinion and stifling debate.

This was a figment of left-wing academic imagination. In any event, not long after Silencing Dissent hit the bookshops, the Coalition was demolished at the polls by Kevin Rudd and Labor. Clearly, there was no silencing dissent during the Howard years. But there is a new intolerance emerging in Australia in the lead-up to the scheduled 2013 election which has been exacerbated by social media. A few examples illustrate the point:

Alan Jones insulted the Prime Minister and then apologised. The apology was not accepted by Julia Gillard, which is her prerogative. However, this incident has been used by Jones's opponents, many of whom have wanted to drive him out of the electronic media for many years, to intimidate 2GB advertisers.

Few, if any, of the civil liberties lobby have spoken out against the recommendation made by Ray Finkelstein, QC, that a news media council be established. This body, if established, would have the power to regulate virtually all media in Australia. Moreover, its findings - concerning which there is no proposed right of appeal - would be enforced by fining and/or imprisoning editors. The government is still considering Finkelstein's recommendations.

In the Eatock v Bolt case in 2011, Federal Court judge Mordy Bromberg not only found that the News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt had made inaccurate and offensive comments about the claimants he described as "fair-skinned Aboriginal people". Bromberg also railed against the "tone" of Bolt's articles. The judge objected to Bolt's sarcasm, mockery, cynicism, incivility, disrespect and irresponsibility. He said that, in assessing language, it is necessary to "read between the lines". Meaning that it is proper to find against columnists not only for what they write but also for what they do not write.

Then there is the matter of double standards. In 2011 the ABC paid for, and subsequently defended, the former Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis's comments that the Liberal MP Jillian Skinner was "like a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders". Ellis never apologised for this insult, which was published on the taxpayer-funded website The Drum. But to the likes of Ms Price, an apology by the former Liberal speechwriter Jones for offensive after-dinner comments at a university function are not acceptable.

Here's a reality check. Jones is not as influential as his critics or supporters believe. Nor is the Destroy the Joint movement. Ms Price has written on her Facebook page: "Macquarie Radio Network has offered to meet with us. Perhaps we should hire ANZ Stadium." Don't bother. Most of Ms Price's supporters are inner-city types who never listen to 2GB and who could not find their way to the sporting facilities at Homebush, even with the aid of a GPS.


Turnbull's doubts on storing digital data

OPPOSITION communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has given a thumbs down to the government's plan to allow greater interception and retention of private digital information.

Mr Turnbull said although he did not want to pre-empt the findings of a parliamentary inquiry, he had "very grave misgivings" about the proposal, which would give government more ability to monitor and gain access to data.

"It seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction," he said, delivering the Alfred Deakin Lecture in Melbourne.

"As the digital age shifted us from a default position of forgetting things to one of perpetual memory, we should be restoring as far as possible people's right not just to privacy, but to be able to delete material as they have been able to do in the analogue world."

Mr Turnbull said under the government plan internet companies would be required to store parts of everyone's data, but clarity was lacking as to what would be kept.

Nor had there been an explanation of the costs and benefits of this "sweeping and intrusive new power", including what, if any, cost was ascribed "to its chilling effect on free speech".

It had not been said whether any gains in national security or law enforcement - which were asserted as justification for the changes - would be monitored and verified.

Mr Turnbull said that, as a matter of principle, "if I am lawfully entitled to burn copies of the letters I have written to you and the letters you have sent me in return, why can I not do the same to my emails?

"If I can throw my diary and my photo album in the bin, why can I not delete my Facebook page?"


Campaign against Abbott is chutzpah at its worst

Peter Reith

Nicola Roxon's nasty, personal campaign against Tony Abbott is especially hypocritical given Peter Slipper's continuing role as Speaker in her own Government, writes Peter Reith.

Chutzpah is defined by Wikipedia as the quality of audacity for good or bad. Keating was full of chutzpah. He sometimes had an audacious style. And the gallery loved him because he was good copy for the papers.

Chutzpah is not to be confused with humour and ridicule. Mick Young was so funny, and his ridicule so effective, that when the Coalition was in Opposition, Mick had the Coalition laughing at itself. He was so good at the despatch box that at one time the Coalition whip was seen instructing Coalition backbenchers not to laugh at Mick's commentary on us.

Sadly, none of Labor's frontbench could match Mick, the former shearer, for either humour or ridicule, nor could they match the quirky academic tone of Barry Jones.

Instead, all we get now is one minister plagiarising The West Wing, one hideous singer, a Treasurer who looks to Bruce Springsteen for inspiration for economic advice, and the zealousness of ministers Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek as directed by the PM's Office. When it comes to chutzpah, these ministers take the prize for partisanship and self-righteousness.

On Insiders last Sunday, Roxon was as cool as a cucumber and utterly confident that there was nothing wrong with her nasty little personal campaign against Tony Abbott. She announced she was going to keep at it.

She seemed incapable of any realisation that not only did she have no basis for her campaign, but worse still, she could not see the yawning gap between her own behaviour over the Ashby case and the revelation of the attitude of Peter Slipper towards women.

In the Ashby case, she attacked him while his matter was before the courts, but refused to say anything about Slipper. It's no wonder George Brandis, the shadow attorney-general, questioned her fitness as the first law officer for the Commonwealth. She is a classic Labor warrior, but without the skill to persuade anybody of her cause.

Nicola Roxon seems to be in the habit of making claims that she can't substantiate. She floundered when pressed by Barrie Cassidy to outline her case. Her best answer was meaningless:

    "[Abbott]would refuse to acknowledge me and turn his back at functions that we went to together, much to the discomfort of the stakeholders who would invite us."

This does not mean anything other than the fact that Abbott does not like Nicola Roxon. So what! There are probably lots of men and women who don't like Roxon, but that does not make any of her critics a misogynist.

The truth is that this campaign will stop when PM Gillard calls off her lackeys. This is the test for Gillard, especially now that the Cabinet is split on the tactics, as demonstrated by Bob Carr. He at least has set the standard for Gillard when he appeared on Sky News's Australian Agenda (quoted in The Australian, October 8) to talk about Abbott's record with women:

    "Whatever points needed to be made have been made here. He'll be judged by women voters in that sense. And I think that Labor doesn't have to say that much more, that behind all the fuss and contention there are selfly committed women voters making up their own minds on this as Australian voters do."

What is particularly unfortunate about Roxon is that she has form. In the Ashby case, she was happy to spend large amounts of public money to assert that the Ashby claim was vexatious. Now we find that she has discontinued the claim and paid Ashby $50,000, and then resumed her claim publicly. This behaviour is inappropriate by any standards.

And she would claim that her motive is somehow premised on her long-held commitments to women's rights while she turns a blind eye to the fact that Mr Slipper is kept on as Speaker by the PM and the Labor Cabinet of which Ms Roxon is a leading member. So much for her belief in women's rights!

Now that really is chutzpah; and of the worst sort.


8 October, 2012

Workers' funds are not so super

Most funds underperform the stockmarket average and the fees charged are a lead weight.  And the rooster of today can easily become the feather duster of tomorrow.  Studying company form and making your own share purchases is hard to beat

MORE than six million Australians would have been better off stuffing cash under a mattress than putting it in their employers' default superannuation option over the last five financial years.

Today News Limited reveals the worst and best performing super funds in Australia over the past decade and the true cost of our inaction on super.

Most Australians make no active choice when it comes to super; the majority (60 per cent) have their super paid automatically into the default investment option of their employers chosen superannuation fund.

Thanks to the battering of the global financial crisis, every dollar invested in a typical default fund went backwards, after fees and taxes, by 0.3 per cent a year on average over the past five financial years, according to data from SelectingSuper, a service of research group Rainmaker.

Of the 83 default super options available over the five years, 51 delivered negative annual returns for members (6,066,129 member accounts) and 32 delivered positive returns (10,179,634 member accounts).

"The past decade, and the time since the global financial crisis especially, has been a train wreck for super funds," Alex Dunnin, head of research at Rainmaker, told News Limited.

But the SelectingSuper figures show choice of fund is crucial, revealing large and persistent divergences across fund performance.

The top performing default option REST Industry Super - delivered an average annual return of 6.7 per cent, after fees and taxes, to its nearly 2 million members over the decade.

The worst performing default option - Connelly Temple Employer Super - returned just 2.5 per cent a year to its 20,551 members.

So $10,000 invested in the worst fund a decade ago would be worth $12,800 today, but the same amount invested in the best fund would be worth $19,100 - a potential $6,300 windfall just from being in the best fund.

"We're spending all this money on super, but if you're in a dud fund, you're basically just pissing it up the wall," Mr Dunnin said.

The industry's mantra that "past performance is no guide to future performance" was not true, Mr Dunnin added.

In fact, Australians could gain a lot by comparing funds according to their longer term return over five or ten years and switching to the better performing funds.

"It's like footy teams. If you're consistently down the bottom of the league table then you're probably not going to win the championship the next year. Funds that are below average tend to stay below average."

The chief economist at CommSec, Craig James, said it was important not to make knee-jerk reactions to market downturns.

But, in theory, a person who had withdrawn money from their default super fund and put the cash under their mattress would at least have preserved the face value of their money.

"Not that this is a recommended strategy, but with the benefit of hindsight, some one who did that wouldn't have been any worse off, perhaps slightly better off."

Mr James said Australians would have to get used to more modest superannuation returns.

"I think perhaps in the past we had become too accustomed to super normal returns and expecting they were going to last forever. Really, when you think about investing for retirement, the bulk of those savings will be provided by your own hard work."


Construction code would keep militant building unions in line

THE Queensland construction industry wants a code of conduct and a state regulator to clamp down on militant building unions such as the CFMEU and BLF.

Master Builders Queensland and Australian Mines and Metals Association told a construction industry forum the increased militancy of unions was putting major construction projects at risk.

The claim follows the 59-day strike at the Queensland Children's Hospital site that stopped all construction work, and the Grocon dispute that ended in an ugly street riot in Melbourne.

Master Builders and the Australian Mines and Metals Association said it was made worse by the Federal Government scrapping the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Master Builders construction policy director John Crittall said the commercial sector of the Queensland building and construction industry over the past year had experienced one of the most difficult periods of unlawful industrial conduct in history.

At the hospital site a picket line was run by a union activist, rather than by the officials of the union, allowing the shutdown of the site to continue after Fair Work Australia ordered a return to work and a federal magistrate banned CFMEU officials from the site.

"The critical issue is the failure of the industrial system and the building unions to abide by the rule of law," Mr Crittall said.

"The emasculation of the ABCC and militant union tactics during agreement-making under the Fair Work legislation have resulted in unprecedented periods of industrial action and lost time."

He said the construction industry needed a stable industrial environment to lure investment and create jobs.

"The failure of the industrial system to cope with industrial disputes adds further weight to the need for a new building industry code of conduct in Queensland to protect building projects."

Australian Mines and Metals Association executive director of industry Minna Knight said the resources sector had been hit by wage blowouts and long delays because of the increased union powers under Fair Work legislation.

"Resources-related construction projects are forecast to create 40,000 new Queensland jobs by 2015, with around $200 billion worth of investment either under way or in the state's pipeline," Ms Knight said.

"But these could face excessive wage blowouts, costly delays by unions stalling agreement negotiations, and illegal strike activity.

"In the recent Grocon-CFMEU dispute, we have seen construction unions openly ignore court orders to return to work and ... cause reckless damage to important developments."


A SURGEON banned from operating at one of Melbourne's top private hospitals due to patient safety concerns is free to continue operating in other hospitals

His averages  give clear cause for concern

Cabrini Health stopped general surgeon Adam Skidmore performing colorectal surgery last year - but the ban does not extend to other hospitals.

Mr Skidmore strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Cabrini Health is also seeking to extend the ban on Mr Skidmore to exclude him from performing major upper gastrointestinal (GI) surgery.

That decision has been delayed after Mr Skidmore was granted a Supreme Court injunction to defer the decision until next month.

But despite Cabrini's move, which the hospital said was made "in the interests of patient safety", Mr Skidmore is still working unrestricted at the Epworth, Linacre Private, Sandringham and Frankston hospitals.

None of the hospitals or Mr Skidmore would comment when contacted by the Herald Sun while the case was before the court.

But patient advocates say hospitals should be forced to make restrictions public, while Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said doctors should be obliged to reveal work bans to all their employers.

Court documents show Cabrini's executive director of medical services, Associate Professor Simon Woods, told Mr Skidmore on April 5 that a review of his patients at Malvern had raised concerns.

"Unless I can be persuaded otherwise I believe that the appropriate course of action is to limit your clinical privileges to exclude major upper GI surgery," he said.

Associate Prof Woods cited four patients of particular concern, including a woman who had a gastric band removed and ended up in intensive care and in hospital for 38 days.

"This is a highly unusual outcome for a procedure normally characterised by an overnight stay," he said.

Mr Skidmore voluntarily suspended all his lists at Cabrini from April 10.

He asked for a review of the decision and complained he had not been afforded procedural fairness or time to defend "these serious allegations".

Mr Skidmore argued his data appeared skewed because he dealt with his most serious and complex cases at Cabrini as it was the only hospital available to him with an intensive care unit.

"Looking at length of stay alone ... is an unhelpful indicator of the performance of the surgeon," his lawyers wrote to the hospital.

The court file contains the terms of reference for the clinical review which states: "Mr Skidmore's case work at Malvern continues to be associated with a long length of stay."

It said that, in 2 1/2 years, 11 of Mr Skidmore's patients had required tracheostomy or ventilation for more than 96 hours.

"This is only exceeded by two cardiothoracic surgeons," the document said.

"The next highest in terms of GI surgeons is four patients."

For surgery on stomach, duodenum and oesophagus cancers it claimed Mr Skidmore's patients had an average stay seven days longer than the hospital's busiest surgeon.

A letter to Mr Skidmore before the court said the hospital needed to "put the safety and quality of patient care above all other considerations" and would restrict his practice "in the interests of patient safety".

The operators of Epworth and Linacre Hospitals confirmed Mr Skidmore is under no restrictions.

Frankston and Sandringham hospitals would not comment on the surgeon's operating privileges, but Alfred Health - which runs Sandringham - said no major upper gastrointestinal surgery took place there.

Australian Patients Association chief Stephen Mason said a doctor's track record should be public so patients could make informed decisions about treatment.


Cancer patient waits two days before admission in Canberra hospital

A CANCER patient suffering severe breathing difficulties waited for two days in Canberra Hospital's emergency department before being admitted to a ward.

Grandmother Margaret Rees spent at least 10 hours of this time in a corridor, hospital records show. "It was horrible," the 72-year-old Pearce woman said.

Records show Mrs Rees arrived at the emergency department one Sunday morning in July and was not placed in a ward until the following Monday night.

A Health Directorate spokeswoman said the hospital regretted any distress Mrs Rees may have experienced as a result of the 33-hour delay in the ED.

The spokeswoman said the average waiting time across the past three months for a person to move to an inpatient bed in a ward was 1.79 hours.

About 190 people a day were arriving at the ED during the period when Mrs Rees turned up, many with respiratory conditions.

"The access block was high due to the number of presentations," the hospital spokeswoman said.

Mrs Rees arrived at the ED suffering a narrowed airway, medically known as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease.

She said that when she finally was admitted she spent a week in hospital.

While hospital records say an ED medical officer looked at Mrs Rees at 3.56pm on the first day, the same records also say the decision to admit her was not made until six minutes past midnight.

Mrs Rees said toward the end of her wait for admission - on day two - she was taken to a ward, but after several minutes she was returned to the corridor again because staff had confused her with someone else.  "This was when I broke down crying," she said.

Also at about this time, Mrs Rees said she agreed to the humiliating experience of baring her naked backside in the public corridor to have a vital injection because there was no where else to do it.

ACT opposition health spokesman Jeremy Hanson labelled the elderly woman's case "appalling".

"The new emergency department waiting time figures again confirm that under ACT Labor the ACT's health system has gone from being one of the best in the country to one of the worst," Mr Hanson said.

The hospital maintained Mrs Rees spent 10 hours and six minutes in the corridor, and the remainder of the time in the proper waiting room or the acute section of the ED.

Mrs Rees and her family heartily disputed this, saying she spent well over 20 hours of her wait in the corridor.

She and her family also said they counted more than 20 people waiting in the same corridor.

ACT Labor is under increasing pressure about the Canberra Hospital in the lead up to the territory elections on October 20.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher this past week pledged to open 72 new beds over four years, including 40 general inpatient beds and six intensive care beds as well as extra beds for home care.

Labor's promise of more beds as well as doctors and nurses will cost $74 million.

The Liberals have put forward an urgent care clinics policy, which would put clinics in Tuggeranong and Gungahlin which would be open 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

The hospital emergency department's reputation was partly disfigured by a data doctoring scandal this year, in which up to 11,700 records were deliberately manipulated.


7 October, 2012

An attempted Gore-fraud fails

AN Australian filmmaker refused to sell footage of a firestorm to former US vice-president Al Gore - to use in Mr Gore's climate presentations - because the event was unrelated to climate change.

Chris Tangey from Alice Springs Film and Television recorded the phenomenon on Curtin Springs Station, 360km south-west of Alice Springs, while scouting locations for a film.

The footage has been an international sensation reported widely in global media.

In an email exchange with Mr Gore's office, Mr Tangey said using the footage in a climate-change framework would be "deliberately deceptive", the Northern Territory News reports.

"I am aware that you may have missed the reporting on the very localised nature of this firestorm," Mr Tangey wrote.

"However, in any case, I am confused as to why you would offer to buy a licence to use it at all unless you had conducted even elementary research which might indicate that this Mt Conner event had direct linkage to global warming/climate change."

Joel Lisonbee, manager of the NT Climate Services Centre, agreed and said he would not link such an event to global warming.

"This event was better described as a dust devil within a fire. Most of us have seen dust devils and know they are not uncommon," Mr Lisonbee said.

"You need hot, dry conditions but you get those in desert-like conditions everywhere, regardless of global warming."

Jill Martin, from Mr Gore's office, said the famed American climate change advocate wanted to use the footage for up to five years in his PowerPoint presentations to live audiences worldwide.

"Mr Gore recently saw the amazing footage of the fire tornado taken on September 11, and is interested in showing it during some of the presentations he gives on environmental topics," she wrote.

But Mr Tangey said it was "difficult for me to imagine a fire event less relevant".


Queensland Premier Campbell Newman blocks "Green" energy rating system for new residential units

CAMPBELL Newman has pulled out of a tougher 6-star national energy rating for new residential units to slash an average $1200 from the cost of building an apartment.

The Premier has also scrapped a deal with the Federal Government for mandatory reporting of energy efficiency standards of new buildings in a move he describes as cutting red tape.

But the Federal Government has accused him of making it harder for people to cut their energy bills.

The deals were agreed between Anna Bligh and Julia Gillard as part of a national program of energy efficiency rules.

Mr Newman's decision to pull out is a blow to Ms Gillard's plans to streamline rules through the Council of Australian Governments.

The new 6-star rating would require better minimum levels of insulation and glazing in new apartment buildings to cut energy use for heating and cooling.

But the Premier warned the new rating would drive up the cost of new buildings without getting much return in lower power costs.

The tougher standards are estimated by Queensland to add an average $1200 per unit to construction costs but are only expected to reduce electricity costs by about $54 a year.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Newman said the higher 6-star rating was unnecessary in Queensland and suggested it was designed for the climate in other states.

"The Queensland Government cannot justify the cost of transitioning from 5-star to 6-star requirements, especially given that Queensland's climate makes our 5-star units generally more energy efficient than 6-star units in other states," Mr Newman said in the letter.

The Premier also hit out at plans for mandatory disclosure of energy, greenhouse gas and water performance in new units at the point of sale.

He said the scheme would breach his own election commitment to cut red tape and was "unlikely to increase consumer uptake of sustainability features in homes".

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change Mark Dreyfus attacked the move.

"Energy efficiency means cheaper electricity bills," Mr Dreyfus said.

But the Premier was backed by the building and property industry.

Master Builders' director, housing Paul Bidwell said the Federal Government "had not proved the benefits outweigh the costs" of the 6-star system.


Immigration crackdown: over 10,000 student visas revoked

THE Immigration Department cancelled more than 10,000 student visas in the past financial year, with many students failing to fulfil course requirements.

The department revoked 2219 student visas in 2011/12 for failure to meet course progress or attendance benchmarks.

Two visas were cancelled on character grounds and 15 visas withdrawn for providing wrong information or bogus documents. A department spokesman said student visas were also cancelled if the holders falsely claimed to be students.

The department cancelled 3107 visas for non-genuine students, breaches of visa conditions and voluntary requests for cancellation. The department is currently compiling figures for the previous financial year.

Earlier this week, The Age reported an underground market for university essays in Australia was proliferating with "online essay mills" targeting international students through Chinese language social media sites.

In the year to August, there were 461,477 enrolments by full-fee paying international students in Australia. But enrolments had declined by 7.6 per cent compared with the same period the year before, according to Australian Education International.

These figures include students studying at university, TAFE and secondary school.

Foreign students make a massive contribution to the Australian economy with international education accounting for $16.3 billion in export income in 2010/11.

But International Association of Universities secretary-general Eva Egron-Polak said international students offered far greater value than income.

Ms Egron-Polak, who spoke at an international education conference in Melbourne this week, said universities around the world needed to foster stronger cultural and academic links with international students. "They really do enrich our lives and our study," she said.

Ms Egron-Polak said Australian universities would face stronger competition to attract foreign students from Asian countries, including China and Malaysia, which were improving the quality of their higher education sectors.

"Those countries have invested heavily in building their own capacity in higher education. China is now almost balancing the number of outgoing and incoming students," she said.


Woman  told that Queensland Health is too busy to fix her broken arm

A BUNDABERG retiree has been told by Queensland Health that it is too busy to operate on her arm, which has been broken for two years.

Carmel Daniel, 67, is in pain and cannot even lift a bed sheet, but Queensland Health has written to the Category 2 patient, telling her it that is very busy and does not know when it can perform surgery on her shattered arm.

To add insult to injury, the letter from the Royal Brisbane Hospital got her name wrong and said she had been on the waiting list since November 2012.

When the 67-year-old broke both her arms when she fell over walking her two cattle dogs in 2010, she had no idea the health system would leave her wanting for so long.

"I'm very, very frustrated. I think I've been patient," Mrs Daniel told The Sunday Mail.  "If you were to put your hand on the top of my shoulder, you can feel my bone jutting in and jutting out.

"I'm scared. What if I have a fall, will the broken bone go through my arm? I've stopped bowling and going for walks.

"What gets me is, if I fell on to the road today or whatever, it would be done today, the hospital would fix me up."

When Mrs Daniel was first injured, doctors at Bundaberg Base Hospital put both her arms in slings, which is considered standard treatment for her type of break.

But after months of physiotherapy, her left arm remained sore and she sought advice from her long-time GP, Lloyd Sussens.

He ordered an X-ray and after seeing the damage he referred her back to the hospital, which referred her to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

After an initial consultation in Brisbane, Mrs Daniel was told she would only have to wait a couple of months for the surgery, which would be performed at the RBWH. She was listed as a Category 2 patient on November 2, last year.

"It's not ideal, it's unreasonable," Dr Sussens said.  "If she was being treated in the private would have been done within weeks.  "They will probably need to fuse the bones together...and put a plate across it and do a bone graft."

He said the length of time Mrs Daniel has had to wait would likely make it harder for her to recover.

Former Bundaberg Base Hospital patient advocate Beryl Crosby referred Mrs Daniel's case to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg.

It sparked senior patient liaison officer Alison Love to write to Mrs Daniel to say she was sorry for the delay.

"The reasons for the delay in your surgery are related to your consultant being on leave for three months and the high number of Category 1 (urgent) and trauma patients requiring surgery," Ms Love wrote.

"I have been informed by the orthopedic case manager that your consultant is booked up almost to Christmas with those patients who have been on long wait lists.

"It is regrettable that you are unlikely to have your surgery before Christmas and we are unable to advise you when you will be offered a surgery date at this time."


You can see why 40% of Australians have private health insurance despite the "free" hospital system.  But paying for private insurance is often difficult for the elderly

Teacher suspended after being diagnosed as pathological liar

A TEACHER has been suspended after being diagnosed as a pathological liar who had been leading a fantasy life.

The Brisbane man, who can't be named for legal reasons, taught at various public and private schools before being diagnosed with "pseudologia fantastica" - an uncommon but long-lasting condition often described as pathological or compulsive lying.

The Queensland College of Teachers suspended his registration last month after a psychiatrist's report.

The assessment, filed in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, reveals the sidelined teacher's "unusual behaviour" included telling others of his fictitious involvement in high-level jobs and of top job offers that did not exist, relationships with people later found to be made-up, and links to events that never happened.

The report said it was "potentially dangerous for him to be in a teaching position".


5 October, 2012

Tony Abbott is a sentimental man

George Bush Jr. is too.  Both have strong human feelings that are not normally seen

THE woman closest to Tony Abbott has revealed intimate details of their private life together, including how he was a "wreck" when she suffered a miscarriage.

His wife of 24 years, Margie Abbott doesn't enjoy public attention or fit the mould of a political spouse.

But in response to claims her husband has a problem with women, she agreed to a wide-ranging interview with News Ltd about their family life with their three daughters.

When asked if Mr Abbott had cried at the births of their children, Louise, 23, Frances, 21, and Bridget, 19, Mrs Abbott disclosed a personal tragedy which shattered the Opposition Leader.

"He was emotional (at their births) and if I may tell you a very personal story there was an occasion where I actually had a miscarriage between daughters one and two," she said.

"I kept it all together, but Tony was a wreck.

"Having a child is a very happy time, but I don't think tears were part of that (when their daughters arrived safely). Certainly he felt it when I miscarried."

As the Abbott girls were growing it was their father who was the soft touch.

"I am the tough one in the family. He is the soft touch and as a result he has a wonderful relationship with the girls which sometimes I am a little envious of," she said.

"That is the price you pay for making sure the rules are followed in the Abbott house."

She added: "Our girls have been happy to do all kinds of things with their father, from canoeing to kayaking to mountain climbing, almost."

Mrs Abbott talks of a husband who calls twice a day, morning and night, no matter where he is travelling, which is often to several capital cities in a week.

When he is at home in Sydney, Mrs Abbott says her husband is happy to unload the dishwasher, barbecue dinner, get Indian takeaway, or clean the kitchen after she makes dinner.

If they watch a sad movie together he will get "teary," she said.

Mr Abbott said he was embarrassed he became "sooky" in The Year My Voice broke, one of the first movies the couple saw together.

"Just to give you an idea of how it happens in the Abbott household, I'll be grabbing the remote control saying `Can I watch the footy, please?' he will be saying `Oh, but I would really like to watch Downton Abbey,"' Mrs Abbott said.

"So that's the sort of contradiction we have in the Abbott household. The short answer is yes, he likes those sensitive movies and I am very happy watching the footy."

Bridget Abbott is preparing for a month of volunteer duties in a village in Cambodia while Louise is about to begin a new job in Europe, leaving just Frances at home for Christmas.

"I was just checking our credit card bill and there was an amount. I said to him `What's this about?"' Mrs Abbott said.

"Louise is just starting a job in Europe. He purchased for her a little compendium which is going to be waiting on her desk for her first day at work. That was a very touching thing for me and that's what he does. He didn't make a song and dance about it."

For their 24th wedding anniversary last month, Mr Abbott was on the road and sent his wife a bunch of flowers.

"What did I buy Tony for our anniversary? Well, I let the side down. I wished him a happy anniversary," she said.

Mr Abbott interjected: "What Margie gave me for my anniversary was putting up with a politician for a husband."


Some intolerant tolerance below from columnist Sweetman

Why is it "bullying" to abuse and speak ill of your political opponents?  It may be regrettable but it is normal.    Mr Sweetman should take note of the calumnies heaped on Romney by Obama supporters

BULLIES thrive when decent people don't act because they hope someone else will. No more. Show them our backs and in the process show them the door.

What more can be said of Alan Jones apart from the fact that he is what he has always been: A misogynist bully given to intemperate language and with an inflated idea of his own importance in a small world of devotees.

What more can be said about his Sydney University Liberal Club audience members apart from the fact that they were shamed and did nothing to liberate themselves from that shame.

Let's keep it in perspective. There were grown-up Liberal Party members and Members of Parliament in attendance and they were found morally lacking, cowardly in their initial denial of Jones' outrageous remarks and fatuous in downplaying the hurt.

But this was largely a gathering of young political activists (described by some as Hooray Henrys), no doubt eager to hear what they wanted to hear from their hero, perhaps taken with strong drink and excitement during what Jones called a "hell of a rollicking night".

Foolishness remains a prerogative of youth and, in a political context, this often descends into stupidity.

I strongly suspect a gathering of young Labor, Nationals or Green devotees would have been similarly leavened with insensitive louts had they been served up a platter of vile insults directed at their most bitter political enemies.

It is not without accident that some events and animosities that are now matters of serious national debate began in the juvenile halls of university politics.

It is similarly not without accident that some of the more bizarre, cruel, stupid and offensive statements and policies to darken our political horizons come from the youth wings of our parties.

If it were not for the predictable stupidity, news editors probably wouldn't bother sending staff to cover their conferences.

For all that, the theory of good manners and fair play suggests someone should have stood up and called out Jones for his insult to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and his trashing of her father's memory.

Better still, in an ideal world, every man and woman there should have walked out.

However, when personal hatred rises during a 58-minute gee-up, it takes a certain presence of mind (particularly when desensitised by booze) to detect it, to process it and to act appropriately.

And it takes a certain courage and individuality to defy the pack mentality and make a very public stand on principle.

It would be nice to think that every member of that audience now feels ashamed of his or her lack of principle, but it is the nature of the tribal beast that many, maybe most, people would have reacted pretty much the same.

If Jones is to be condemned for anything other than his own cruelty, it is his practised exploitation of that group instinct, a task made easier by our collective acceptance of casual vilification.

Casual racism, casual sexism, casual ageism, casual cruelty and carelessness are the thin edge of the wedge for people who appeal to our baser instincts.

It is often far removed from active prejudice, but it is the sort of intellectual laziness that afflicts us all when we indulge in or condone pub talk or gossip that ascribes the actions of people to anything from their gender to their ethnicity.

It is the sort of social sadism that takes pleasure in other people's pain and refuses to concede any common humanity.

If offensive or discriminatory labels, derogatory terms and cruelty are routinely part of the conversations around us, we become anaesthetised to their use.

Those who resort to the language of offence and intolerance feel free to take our silence as tacit approval.

And if we don't have the ticker to speak up and declare our abhorrence for them, we become complicit in their use and prey to demagogues who want to hijack public debate for their purposes.

Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull recently lamented the standards of public discourse in Australia, but that is surely because we are too apathetic to reclaim it from those who have stolen it and so demeaned it.

We can't stop the Joneses of our country from speaking, but there is no compulsion to listen, and there is certainly no reason to applaud.


Phosphate mine wins environmental approval

QUEENSLAND'S environment department has approved plans for a multi-million dollar open-cut phosphate mine northwest of Mount Isa.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the department assessed there would be no unacceptable environmental impacts from the Paradise South Phosphate Project.

He said environmental conditions for the mine would include requirements for surface water and groundwater management, and monitoring, waste management and the rehabilitation of mined areas.

The mine, which will have a 20-year life span, will produce up to seven million tonnes of rock phosphate annually.

"Concentrated phosphate ore will be produced on-site before being shipped from the site for sale to domestic export markets," Mr Powell said.

"The benefit to the regional economy will be approximately $150 million per year."

He said the construction stage would create 250 jobs, with a further 325 jobs created once the mine starts operating.

The project still requires final government approvals before construction can begin.


Finnish education isn't all it's cracked up to be

THE topic for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas forum last Saturday at the Sydney Opera House was Abolish Private Schools and Pasi Sahlberg from Finland was one of the keynote speakers.

Having a speaker from Finland shouldn't surprise. Within cultural-left circles the Finnish education system is the flavour of the month and regularly praised by non-government school critics such as the Australian Education Union and Richard Teese from the University of Melbourne.

Critics argue that Australia should follow the Finnish example as it has top ranking in the OECD's Program for International Student Assessment maths and science tests, and forsake high-risk tests such as Australia's National Assessment Program -- Literacy and Numeracy.

If only it were that simple. While it's true that Finland was at the top of the PISA table in the 2006 tests, ranking first in maths, science and reading, since that time the country's results have gone backwards.

In the 2009 PISA test Finland dropped to sixth in maths, second in science and third in reading. In the 2009 test not only did Shanghai rank No 1 in the three areas but most of the other top performing education systems also were in the East Asian region.

It also needs to be noted that in the other more academically based and credible international test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the last time the two countries met Australia outperformed Finland.

In Year 8 maths and Year 8 science Australia was ranked 13th and seventh, while Finland was placed 14th and 10th.

While those opposed to high-risk tests point to Finland to argue there is no value or benefit in high-risk tests and failing students, what is conveniently ignored is that the more successful East Asian countries have education systems that are highly competitive, where students are pressured to succeed and often streamed in terms of ability.

Cultural-left academics and professional associations also like to use the example of Finland to argue Australia's non-government system should not be funded. Unlike Australia, where about 36 per cent of students attend Catholic and independent schools, the supposedly world's best Finnish system is government funded and there are no private schools.

Best illustrated by comments made by Sahlberg on Channel 7's Weekend Sunrise, the argument is that countries can achieve outstanding results without the presence of non-government schools. Abolishing non-government schools is also beneficial, according to Sahlberg, as such schools do well only because they enrol privileged students and they are guilty of reinforcing inequality.

Once again, such arguments lack credibility. As proven by research carried out by Melbourne-based academic Gary Marks, non-government schools outperform government schools even after adjusting for students' socioeconomic status.

OECD commissioned research noted the impact of SES on student and school performance is calculated at between 20 per cent and 35 per cent.

Equally, if not more important, are factors such as teacher quality, having a rigorous curriculum, school culture and the ability and motivation of students.

While critics argue that Australia's education system is riven with inequity and injustice it's also the case, based on the most recent OECD publication, Education at a Glance 2012, that Australia has a high degree of social mobility.

In relation to gaining tertiary entry the statement is made: "Young people from low educational backgrounds have the greatest chances of upward educational mobility in the countries clustered in the upper right quadrant of the chart.

"The chances of completing a tertiary education exceeds 25 per cent in Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, The Netherlands and Sweden, and is greater than 30 per cent in Australia and Ireland."

Research commissioned by the National Catholic Education Commission, published in its submission to the Gonski review of school funding, provides evidence that Australia's non-government school sector is worthy when it concludes that Catholic schools are "high quality-high equity" based on the PISA tests.

Given Julia Gillard's boast that Australian students will be in the top five countries of the PISA test by 2025, and ongoing debates about school funding in the context of the Gonski report, it's understandable why many look overseas for ideas.

The danger in the belief that the best way to strengthen schools and raise standards is to copy supposedly stronger performing systems such as Finland's is that it is simplistic and unrealistic. It's also ironic that as many are looking overseas for answers, the success of Australia's non-government schools is ignored.


4 October, 2012

Federal health authorities under fire over Aboriginal health campaign

I can't say I am surprised.  Lucky you can choose your own doctor.  This mob would give you a vet

Australian health authorities have expressed regret over a bungled Aboriginal health campaign featuring a poster of the female body filled with basic errors, including an extra pancreas and the ovaries labelled as the kidneys.

The health department has recalled copies of the embarrassing Female Human Anatomy poster which were distributed to health centres and indigenous workers around the country as part of its "Live Longer!" public health campaign.

The poster confused the stomach with the lungs, labelled the small intestine as the stomach and showed the oesophagus running into the lung.  It also appeared to show a pancreas inside the stomach.

The "unacceptable" mistakes were identified by an opposition MP, Andrew Laming, who is also a doctor.

"The oesophagus runs into the lung," Dr Laming said.  "The ureters look like they join to the small intestine instead of the kidneys, and the bladder is sitting on top of the uterus. The lack of any attention to detail in these posters is an insult to the (indigenous people) who were the target audience for this material."

The poster was intended to improve the health outcomes for the country's indigenous people, who have much lower life expectancy and far higher infant mortality rates than the rest of the population. About 2000 posters were understood to be printed.

"The image printed and distributed had some errors that crept in during the preparation of the final print artwork files and which unfortunately were missed in the final checking process," the health department said in a statement.

The indigenous health minister, Warren Snowdon, said the poster was "unacceptable and shouldn't have gone out".

"I've asked for all affected posters to be recalled immediately," he said.


Students have 'too much choice'

Absolutely typical Leftist authoritarianism.  Government must tell you what to do "for your own good".  Evans is  right that a  vocational focus is often lacking in choice of courses but how people manage their lives should be their choice.  Some may be happy to do arty things in their own time and earn their living in humble ways

TERTIARY Education Minister Chris Evans says the government's $10 billion-a-year student-demand-driven system of allocating places is not working because students have too much choice.

In what amounts to an about-face, Senator Evans told a Future of Work Conference in Sydney yesterday that the system was too driven by student choices.

"We've got lots of students wanting to do gaming design and no one wanting to do IT or computing now, but we've got thousands of jobs in IT and computing, and about three in game design and lots of graduates."

The new student-demand-driven system was introduced earlier this year.

In January, Senator Evans crowed about the massive increase in university offers, saying the government was producing qualifications necessary for the knowledge economy.

"We are opening the doors of our universities and giving more eligible Australians, from all regions and backgrounds, the skills they need to take advantage of the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future," he said.

But yesterday Senator Evans said universities were too focused on meeting student demand rather than meeting the needs of employers.

Universities have come under fire for lowering ATAR cut-offs to attract more students, after the federal government removed limits on the number of undergraduates they could take.


Greens lose, miners win, under new Qld. govt.

THE end of Queensland's Wild Rivers legislation has breathed new life into a planned Cape York mine which will deliver up to 1700 jobs and add $1.2 billion to the economy.

The State Government has granted Cape Alumina's Pisolite Hills significant project status, meaning it will have to develop an extensive environmental impact study before approval can be granted.

The project was frozen in 2010 when the Bligh Government imposed a 500 metre wide buffer zone around waterways near the project area as part of the declaration of the Wenlock River Basin as a wild river area.

Cape Alumina said this had the effect of reducing the bauxite resources available to the project "for no tangible environmental benefit".

The company said it will now restart negotiations with the traditional owners and expects to start development of the mine in 2014, should approvals be granted.

"The project will be a boon for the traditional land owners and Aboriginal people of Mapoon and other western Cape York communities and (will) provide them with a rare opportunity to gain social and economic independence and prosperity," the company's managing director, Graeme Sherlock said.

Cape Alumina's studies show that the project would boost economic activity by $1.2 billion and create or sustain more than 1700 jobs over the mines 15-year life.

The boost to the far north Queensland economy will be more than $600 million and 1300 jobs.


Australian universities do well in world rankings again

SIX Australian universities have been ranked in the world's top 100 as the power balance in global higher education shifts to the Asia-Pacific region.

Melbourne is the highest ranked Australian university, according to The Times Higher Education 2012-13 World University Rankings, to be released today.

Australia posted the third-biggest improvement in the world, with its eight top 200 institutions rising an average of 15 places. Six Australian universities are now in the top 100, two more than last year.

Melbourne University (ranked 28th) made the top 30 for the first time, widening its lead on the Australian National University, which moved from 38th in 2011-12 to 37. Sydney (62, down from 58), Queensland (65), New South Wales (85), and Monash (99) also made the top 100.

Adelaide University debuted in the top 200 at 176 and Western Australia University rose one spot to 190.

University performance was judged on 13 indicators, including research, teaching, knowledge transfer, and international activity.

Rankings editor Phil Baty said Australia had improved significantly.

"It has great advantages being close to the exciting innovation and research hotspots in Asia," he said. "If it can fully exploit the geographical advantage it has over Europe and North America, there's every reason to believe it can be part of a higher education revolution in Asia-Pacific."

Mr Baty said Australian improvements were based on better scores for research, in scholarly papers per staff and citation impact.

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson said the results showed the importance of public investment in universities. "This result shows once again that our universities are not only world-class, but world-leading," she said.


3 October, 2012

Is this true?

It sounds believable and it is mentioned a couple of times on the net but I think it needs confirmation

The first group of asylum seekers have been transferred from Christmas Island to Nauru, as part of new offshore processing arrangements.







ASIC loses another one

Background here.  ASIC was heavily criticized in the Federal Court but was too childish to heed it.  They can really be goons at times.  Wasting taxpayers' money seems to be all they're good at

The High Court's decision to clear Fortescue Metals Group founder Andrew Forrest of allegations he misled investors represents a major defeat for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

ASIC had filed a civil suit against Mr Forrest over comments he made in 2004 and 2005 when he was chief executive of FMG.  It was alleged that he misled investors when he said he had "framework agreements" with Chinese entities to build Fortescue's iron ore project in the Pilbara.

WA resources analyst Tim Treadgold says ASIC was persecuting Mr Forrest and that its case was a complete waste of time.

"I think the whole case was flawed from the day they started it and there's been no end of unpopularity with ASIC and others voicing that opinion, but I think they completely wasted their time and our money," he said.

"It's astonishing that someone at ASIC decided to persecute Forrest as much as prosecute him because a reasonable man's reading of those announcements made with Chinese companies was that Forrest was telling the truth to the best of his knowledge.

"He got badly let down by the Chinese on the other side of the deal. To me it was wake-up call of what it means to do business with a Chinese partner - just take care.

"And then to get hauled into court, the way he was, and for the whole process to drag on for as long as it has requires a pretty fulsome explanation from ASIC as to what game it was playing."

The full bench of the Federal Court dealt Mr Forrest a blow last year when it said he had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.  But Tuesday's High Court decision supported an earlier ruling that Mr Forrest and Fortescue had not misled investors.

The High Court said Fortescue and the Chinese state-owned entities had entered into agreements that each intended to be binding, and that representing them as such was not false or misleading.

Minter Ellison consultant and former Supreme Court judge Bob Austin says Mr Forrest could have been banned as a company director had today's decision been different.  "ASIC, if it had won, would have wanted an order disqualifying him from managing any corporation for some period of time and so that issue is now off the table," he said.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan says he cannot comment on the High Court's ruling because he has not read it.

But Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey says he hopes the corporate regulator has acted independently in its proceedings.

Mr Hockey has tried to link the case to Mr Swan's public attacks on Mr Forrest.  "I think ASIC have some questions to answer because they very aggressively went after Mr Forrest and I know that Wayne Swan has been an outspoken critic of Andrew Forrest so I would hope that ASIC have acted totally independently, I believe they have," he said.

ASIC first announced it was issuing the proceedings in March 2006, at least a year-and-a-half before Labor won office.

Fortescue Metals Group has issued a statement saying the decision brought an end to a "process that ASIC thought was appropriate but was ultimately determined to be wrong".  FMG also said ASIC's allegations had been "an expensive distraction".

ASIC later issued a statement saying it brought the case because it raised issues of integrity of the capital markets.

Deputy chairman Belinda Gibson said compliance with continuous disclosure goes to the heart of ASIC's strategic priority, of fair and efficient financial markets.

ASIC says the loss will force it to assess its continuous disclosure rules.  "Observation of our continuous disclosure laws is essential, not only for investors but for the broader capital markets," Ms Gibson said.

ASIC said the judgment against it raises discussion about what the market would consider to be a significant statement about the nature of an agreement.

It said the judgment also raises the issue of what is necessary to ensure the market is properly informed.

The regulator said it was carefully considering both points.

The Chartered Secretaries of Australia group says the decision highlights concerning trends in the continuous disclosure regime.

"It has given some sense that the courts will look to the commerciality of the decisions," director of policy Judith Fox said.  "Continuous disclosure is a really difficult area and boards really wrestle with it because it's not a black and white area.  "It's about judgment calls, trying to make sure the information you release to the market is not misleading, that it's accurate."


Controversial Dutch MP postpones Australia visit

Anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders has postponed a visit to Australia because of delays in obtaining a visa, despite today's announcement that his application would be approved.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said he had decided to issue a visa to the controversial MP, declaring Australia's democracy is strong enough to withstand a visit by the "extremist commentator".

Mr Wilders was due to speak at events in Sydney and Melbourne later this month at the invitation of the Q Society, which is concerned by what it calls the "Islamisation" of Australia.

But the group says "extraordinary delays" in getting a visa have forced Mr Wilders to delay his visit until mid-February next year.

"Minister Bowen's (announcement)... is too little too late," the Q Society said in a statement.

"When Mr Wilders' visa may be issued is still uncertain; it could be tomorrow, it could be next week, it could be a week after the scheduled departure.

"Q Society asks Minister Bowen why, after lodging papers in late August, has his visa still not been issued?"

A spokesman for Mr Bowen says Mr Wilders was advised by email this morning that his visa application had been approved.

Q Society's spokesman Andrew Horwood has told the ABC that Mr Wilders' speaking tour may now be expanded to include Perth given the strong public interest.

"We've been really inundated by what I'd call the silent majority in Australia who've been looking back and concerned about what's been happening," Mr Horwood said.

Last month, the ABC's 7.30 program reported the processing of the Dutch MP's visa had stalled because it triggered a notification on the Movement Alert List - a database of people of concern to Australia.

It meant his application was held up at the Department of Immigration headquarters in Canberra while more thorough checks were done.

But Mr Bowen this morning announced that after long and careful consideration, he would not be intervening in the process to stop Mr Wilders coming to Australia.

"I've taken the view that he's a provocateur who would like nothing more than for me to reject his visa so that he could become a cause célèbre ," Mr Bowen told ABC radio's AM program.

"I'm not going to give him that opportunity to be the cause célèbre for his cause which is radical and extremist.

"I think our society's robust enough, our multicultural is strong enough, and our love of freedom of speech entrenched enough that we can withstand a visit from this fringe commentator from the other side of the world.

"We should defeat his ideas with the force of our ideas and the force of our experience, not by the blunt instrument of keeping him out of Australia."

As one of the world's most prominent anti-Islam campaigners, Mr Wilders has attracted controversy in many parts of the world.

In 2009 he was refused entry to the UK but later appealed and won.

He was also tried and acquitted in the Netherlands on hate charges over his controversial public comments.

The website for the Q Society, which invited Mr Wilders to Australia, states that: "Aggressive or stealth proselytising and brazen imposition by Islamic organisations and Islamic religious fanatics were our 'call to arms'".

And it has accused the Federal Government of "kowtowing to Islamic supremacists".


The dumb teacher problem

Getting someone to stand up in front of an undisciplined rabble of a class is such an unappealing prospect in Australia and America today that education departments often have to take almost anyone who will do it.  The teachers' colleges would be amost  empty if high standards were required for admission

The nation's elite universities warn that Australia is at risk of training a generation of "toxic teachers" who will pass their own deficiencies at school on to their students.

The executive director of the Group of Eight research-focused universities, Michael Gallagher, said Australia was "at risk of producing a cohort of "toxic teachers".

"The next generation of teachers is being drawn from this pool" of people "who have themselves not been very successful at school," he said.

Much of the growth in teaching enrolments since 2007 has come from school leavers with scores in the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) range of 50 to 70, prompting the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, to start a debate about minimum education standards for teachers. At present, some 20 per cent of teaching enrolments have an ATAR of less than 60.

The Australian Catholic University vice chancellor, Greg Craven, however, has warned any attempt to set minimum standards for entry into teaching courses, such as an ATAR of 70, would be an attack on universities' independence and encounter stiff resistance. He accused the NSW government of dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice and blame shifting in its effort to start a debate about teaching standards.

In a speech to be delivered at the National Press Club today, Professor Craven will criticise Mr Piccoli's July discussion paper, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, for fudging the figures around the demand for permanent teachers, lamenting teacher quality while paying them so little, failing to confront teacher unions over work practices that protect low performance, and attempting to shift blame to universities.

Professor Craven takes particular issue with the assertion that NSW has "a gross oversupply" of teachers.

The NSW discussion paper says although about 5500 teachers graduate each year, only 300 to 500 of them are employed in permanent positions by the NSW Education Department.

This not only omits teachers employed in the large Catholic and independent school systems but hides the reality that "the department itself deliberately has casualised its workforce, so new teachers overwhelmingly go into 'casual positions' that actually may be full time", Professor Craven said.

About 30,000 casual teachers deliver about 2 million days of teaching in NSW a year.

He said ATAR scores were skewed against people from low socio-economic backgrounds and failed to predict success at university.

"What really matters is the quality of a student once they have completed their university degree, not when they enter it … Trying to determine who should be a teacher on the basis of adolescent school marks rather than practical and theoretical training received during their course is like selecting the Australian cricket team on school batting averages while ignoring Sheffield Shield innings", Professor Craven said.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said: "You can't talk about high teaching standards and professional respect at the same time you are pulling $1.7 billion out of public education".

Mr Piccoli is overseas and unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for the NSW Department of Education defended the discussion paper.

He said university training of teachers was only one of five areas it examined, but acknowledged there is wide variation in the ATAR scores of undergraduates.

"The issues of further improving teacher performance and how to even more effectively deal with those who consistently fail to meet the required professional standards are raised by the paper," he said.


Elderly patient left to wet bed in Sydney hospital corridor

An elderly woman was left in a corridor for six hours and told to urinate in her bed when she needed to go to the toilet in a disturbing case of neglect at a major Sydney hospital.

Doctors say the incident at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital points to a system in crisis.

The 89-year-old woman's daughter told ABC1's Lateline that her mother was rushed to the hospital with a serious staph infection early last week.

The daughter, who wants to remain unidentified, says her mother was left on a trolley in a corridor in the emergency department for six hours.

"I'm disgusted, terrified that I might be in the same position one day. Where do you go? And what if she didn't have me as her voice?" she said.

When the elderly patient asked for a bedpan her daughter says a nurse told her to urinate in her clothes in bed.

She was sobbing, she said 'I'm 89-years old, I've paid my taxes all my life, and this is what's happening to me. I have to urinate in the bed.' And her anguish transferred to me and I didn't know which way to turn.

The daughter says her mother was left for two hours in the same bed sheets. She says her mother then asked for painkillers.

"She was in extreme pain, was given none of her medication," she said.

"When I told them what medication she was on, a certain painkiller, they said 'we don't use that in emergency because it's too expensive'."

St Vincent's says the system was under stress when the 89-year-old patient entered the hospital and a full investigation will be undertaken.

"The easy answer would be that the hospital was extremely busy at the time, and it was; clearly there was a lot of acute and complex patients who were presenting to the emergency department," spokesperson David Faktor said.  "But that doesn't absolve ourselves of extending just basic levels of care to distressed patients."

The daughter of the patient says the hospital was chronically understaffed.

St Vincent's has apologised to the family, but says it cannot comment on whether this incident is symptomatic of a wider problem.

"I think anyone in those circumstances would be most significantly humiliated," Mr Faktor said.  "But I think the second emotion would be very angry and disappointed and we, as a society, deserve better than that.  "We as a hospital certainly aim to provide care that is leaps and bounds better than that."

System in crisis

Brian Owler, president of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, says the public hospital system is in crisis.

"It's a symptom of a hospital system - whether it's New South Wales or any other state - that's under enormous stress and pressure," he said.

"It's a result of underinvestment in infrastructure of health care, right across the country. Not just governments in place now but governments that have gone before them."

The AMA says emergency departments do not have enough beds to cope with increasing demand and budget cuts are making the situation much worse.

"Having cuts on top of that to a system that's already under stress means that, whether you make the cuts to the back line or not, the frontline clinical services are always going to be affected, particularly in a system that's already under stress, and where there's no surplus jobs that exist in particular in NSW Health," Dr Owler said.

The New South Wales Government rejects the claim that the health system is in crisis.

In a written statement NSW Health Minister Gillian Skinner says she will be redirecting $2.2 billion in savings to frontline health services.


2 October, 2012

A bloated public service not healthy


IN order to avoid the winter chills of Melbourne, I hang out in Queensland quite a bit these days. A few weeks ago, I was tuned in to the evening news to be told that the LNP government was planning to cut 1500 jobs in health.

Gosh, I thought, 1500 jobs sounds quite a lot. So I decided to find out how many people are employed in Queensland Health. The answer is more than 80,000. Annual natural attrition would account for more than double the proposed job cuts of 1500, which represent a mere 1.9 per cent of total employment.

But here's the rub. A decade ago, employment in Queensland Health stood at 49,000. So in 10 years there has been an increase of more than 32,000 employees - an increase of two-thirds.

But here's a further rub. Whereas the number of nurses in effective full-time terms increased by 65 per cent over the decade, the number of managerial and clerical staff rose by 103 per cent during the same period. There are now nearly 15,000 managers and clerical staff in Queensland Health, a fair proportion of whom hang out in the head office in Brisbane.

The observant reader might make the point that Queensland's population has grown over that time; indeed, population growth has been higher in Queensland than in Australia as a whole. However, the average annual growth in the number of Queensland Health staff has been well over two times higher than the growth in the population.

The media, particularly in Queensland, has been making much of the supposedly "savage" job cuts being implemented by the LNP government, in part picking up the campaign being waged by the trade union movement in the state. What is less often reported is the fact the Queensland public service had been growing at a ridiculous rate under the Bligh Labor government, which had in part led to a 10-fold increase in the state's debt and the downgrading of its credit rating.

As Ken Wiltshire, an expert in public administration, and a Queenslander, pointed out on this page last week, there "was a blowout in the amount spent on public servants across the past decade, at 8.7 per cent a year. Of that, 3.5 per cent was attributed to the number of employees and 5.2 per cent to growth of wages.

"All this is far higher public expenditure growth than the national average."

A very dubious arrangement also emerged in the Queensland public service in which a category of "permanent temporary" staff was created. Many of these permanent temporaries are - quite legitimately - being targeted by the LNP government.

Into this politically toxic atmosphere, made worse by lazy journalism, the federal government has now weighed in with its unbelievable epithet: "We make hard decisions, but we focus on finding efficiencies. The Coalition slashes jobs." But is Penny Wong really telling the truth?

The first point to note is that if there are all these inefficient practices in the federal arena, why has it taken the Labor government five years to do something about them? The second point is that shifting the budget from a $44 billion deficit last financial year to a $1.5bn surplus will not be achieved by shaving a few dollars off printing costs or making senior public servants travel cattle class. (I wonder whether the politicians will also be made to travel down the back of the plane - I don't think so.)

But the most important point is this year's budget explicitly plans for a cut of 3073 in the average staffing level of agencies in the Australian government general government sector - a cut of 1.3 per cent (not much lower than the planned cut to Queensland Health).

And with the super-efficiency dividend of 4 per cent being imposed on government agencies, the number of job cuts will be higher again. Indeed, it is entirely plausible the number could be double the planned reduction of 3000. So, yes, the federal Labor government also slashes jobs; it should just be more explicit about it. Having been told by Kevin Rudd that the "reckless spending" must stop and that a "meat axe" would be taken to the "bloated" public service, in government, Labor went weak at the knees.

The Australian public service has grown by an average of just under 1 per cent a year since the Labor government has been in office.

Evidently, the meat axe was very blunt. It is only now that job cuts are being made.

Returning to the Queensland situation, the LNP government has no alternative but to push on with its planned reduction to the size of the public sector. But in order to sustain a smaller public sector, more thinking needs to be done about the future of particular activities and programs. The experience of the Howard government was that initial cuts to public sector jobs are only temporary, unless constant attention is paid to limiting new spending and new programs.

Ever keen to play politics rather than prosecute good public policy, federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has also decided to become involved in Queensland politics by proposing an amendment to the Fair Work Act to limit the ability of the Queensland government to contract out work.

Shorten's idea is that there will be a new transmission of business provision in the act that will mean any public servant who shifts to work for an outside provider of government services must retain all employment conditions.

He really should know better. He obviously hasn't been paying any attention to the successful outsourcing of employment services, which is undertaken by the federal government through his own department.

Just because there is a case for governments to fund, in full or in part, particular services for eligible persons does not mean that those services have to be provided by permanent public servants. Indeed, present thinking - and this applies to how the National Disability Insurance Scheme will operate - is that competitive outsourcing of many government services leads to both superior offerings and cost savings.

It would not be a surprise if the Queensland government were to give serious consideration to withdrawing the referral of its IR power to the commonwealth government. If Shorten is intent on interfering with the ability of the LNP government to rationalise and reform the public service on its own terms, such a move by the Queensland government makes sense.

The bottom line is the public service, both federally and in a number of states, has become too large and needs to be trimmed. In making the job cuts, it is also important for governments to analyse the rationale behind spending and to concentrate on those areas where there are very high net public benefits.

Experimentation with different means of delivering taxpayer-funded services should also be part of the mix.


Freedom of speech gets a hearing as street preachers challenge law

A LANDMARK High Court hearing which could enshrine freedom of speech in the Australian Constitution will be heard on Tuesday.

Thanks to Adelaide's controversial street preachers, the challenge could see free speech recognised as a Constitutional right  - comparable to the US First Amendment - and trigger a rewriting of state and council laws that were drafted to stop people being able to "preach", "canvass" or "harangue".

Tuesday's hearing in Canberra has such widespread ramifications that South Australia's Attorney-General has been joined in the matter by the Attorneys-General for the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA.

The Human Rights Law Centre has sided with the Adelaide street preachers Caleb and Samuel Corneloup.

High Court Chief Justice Robert French has made it clear the hearing will be about legal principles rather than religion, telling the preachers: "It will not really be anything to do with, as you would appreciate, the merits of your preaching".

At present there is no guarantee of freedom of speech written into the Constitution.

If the court decides in favour of the preachers it may opt for a narrow interpretation limiting such freedom to political speech - but the justices could use the case as a vehicle for a much broader and more significant decision regarding rights relating to freedom of communication.

The case was triggered by anger at the aggressive style of preaching in public spaces such as Rundle Mall.

Attempts to silence the preachers under Adelaide City Council bylaws, saw the preachers appeal to the full bench of the Supreme Court which in August 2011 ruled certain bylaws were invalid to the extent they prevented free political communication.

The State Government appealed to the High Court, with a spokesman for Attorney-General John Rau saying the appeal concerns the ability of the City Council to regulate its streets.

"It constrains the legislative and executive power necessary to maintain the system of responsible and representative government required by the Constitution," he said.

While the hearing is likely to take an hour, a decision could take months.

SA Law Society president Ralph Bonig said the decision had considerable implications.  "The legal community will be interested in the outcome given its potential for the concept of freedom of speech to be implied in the Constitution," he said.

Lawyer Peter Campbell of Kelly and Co. said the case had the potential to drastically alter the legal landscape.  "A number of legal restrictions and permit regimes may be invalid and unenforceable," he said.


Chaos at RNS hospital again

PATIENTS are being left overnight on trolleys in rooms intended for waits of several hours at the crowded Royal North Shore Hospital, a senior doctor says.

Dr Greg Purcell, an anaesthetist at Royal North Shore Hospital for 30 years, said the patients were staying in "inappropriate rooms for inappropriate periods", heightening their risk of inadequate care and spreading infections.

Dr Purcell and other senior doctors interviewed by the Herald blamed the situation on a budgetary method to clear overcrowded wards.

Two rooms - the emergency department's medical assessment unit (intended to hold patients for up to six hours) and the transit lounge (intended as a pick-up area for discharged patients) - had been operating as "pseudo wards", they said.

It has been alleged acute patients were regularly left on trolleys or chairs in the transit lounge for up to 12 hours and in some extreme cases overnight when the hospital has been full, Dr Purcell said.

The emergency department's medical assessment unit is a cramped room with four beds, two chairs and one toilet down the corridor.

"It is as far removed from patient- and family-centred care as imaginable and comprehensively abandons any commitment to patient safety, dignity or confidentiality," Dr Purcell said.

The general manager of Royal North Shore Hospital, Sue Shilbury, denied that patients were kept for more than six hours in the medical assessment unit. She added that "any infectious patient in [a medical assessment unit] is isolated in a single room".

A spokesperson for NSW Health said public hospitals were not routinely "using short-stay units, medical assessment units, transit lounges/discharge lounges for prolonged periods of time".

But the Herald can confirm that three major NSW hospitals are misusing such units: Royal North Shore, Dubbo Base Hospital and St Vincent's.

Dr Tony Nocera, an emergency physician at Dubbo Base Hospital, said due to its overcrowded emergency department, the hospital had been leaving hospital in-patients in its emergency medical unit for several days and longer. The hospital's acting general manager, Debbie Bickerton, said this only happened during "periods of high activity", but Dr Nocera said it happened almost every week.

The Herald revealed a week ago that St Vincent's Hospital was misusing a corridor of beds called the medical and surgical transit unit, which was only intended for stays of less than 24 hours. The hospital has been keeping patients in the corridor for up to six days.

A St Vincent's spokesman has since told the Herald the hospital is trying to "fast-track" a move to a more appropriate facility.

The Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, said: "If any patient has a concern about the care they have received in a short-stay unit, they should raise it with hospital management and it will be investigated".


Skepticism about blood transfusions catching on at last

The bad effects were evident in Swedish research some time ago.  See also here

SURGEONS are being urged to cut their use of blood transfusions, with experts saying the life-saving but risky procedure is being used unnecessarily.

Rates of blood transfusion use differ noticeably between surgeons, and research indicates some are not careful enough to ensure patients don't bleed unnecessarily during surgery.

James Isbister, a professor from the University of Sydney's medical school, said some doctors were using blood transfusions too freely because they believed them to be benign. "If [blood transfusion] is not used appropriately it's got more possible complications than other therapies because you are basically doing a transplant," he said.

"We have talked about alternatives to transplants for years but … a lot of alternatives shouldn't be alternatives - stopping a patient bleeding is not an 'alternative'."

Hospital patients who are Jehovah's Witnesses - who refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds - actually do better than other patients.

Professor Isbister said adherents of Christianity were given better treatment by doctors trying to preserve their blood. As a result they had better survival rates, and shorter hospital and intensive care stays than people who received blood transfusions during surgery.

Studies comparing surgeons have found some used transfusions in only 10 per cent of patients, while others used them in 80 per cent of cases.

Blood transfusions put stress on the lungs and can cause lung injury and organ failure, as well as potentially having long-term consequences, although the reason is unknown.

On Sunday, Professor Isbister addressed the scientific congress of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists about the issue. He said it was also important for patients to consult their GPs before surgery to ensure they had a healthy blood count.

In 2012-13 governments will spend more than $1 billion on blood and blood-related products, according to the National Blood Authority.

Its general manager, Leigh McJames, said while transfusions can be life-saving, evidence showed up to 20 per cent of them could be unnecessary in some patient groups.



1 October, 2012

Misuse of the term "Islamophobia"

Below is a transcript of an ABC interview with  Clive Kessler, an  Emeritus Professor in Sociology at the University of New South Wales and a long-time observer of  Islam.  When I knew Clive he was married to a very assertive New York Jewish lady who (frankly) gave me the horrors so I am surprised and pleased to see him speaking out on this.  He is not the doormat I thought

Andrew West: The United Nations General Assembly gets under way in New York this week. Sometime during this session there’ll be a push by the 57 member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to make blasphemy an international criminal offence. Now this has long been a goal for many Muslim countries. But it’s got new impetus after an amateur film mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad was posted on the internet. Since then a French satirical newspaper has also published some cartoons that depict Muhammad as naked. And in Australia some serving and former soldiers have posted anti-Muslim comments on a website.

The response from the worldwide Islamic community to all these events has ranged from violent, even deadly protests, to a Pakistani government minister offering a bounty for the death of the film maker, to the more general charge of Islamophobia. But is Islamophobia a reality or a myth? One expert says the term has been used to silence debate about Islam. Indeed writing in The Australiannewspaper recently, Clive Kessler called it a moral bludgeon. Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales. He’s an expert in the sociology of religion. He’s spent 40 years studying Islam, especially in Asia and specifically in Malaysia and he challenges the idea that Islamophobia is rife.

Clive Kessler: I think we have to look at the term itself. A phobia is an unfounded irrational baseless fear. The term Islamophobia is all too often used by zealous defenders of Islam as they understand it to silence the voicing of views that are uncongenial and unwelcome to them. And we cannot I think, have a situation where the term Islamophobia is used as a silencing device.

Andrew West: Well I think you’ve said in  The Australian that it’s a moral bludgeon.

Clive Kessler: Well that’s what I mean by an attempt to silence people and silence the proper public discussions of issues. But let me take it a step further. We have to recognise that we stand now at a point where the inheritors of a legacy of civilisational rivalry, I won’t say conflict of civilisation but civilisational rivalry, between the world of Christianity, Christendom, and the world of Islam, for a number of centuries, through the crusades, through the colonial period and since then, and there is a legacy of fear, mistrust on both sides. And those fears, that mistrust, those resentments, those anxieties must be acknowledged, must be dealt with rather than all discussion of them being silenced with this moral bludgeon.

Andrew West: Do you think though we often confuse Islam and Islamism—and a distinction has been drawn—do you recognise a distinction?

Clive Kessler: I do. Whatever Islam as a religion and a civilisation may be, we are now in a historical situation where after a century or two of the subordination of Islam, many Muslims in the post-colonial era have now come out and wish to reassert themselves in history, reassert Islam in history. Among some people that is a quite proper and properly conducted enterprise. But among some, the notion of Islam itself becomes ideologised, we might say, becomes a sacred cow, and many of the people who see themselves as simply rallying to the defence of Islam are promoting Islamism as a political agenda.

Andrew West: Is it the case Clive, that you can criticise a political agenda—so in a sense you can criticise Islamism as a political extension of the religion—but if you criticise the religion itself, that’s when people get, you know, very defensive and accuse you of Islamophobia? Is that the problem?

Clive Kessler: That is it, yes. And I do not wish to see any faith community maligned, impugned, publicly humiliated. Under a proper ethic of multiculturalism one doesn’t do that sort of thing. But at the same time we have to recognise that there are a number of difficulties, particularly in the relationships among the three Abrahamic faith communities—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—the dynamic of whose inter-relationships, not just as religions but as civilisations, have shaped the contours of much of modern world history. And we cannot deal with the history, to which we are heirs, unless we get back to understand some complicated things about all of those three faith communities as religions and the dynamics of their civilisational interaction.

Andrew West: Well your piece in The Australian, it’s very measured, I mean, you make the case that one must come to this debate with clean hands, but that’s impossible isn’t it?

Clive Kessler: To be specific about this, let me say that Judaism emerged in the world conceiving of itself simply as monotheism. When Christianity came along it had built into it an attitude towards Judaism, that it was now the true Judaism and the first Judaism, the first dispensation was superseded. It has no inbuilt doctrinal view however of Islam. Islam came into the world self-consciously in its own understanding as the successor, the completion, the perfection of the Abrahamic faith, of the monotheistic revelation. And it has built into it, certain key attitudes towards Christianity—a scepticism towards the whole doctrine of the trinity, as to whether Christ died on the cross—and certainly a number of very decided views about Judaism, not so much born of doctrinal difference but born of the politics of inter-relationships between the community, the faith community of Muhammad and the Jews of Medina in the prophet’s lifetime.

Andrew West: Yes. You make the very strong point in this article that the Islamic writings are indeed infused with a quite dark view of history at times.

Clive Kessler: There is a view built into Islam as a religion and into the civilisation born of it, that it is the completion of the Abrahamic faith, that all that is good in Christianity and Judaism lives on within Islam, perfected and uncontaminated and uncorrupted. That which does not live on—that which Islam has not taken—is inherently erroneous, corrupted and to be repudiated. Now this then gets to the nub, I think the core, of much of the issue about Islamophobia. Many aspects of the civilisation of Islam become subjects of contention but none more so we know, ever since The Satanic Verses, than the status of the prophet Muhammad himself.

Andrew West: So why is that Clive?

Clive Kessler: The crucial thing about Islam is the status of the prophet Muhammad, that according to Islamic doctrine, the Koran is the divine, the word of God himself, that was then injected into the world through the medium of the prophet Muhammad and that is why any questioning of the prophet Muhammad calls into question the whole project of Islam itself.

Andrew West: Does the status of Muhammad, who was a warrior, does that in a sense, shape what are often considered to be warlike or very aggressive defences of him?

Clive Kessler: Certainly there is the notion that the reputation of the prophet must be protected. And certainly Islam came into the world as a success story. It came within a century of the prophet’s death to rule most of the known world. It lived in the world on its own terms. It wrote its own script. Now this was a very complicated process. Standard Islamic historiography says this was all done by…in peaceful ways that war and the sword were no major or key part of the whole project. So anyone who raises those questions about whether the spread of Islam was entirely peaceful is seen as impugning Islam and the prophet.

The problem for modern Muslims is, that for the last two or three hundred years, ever since Napoleon landed in Egypt, the civilisation of Islam has been in some sense a wounded, a violated civilisation that has not lived in the world on its own terms, but has had to live a historical script written by others, that has yearned to live in the world once more on its own terms and which in our present age is seeking to assert itself in that way.

So the consequence in places such as Australia in particular, outside the Middle East, is that Muslims are minorities living with a majoritarian complex born of the long history of Islam’s civilisational ascendency. And that means that many Muslims find it difficult to abide by any public criticism or comment about Islam or Muhammad that they find uncongenial. And that’s when the charge of Islamophobia is habitually raised.

Andrew West: Well in your article you say the term Islamophobia is used indiscriminately. But that implies there is occasionally or from time to time, a legitimate use of it. When would you say the term was used legitimately?

Clive Kessler: I don’t like the term Islamophobia in general but this does not mean to say that I think that Muslims do not have an entitlement to voice their sense of dignity and to say when they feel that the interfaith ethics of a multicultural society have been violated. And I think we all have to be sensitive to those concerns with all faith communities.

Andrew West: Do these protests that have broken out around the world, in the light of this comic film and now we’ve got a new batch of cartoons in a French newspaper—but these upsurges of anger occur periodically—do they suggest though, an immaturity in a reaction to a perceived insult of the faith?

Clive Kessler: They represent a quite, one might say, visceral, an understandably visceral response to the feeling that Islam has been impugned because the prophet Muhammad has been mocked. When I was a small boy growing up in a rather Jewish neighbourhood our local non-Jewish butchers always put pigs’ heads in the windows of the shops and stuck oranges or apples in the heads. And this was truly shocking to most Jews in the neighbourhood but they never said, look, out of deference to our sensitivities they shouldn’t put those pigs’ heads in the windows, after all 40 per cent of the people in this neighbourhood are Jewish. They said, look if we have a problem, that’s our problem; it’s not our society.

And yet you’ll get exactly similar feelings both in Malaysia…in New York there was a recent case in Staten Island and even here where people will say, in our neighbourhood there are so many Muslims here, you shouldn’t be selling alcohol. Or you shouldn’t be selling pork chops. Why? Because to do so, is to confront us with something that we as Muslims find unpalatable or uncongenial and in some sense multicultural ethics require you not to do it. Now this is a case then, I would say, where similarly Muslims have to say, this is a problem of our sensitivities not of everybody’s. But the notion that the world must accommodate to those attitudes, among Muslims is, I think, very often a case of diasporic Muslims seeing the world and responding to things that do genuinely upset them. But responding to the problems of their minority situation through the prism, through the lens, of a majoritarian worldview that is the historic legacy of Islamic civilisation.


Video games as an "addiction"

This rubbish has been going on for years.  Video games are popular with kids so *therefore* they must be bad.  For kids with other problems they may seem so but most kids are fine.  They just exchange older recreations such as book reading for new recreations.  I used to read 3 books a week when I was a kid.  Was I addicted to books?   My son was allowed to play all the video games he liked when he was a kid but as an adult he is socially popular and has a first class B.Sc. in mathematics.  How come if computer games are so bad?

One swallow doesn't make a summer but it is notable that the enemies of games also quote isolated examples only.  The available proof of mass harm is ZERO.  It is all just opinion

Children addicted to using electronic devices 24/7 will be diagnosed with a serious mental illness if a new addiction, included as "internet-use disorder" in a worldwide psychiatric manual, is confirmed by further research.

The formal inclusion of the new addiction has been welcomed by Australian psychology professionals in response to a wave of "always-on" technology engulfing kids.

The Sun-Herald has spoken to parents of children as young as seven who are aggressive, irritable and hostile when deprived of their iPads or laptops. Psychologists argue video game and internet addictions share the characteristics of other addictions, including emotional shutdown, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if the gadgets are removed.

Other fallout can include devastating impacts for children and families as social interaction and even food are neglected in favour of the virtual worlds the children inhabit.

Australian experts contributed to the Australian Psychological Society's submission to the international manual, supporting the inclusion of an addiction focused on internet gaming.

In recognition of threats posed by increasingly prevalent electronic devices, the bible for the psychiatric profession, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), will include internet-use disorder as a condition "recommended for further study" in its revised edition in May next year.

The inclusion acknowledges risks posed by over-use of seemingly benign technologies, classifying internet-use disorder alongside other mental disorders that need further research before becoming a recognised mental illness that can be formally diagnosed.

Commentary in the United States about the move has raised the spectre of children being over-treated and even medicated for playing computer games.

But some Australian psychologists argue there should be an even broader diagnosis of internet-use addiction, allowing proper treatment of children obsessed by other technologies such as texting and a proliferation of devices such as iPads, tablets and Nintendo DS.

Reflecting problems with children's over-use of technology, Mike Kyrios from Swinburne University of Technology - one of the authors of the APS submission and a clinical psychologist with more than 15 years experience - is formally pushing for the revised manual to broaden internet-use disorder beyond gaming addictions.

Professor Kyrios says once more research is invested in the disorder, it would allow health professionals to diagnose children with addictive behaviours from technology overuse and treat them appropriately, including strategies to change their obsessive over-reliance on being connected.

"With kids, gaming is an obvious issue. But overall, technology use could be a potential problem," he said.

Professor Kyrios said children with underlying obsessive compulsive disorders could be at risk from technology overuse.

Kara Wright was so concerned her 12-year-old son, Jack, had an internet addiction, she banned him from using the laptop over school holidays.

After playing the computer game Minecraft for an hour on his laptop, Jack would become frustrated, angry and often cry, Ms Wright said.

"It is only when he is using technology that those emotions emerge," Ms Wright, who lives Caloundra in Queensland, said. "It had a huge impact on the family."

Her first attempt to address the problem was to limit Jack to a one-hour time limit. When that didn't work, Ms Wright enforced a full ban.

In January, Emil Hodzic, a qualified psychologist with seven years experience, established a video game addiction treatment clinic in Sydney's CBD, because of what he saw as growing demand from frustrated parents and damaged children. He said he was seeing clients as young as 12 addicted to the internet and video games.

"The most typical sign of addiction is anything that looks like withdrawal symptoms," he said. "So any expression of distress, frustration, irritability when they don't get to play."

Mr Hodzic said about 70 per cent of his clients were children and teenagers, with many showing addiction symptoms closely related to anxiety and depression. "A lot of kids I have coming into the clinic have difficultly in being able to tolerate distress without zoning out via the internet or via the games," he said.

But psychiatrist Rhoshel Lenroot, the chairman of child psychiatry at the University of NSW, said it was still too early to know how detrimental technology overuse could be. "I think [it] can be dangerous in not learning how to pay attention in a focused way, but in balance there is nothing wrong with technology."


Conservative Premier remains popular despite whining from union parasites

QUEENSLAND Premier Campbell Newman's popularity has remained solid despite vocal opposition from federal Labor and unions over his slashing of jobs.

Newspoll figures published in The Australian on Monday reveal Mr Newman's Liberal National Party (LNP) still holds 48 per cent of the primary vote, down only 1.7 percentage points from the 49.7 per cent it crushed Labor with at the state election.

Mr Newman's personal approval rating remains at the same level it was going into the March election, sitting at 47 per cent.

As preferred premier, he has about twice the numbers of Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk.  A mere 29 per cent of the 1145 votes polled supported Ms Palaszczuk.

On preferences in a two-party-preferred poll, the LNP commands a 20 point over Labor - 60 per cent LNP to 40 per cent Labor.

Katter's Australian Party has taken a huge blow in the poll.  It garnered 11.5 per cent of the vote at the election, but the figure has since slumped to one per cent.

Support for the Greens has risen from 7.5 per cent to nine per cent.


Freedom of speech defence in troop families abuse case

Making general comments is a lot different from abusing individuals so I don't think this defence will get him far

A SELF-STYLED Muslim cleric accused of sending offensive letters to the families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan will this week tell the High Court charges against him should be dropped on the grounds they infringed his implied constitutional freedom of political communication.

Man Haron Monis is charged with 12 counts of using a postal service in a menacing, harassing or offensive way, a federal crime which carries a maximum two year jail sentence.

Mr Monis, also known as Sheikh Haron, has been fighting to have the indictment quashed since 2010 but has lost in the District Court and Court of Criminal Appeal. In June, he was granted special leave to appeal to the High Court, where he will argue the legislation is invalid because it substantially curtails the ability of citizens to participate in the political process.

Mr Monis allegedly sent a series of letters to the families of Private Luke Worsley and Lance Corporal Jason Marks, who were killed in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.

He is also charged over a letter he sent in 2009 to the family of the Austrade official Craig Senger, who was killed in the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2007.

A key issue to be argued is the correct meaning of the word "offensive". In written submissions, Guy Reynolds, SC, for Mr Monis, said the law could catch general media material delivered by post, such as newspapers and magazines, which discuss political and government matters.

The Full Court will hear the matter in Canberra.


Australia's Leftist government has no problems with jihadis but a big problem with critics of jihadis

Six weeks ago, the leader of the [Dutch] Party for Freedom (PVV), which until recently held the balance of power in the Dutch parliament, applied for a visa to visit Australia. His name is Geert Wilders.

Members of his staff and security detail were granted visas after three days. Wilders received nothing. He is still waiting. The Dutch media are waiting for the insult the Gillard government appears to be preparing for a member of the Netherlands' parliament.

The Australian organisers of the Wilders trip are resigning themselves to being out of pocket by at least $10,000 if the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, continues to stall. The trip was going to be cancelled yesterday but the organisers have decided to hold for a few more days. After six weeks of silence, the federal government hasn't had the courage to deny Wilders a visa. It prefers the back door.

This confirms, as if any more confirmation were needed, the gutlessness that lies at the core of Australia's multibillion-dollar debacle on border security, where the thin blue line on border integrity has been turned into a wide yellow streak. While the government blusters, the people smugglers keep thriving and the cost of processing asylum seekers soars well beyond $100,000 per person.

Wilders is an elected member of parliament, has never been convicted of a crime and is an outspoken defender of pluralism, democracy, feminism and freedom of speech. He believes these bedrock liberal values are being eroded by a steady, incremental challenge from Muslims in Holland. He now lives under constant police protection. Four prominent critics of Islam in Holland have been assassinated or threatened with death in recent years.

Wilders argues that the root cause of growing ill-liberalism in Holland, and also in Belgium and France, is driven by strict adherents of Islam. He does not think the problem is confined to an extreme fringe. Rather, he sees the stresses between Muslims and non-Muslims in Holland as rooted in a general insularity among Muslims because Islam is not only a religion but a social, legal and political system that gives Islam primacy over the state.

Wilders was to have given speeches in Sydney and Melbourne in two weeks, sponsored by a private group, the Q Society, which was funding his visit via private donations and ticket sales.

The Gillard government appears intent on stopping this visit, even though it recently granted a visa to an Islamic fundamentalist, Taji Mustafa, a spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, the group implicated in the violent demonstration by several hundred Muslims in Sydney two weeks ago, while Mustafa was visiting the country. The Arabic script on headbands and T-shirts worn by many demonstrators were variations of the theme of jihad, such as "We are your soldiers, Muhammad".

An apologist for jihad was allowed into the country to speak while a member of the Dutch parliament has been stopped.

When the Minister for Immigration was asked in Parliament on September 17 why he had a approved the granting of a visa to Mustafa, he said: "Hizb ut-Tahrir has not been proscribed in Australia and nor has it been proscribed in the United States or the United Kingdom. This entry permit was issued in accordance with the normal procedures for British nationals … I conduct myself … in accordance with my responsibilities under the act. To do otherwise would be to open the Commonwealth to potential overturning of the decision and a potential very serious compensation case."

The reason for the Gillard government's willingness to find a cheerleader for jihad acceptable while an elected MP and cheerleader for Western values is tacitly deemed unacceptable would lie partly in a dramatic change in demographics under Labor. This, too, is a subject about which the federal government maintains a deafening silence.

During the five years of federal Labor governments, the ramp-up of immigration and boat people arrivals has helped a historic surge in the Muslim population of Australia, from about 350,000 to 500,000. The number of Muslim permanent residents has risen 75 per cent in the past decade. Labor holds several electorates in western Sydney with significant Muslim populations.

In 1972, when Labor introduced formal multiculturalism under the then minister for immigration, Al Grassby, Muslims represented just 0.2 per cent of Australia's population. This percentage has risen more than twentyfold in the ensuing 40 years. Grassby's reputation has been disgraced by revelations about his numerous links to Italian organised crime.

This would not surprise Wilders, a trenchant critic of multiculturalism, whose policies are much further to the right than those of the Coalition. The PVV rose to prominence after he expressed alarm about problems associated with the rapid growth of the Muslim population, which now exceeds 1 million in a country of 16.7 million and is growing about four times faster than the non-Muslim population.

Meanwhile, back at Australia's border debacle, the Gillard government refuses to embrace policies that have proved to be effective such as temporary protection visas for asylum seekers, or to set up an advanced interception line off Sri Lanka. So the boats keep coming - another three over the weekend with 333 asylum seekers - while the government expends $1 billion a year servicing its own impotence.


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