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, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Greenies were deliberately invented to plague us

Bishop, Iran discuss return of "asylum seekers"

Julie Bishop has begun high-level efforts to strike an agreement with the Iranian Government to repatriate its nationals whose refugee claims have been rejected by Australia.

The Foreign Affairs Minister told _The West Australian _ that she raised the involuntary return of boat people with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in New York last month.

It is understood that Mr Zarif acknowledged that many Iranians arriving in Australia by boat were economic migrants with no genuine fear of persecution.

Ms Bishop will follow up her talks with Mr Zarif during a meeting with top-ranking Iranian diplomat Majid Bizmark at the Indian Ocean Rim Association meeting in Perth tomorrow.

Striking an arrangement with Tehran that would allow Iranians to be involuntarily sent home would be a major coup, given it has long eluded Australian governments of all political persuasions. Of the 6403 people in immigration detention, almost one-third - 1867 - are Iranian.

Though a large percentage of Iranian detainees have failed in their bid for protection visas, Australia has been unable to send them home because there is no diplomatic agreement in place to allow it.

In July, Ms Bishop's predecessor Bob Carr said Iranian arrivals were mostly middle class, from majority ethnic and religious groups and "motivated by economic factors and are not fleeing persecution".

Ms Bishop said she would use her meeting with Mr Bizmark to progress discussions she had with Mr Zarif in New York.

"During that meeting at the UN, I raised with Foreign Minister Zarif our concerns that we needed arrangements put in place for the involuntary return of illegal immigrants from Iran," she told _The West Australian _.

"It was agreed that the Iranian Government and the Australian Government would work together to discourage other Iranians from seeking to leave Iran."

It is believed Iran has indicated it could back a public information campaign in the country to discourage more asylum seekers heading to Australia.

Ms Bishop will also use the meeting to discuss people smuggling with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who will be making his first trip to Perth for the event.

As well as addressing people smuggling, Ms Bishop will use the summit to reboot complex negotiations over selling uranium to India.

The Gillard government reversed the ban on uranium sales to India in 2011 but negotiations for a nuclear safeguard agreement have slowed.


Let's get rid of all the useless wind farms

By TERRY MCCRANN Financial journalist

I STILL have a dream. Of that one day when we start pulling down all the utterly useless, landscape-blighting, bird-killing, people-punishing, so-called wind farms.

We'll leave a few, some stripped of their turbines, some left with a blade to turn lazily and even more uselessly in the occasional breeze; all, like fragments of the Berlin Wall, as testimony to the time when insanity engulfed our supposed intellectual and policymaking elites.

Why, we could even keep one as a particular memorial to a certain former prime minister and his "greatest moral challenge of our time". This one, shorn of its blades, to mark his squibbing of that challenge.

The Climate Change Authority's 177 pages of sheer drivel, released today, as disconnected from reality as an abandoned wind farm is from the grid, comes close to ranking as the high-water mark of this insanity.

Although it came after a pretty competitive week, after the hysterical fires fanned by the ABC and Fairfax media, and in particular down at Climate Frenzy Central, the Age broadloid newspaper.

For the Big C, as the CCA styles itself, was not content with just doubling down on the climate stupidity, it tripled down in its draft report.

Indeed, it was even gathering its collective loins, to quintuple down in its final, and hopefully FINAL, as in ever, report early next year.

Thanks to Julia Gillard and Bob Brown - endorsed so memorably by that in-chamber kiss from the squibber, Kevin Rudd - Australia is legally committed to cutting its emissions of carbon dioxide by 5 per cent by 2020.

Thankfully, the way the legislation was constructed, the 23?million individual Australians are excused from having to reduce their bodily CO2 emissions by that 5?per cent; or required as an alternative to buy the appropriate permit to emit.

Well, the CCA says that's "inadequate". It said, we've got to shoot for at least 15?per cent; and it left little doubt that it really thought 25?per cent was where we should be aiming.

That's hardly surprising given the troika of professorial climate hysterics, Hamilton (Clive), Karoly (David) and Quiggin (John) that are the CCA's core. It's only surprising they didn't persuade their fellow members to shoot for something more tangible - like closing down all our real power stations by 2020.

The central argument from the CCA for bigger CO2 emission cuts, was that "evidence is also mounting" that several other comparable countries were "gearing up" to reduce their emissions even more aggressively by 2020.

This was followed by the usual 'what will they think of us' bleat from the policy activist, that a 5 per cent target would leave Australia lagging behind others, including the US.

Well, Greg Sheridan at our sister paper The Australian, utterly shredded that claim two weeks ago, so far as action through an emissions trading scheme is concerned.

Of the 195 members in the UN Framework Convention on Climate, only 34 had anything resembling an ETS and 27 of those were in the European Union - where the way it rigged the measurement of CO2 cuts around the closing down of inefficient former eastern European industry, has run out of steam anyway.

Japan had effectively abandoned plans for an ETS, Sheridan wrote. South Korea had one but was going to issue all permits for free. Some of the biggest emitters, like Indonesia and India, actually subsidised carbon-based fuels.

Yes, the US has an impressive target. It also stumbled on shale oil and gas - like winning the CO2-cut lottery. But it does not have either a carbon tax or an ETS and never will.

But it all really comes back to the carbon elephant in the room: China. Which of course buys a lot of coal and iron ore from us and turns that into steel, a little bit of power and a lot of CO2.

It is this context that the CCA lives up to its claim of independence. It just failed to add, that was, independence from reason. The world it projects of robust action on cutting CO2 emissions is like an alternative universe - a universe that exists only in the delusions of especially Hamilton and Quiggin. But now it would appear also, of their fellow CCA members.

The report claimed that China was stepping up its efforts to "reduce emissions." And that it was "investing heavily in renewable energy projects, closing inefficient coal power plants".

The first is simply and completely untrue. As the fine print of the CCA report itself noted, China is only aiming to cut CO2 emission intensity not emissions per se. By cutting emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 per cent by 2020.

That might sound impressive, but given China's phenomenal pace of growth, its actual total emissions in 2020 will be significantly higher than they are today.

Do the math and the very best outcome would see China increase its emissions between now and 2020 by more than the total of Australia's emissions.

More realistic projections would see China increase its emissions by up to `10 Australia's.' That's to say, China would go up by perhaps 200 times as much as we cut at 5 per cent; by 67 times as much even if we cut by 15?per cent,

And that's assuming it actually met its target. It's not binding; and as even the Sydney Morning Herald has noted in an analysis from Reuters, China's actual carbon intensity was unchanged from 2009 to 2011.

The third CCA claim is a deliberate constructive lie. Yes, China is closing down old coal-fired power stations - to reduce REAL pollution, the dirty little bits of grit that really does kill people in poor energy-deprived countries.

But is replacing them with modern plants that pump out just as much CO2 plant food, but does it cleanly. Indeed, it's building far more than it replaces.

As the Economist Intelligence Unit noted in an analysis in July, China's CO2 emissions were headed for a 40 per cent INCREASE by 2020. Why? Because of rapidly expanding coal-fired power generation.

The CCA report is worse than a disgrace. It proposes wilful pain on all Australians and extraordinarily serious damage to the economy.

To cut emissions by 25?per cent in just seven years would require us to send the economy into recession, or write out multi-billion dollar cheques to foreigners, just for `permission' to keep our lights on and (any remaining) factories operating.

And all for utterly no point. Even if you believe the climate hysteria, it would make no difference to global or indeed Australian temperatures; and the CCA lies aside, the rest of the world is NOT following anyway.

The report could just as well have been written by Bob Brown and Christine Milne. It certainly channelled all their fantasies.


Students burn Tony Abbott effigy, chase Joe Hockey in heated protest outside Parliament

Just hate-filled Trots having fun again now there is a conservative government. Real students would be busy studying for their exams at this time

STUDENTS have clashed with police in a dramatic protest outside State Parliament this afternoon over proposed federal funding cuts to higher education.

The protesters burnt an effigy of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and threw shoes at Liberal Party headquarters in a rally against proposed federal funding cuts to higher education.

About 100 student protesters gathered outside parliament house in Spring St before the group marched into the city.

Some protesters chased Treasurer Joe Hockey who appeared on Spring Street around lunchtime.

The protest was organised by the National Union of Students, whose members recently sent hundreds of angry emails to Education Minister Christopher Pyne.

"Five people have been arrested following a protest in the CBD this afternoon," Victoria Police spokeswoman Natalie Webster said.

"Approximately 50 to 100 people marched through the CBD, stopping to protest at several sites including Parliament House, the State Library, a political party headquarters in Exhibition Street and ending at RMIT University.

"Police attended to ensure the safety of all involved, and provided an escort to persons entering and exiting the building.

"It's alleged several police members were assaulted during the incident, including one member who was allegedly punched to the face by a protester. "He is currently receiving treatment in hospital for minor facial injuries.

"It's alleged some protesters also threw shoes and chalk at police and burned items in the street. "Three men and two women are currently in custody and are assisting police with their inquiries. "The protestors have left the street however police continue to monitor the situation.

"The investigation into the incident remains ongoing," she said.

First Nations Students Officer at La Trobe University Jay Wymarra said he was arrested and charged with arson for burning a cardboard cutout of Abbott.

"What they did was arrest me, shove me to the ground, put their knees in my neck and drag me away from the protest as far as they could," he said. "We as students will not stand for this," he said

"We are not going to be told what to study, we are going to take a stand against it.

Mr Wymarra said the police were heavy handed. "It was all for perfectly peaceful means," he said. "We were trying to voice our opinions. They (the police) attacked us." He said the students planned more demonstrations.

Matthew Lesh of the Australian Liberal Students' Federation condemned the disruption. "They have every right to protest calmly and peacefully, but today's violence and disruption is despicable, and certainly does not represent students," Mr Lesh said.

"Students who are concerned about their education are busy studying today, not playing games, disrupting traffic, wasting police time."

The dramatic protest comes during a busy university exam period.


Sex injury compo bid rebuffed by High Court over 'lack of inducements'

Very fair and clear reasoning from the High Court -- JR

There are days within the august surrounds of the High Court when even the most sober of Justices might struggle against an injudicious outbreak of levity.

The matter revolved around a claim for compensation by a female public servant from Canberra who, while out of town in the NSW coastal town of Nowra on a brief work trip, met a chap and repaired to her Commonwealth-paid motel bed for purposes other than sleeping.

There, in what was described in an earlier court as a "vigorous" bout of non-sleeping, a light fitting above the bed was ripped loose. The unfortunate woman suffered facial injuries.

She complained also of psychological damage. We can only imagine. Evidence, sadly, does not extend to whether or not it was during the moment of rapture, or whether the vigorous companion of the night suffered anything similar.

The public servant, her name suppressed, sued Comcare for compensation. The matter wended its way through a tribunal and the Federal Court until it reached its zenith in the High Court.

The High Court on Wednesday issued a one-page summary of its finding. The Justices' musings upon whether the said "interlude" was "induced" by the woman's employer may prove a classic of the genre, and serve forever as a cautionary tale to travelling servants of the public or other bosses.

Herewith is the Justices' summary:

"Today the High Court, by majority, held that Comcare, the appellant, was not liable to pay compensation to a Commonwealth government employee who, whilst staying overnight on a work-related trip to a regional town, suffered injuries whilst engaging in sexual intercourse in the motel room her employer had booked for her.

"The respondent had been required by her employer to work for two consecutive days in a regional town away from her ordinary place of residence. She stayed overnight at a local motel which had been booked by her employer. Whilst at the motel, the respondent engaged in sexual intercourse with an acquaintance.

"In that process, a glass light fitting above the bed was pulled from its mount and struck the respondent on her nose and mouth, causing her physical injuries and a subsequent psychological injury.

"The respondent sought compensation from Comcare under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (Cth) ("the Act"). She argued that her injuries were suffered "in the course of" her employment and that she was, therefore, entitled to compensation.

"The Administrative Appeals Tribunal ("the Tribunal") held that the respondent's injuries were unrelated to her employment. On appeal, the Federal Court of Australia set aside the Tribunal's decision. The Federal Court's decision was then upheld by the Full Court of the Federal Court.

"The Full Court held that the respondent's injuries occurred in an "interval or interlude" during an overall period of work and, therefore, arose in the course of her employment.

"An interval or interlude existed because the respondent's employer had induced or encouraged her to spend the night at a particular place – the motel. It was not necessary to show that the respondent's employer had induced or encouraged her to engage in the particular activity in which she was engaged when her injuries were suffered. By special leave, Comcare appealed to the High Court.

"The High Court allowed Comcare's appeal. A majority of the High Court held that in order for an injury sustained in an interval or interlude during an overall period of work to be in the course of an employee's employment, the circumstances in which the employee was injured must be connected to an inducement or encouragement by the employer.

"If the employee is injured whilst engaged in an activity at a certain place, that connection does not exist merely because of an inducement or encouragement to be at that place. When the circumstances of an injury involve the employee engaging in an activity at the time of the injury, the relevant question is: did the employer induce or encourage the employee to engage in that activity?

"On the facts of the respondent's case, the majority held that the answer to that question was 'no'."


30 October, 2013

Renewable energy target looking shaky

Festering just below the surface of the energy supply debate is the vexing question of the renewable energy target (RET).

While gas supply has grabbed headlines in recent weeks, the growing crisis around the RET cannot be ignored. Discussion around the problem got as least as much airplay as coal seam gas at energy conferences in Sydney this week.

The 2020 RET is almost unique in that it is a piece of energy legislation that has enjoyed bipartisan support for years. But the target is looking increasingly untenable in today’s climate of declining wholesale power demand, putting that broad political backing under strain.

The RET in its current form mandates 41,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy supply by 2020.

When the policy was designed that fixed target was to account for 20 per cent of total electricity supply. It assumed continued growth in wholesale electricity demand, in parallel with economic growth, as had been the case for ever.

Fast forward to today and the picture is very different. Power demand on the National Electricity Market (NEM) hit a peak in 2008-09 and has been on the way down since.

On the current trend, the same 41,000 gigawatt hours is likely to be closer to 28 per cent of total supply.

Consultancy ACIL Allen calculates the decline of 6.7 per cent in NEM demand since the peak is the equivalent of taking an 1800-megawatt power plant running at 85 per cent capacity out of the market.

But no such plant has been removed. No plants closed under the Labor government’s failed "contracts for closure” scheme and meanwhile more renewable energy is being forced into the market when no new capacity is needed. Several plants have been mothballed, but none permanently closed.

The result is what Origin Energy’s head of energy markets Frank Calabria says is probably the worst case of surplus capacity the market has ever seen.

The consequences are being felt throughout the energy supply space. Wholesale prices, excluding carbon, are as low as they were 10 years ago. Natural gas demand, which only a few years ago was expected to enjoy a boost from increased use in power generation, is stalling as far as domestic use goes.

In 2010, ACIL Tasman, as it was then, was forecasting demand for gas for power generation in the eastern states could reach as high as 1000 petajoules by 2030, depending on policy settings, out of total demand for the region of 1800 petajoules. Now the firm reckons 650 petajoules is more likely for the whole eastern states market in 2030, leaving aside liquefied natural gas exports.

The Abbott government is set to review the RET next year. For many it can’t come too soon.

Arguments by the previous Labor government that modifying the target to a "real” 20 per cent of electricity demand would destabilise the industry seem to carry increasingly less weight when virtually the whole energy supply sector is suffering.

But the stakes are high should the target be modified. Numerous foreign investors, such as Spain’s Acciona and New Zealand’s Meridian Energy, are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in wind power projects that will help meet the target.

Local players such as Infigen Energy and Pacific Hydro are similarly exposed.

Even discussion around potential changes to the legislation are damaging when the heads of Australian project developers seek sanctions for funding from their boards.

AGL Energy’s Tim Nelson pointed out on Thursday that the 9000 megawatts oversupply currently calculated in the National Electricity Market matches up pretty well with the amount of generation capacity that has been built, thanks to subsidies such as the RET scheme over the past few years.

Remove it and the market would be back in balance.

No one is suggesting that is the answer, but it highlights the distortions in the market that have been created by such policy interventions, however worthwhile.


$790 million boost for Catholic and independent schools

Independent and Catholic schools sector set to receive an additional $790 million in funding over the next six years as part of a new system of schools funding.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli will amend the NSW Education Act to allow it to comply with a new national agreement for funding non-government schools, with the sector set to receive $790 million over the next six years.

The existing legislation requires the state to provide non-government schools with 25 per cent of the per-student funding it gives to government schools, but this will be changed to herald in the new needs-based 'Gonski' system.

A spokesman for Mr Piccoli said all schools would receive extra funding under the National Education Reform Agreement, signed between former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier Barry O'Farrell earlier this year.

"There will be an estimated additional $790 million provided to non-government schools in NSW from the state and Commonwealth over the period 2014 to 2019," he said.

"Funding to non-government schools will continue, but will be delivered according to an improved needs-based system, rather than being tied to the cost of education government school children."

"The requirement that non-government school per-capita grants be provided at a fixed level relative to Government schools does not allow the State to move over time to a more responsive funding system as agreed in the NERA."

Over the six years of the so-called Gonski agreement, during which time funding increases step-up over time, public schools are slated to receive an additional $4.2 billion in funding.

The NSW Government recently announced a new funding model for public schools in NSW in line with the NERA which delivered gains in the first year to 90 per cent of schools but resulted in funding cuts for more than 200 schools in 2014, many from low socio-economic areas.

NSW Greens MP John Kaye said it was "scandalous" for the government to increase funding for non-government schools.

"It's a scandalous increase to a sector that is already awash with cash. The O'Farrell government is making private schools even wealthier while cutting funds from more than 200 disadvantaged public schools," said Dr Kaye.

The Abbott federal government has so far only agreed to honouring the first four years of the six-year funding agreements reached between the former Gillard government and the NSW government.


NSW returns to surplus earlier than expected

After Labor party chaos

The surging Sydney property market has contributed to a turnaround of more than half a billion dollars in the state's finances, bringing the budget into surplus last financial year.

Treasurer Mike Baird told parliament the actual budget result for 2012-13 was a $239 million surplus instead of the $374 million deficit announced in the June statement.

He said stamp duty revenue had jumped by $198 million, but a decision by the federal government to bring forward $123 million in grants and a $50 million reduction in expenses also contributed to the result.

Additionally, revenue was boosted by the lease of Port Botany and Port Kembla, which delivered a "one-off" $215 million in duty to the government.

Mr Baird said the result was "a good news story for the people of NSW" but warned the state had "a long way to go".

Last week the NSW government was warned there was a one-in-three chance it would lose its AAA credit rating in the next two years.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's said this was because of anticipated increased debt levels to fund infrastructure plans.

On Tuesday Mr Baird said the government made "no apologies for undertaking an aggressive infrastructure program".

He also defended the size of the $613 million revision for the 2012-13 result, arguing that revisions were "inevitable".

"A revision of $613 million represents barely one per cent of the total Budget or less than four days' worth of spending," Mr Baird said.

Last year Mr Baird was embarrassed when the auditor-general discovered a so-called "billion dollar blunder" in the state budget due to 37 errors by agencies.

He has since enlisted the assistance of the auditor-general to prepare the budget.


Tony Abbott well short of wacky diplomatic highs of previous PMs

In the annals of Great Moments in Bunyip Diplomacy, Tony Abbott's use of the term "wacko" to describe, in an interview with the Washington Post, Labor's broadband policy, is a limp thing.

Consider Gough Whitlam's towering magnificence during a historic visit to the Soviet Union in 1975.

Whitlam and Labor minister Lionel Bowen were ushered through the halls of the Kremlin and into the presence of Alexei Gromyko, the chairman of the Council of Ministers and the second most powerful figure in the entire USSR.

The full splendour of what happened next was kept secret and only confided many years later by Bowen to the Labor Party's historian, Senator John Faulkner, who finally recounted it at Whitlam's 92nd birthday, five years ago.

"With the aid of a translator," Faulkner began, "Kosygin said 'I'm delighted to meet you. This is the first occasion an Australian prime minister has visited the Kremlin despite the fact we have fought alongside each other in two world wars. Now, let's do something big to honour the occasion, like a major trade announcement'."

Gromyko proposed that the USSR take large amounts of Australia's wheat and wool, and Australia could reciprocate with landing rights for Aeroflot and the purchase of minerals and ships from the Soviets.

Whitlam left Gromyko thunderstruck and Bowen aghast by responding, "Comrade, I don't want to talk with you about mundane things like trade! "I want to know what happened to the Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1918!”

The grand duchess was the daughter of Russia's last Tsar, Nicholas II. In July, 1918, the Tsar and his whole family were murdered by the Bolshevik secret police, though rumours persisted that Anastasia may have been spared and spirited away, leading to one of the great romantic mysteries of the 20th century.

Unsurprisingly, no announcement of a trade deal between Australia and the USSR was forthcoming.

Prime Minister Paul Keating was another master of diplomacy. In 1995, with new opposition leader John Howard barking at his heels, Keating flew off on a grand tour to the reunited Germany and places between and beyond. Thanks to Keating advising Berlin's city fathers how to rebuild their city, it became known as the "Captain Wacky Goes to Berlin" tour.

On the way, he stopped into Singapore and was granted a meeting with the prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.

Keating was fuming about media baron Kerry Packer, back in Australia, having suggested that Howard might make a good prime minister. Keating hijacked a joint media conference with Goh Chok Tong at Singapore's presidential palace, wording up Australian journalists to ask him about Packer and Howard so he could rant, at great and colourful length, about both of them. The inscrutable Singaporean Prime Minister was left stranded like an unwanted guest at his own garden party as Keating seethed.

It was about as diplomatic as accusing Malaysia's Prime Minister, the prickly Dr Mahathir Mohamad, of being "recalcitrant" for not attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum in 1993.

Keating's criticism - which sent a lot of observers scurrying for their dictionaries - was as welcome to Mahathir as Bob Hawke's thrust of 1986, when he described Malaysia's execution of two Australian drug traffickers as "barbaric". White Australians, Mahathir shot back, massacred Aborigines, so they had no right to tell Asians what to do.

John Howard was very pally with George W. Bush and the Republicans, but his great moment in diplomacy guaranteed his relationship with the US administration, had he survived as PM after 2007, would have been entertainingly toxic.

He outdid every leader before him in US-Australian relations by suggesting Barack Obama was a friend of terrorists because he wanted to pull troops out of Iraq.

"If I were running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats," Howard declared in February 2007.

Obama retorted that he was flattered that one of George W. Bush's allies had attacked him, adding that unless Howard was "ginned up" to send another 20,000 troops to Iraq, his offering was "just a bunch of empty rhetoric".


Tony Abbott's an amateur. He has a long distance to travel before he enters the big league of Bunyip Diplomats. And no one has a hope of challenging Gough Whitlam.


29 October, 2013

The mother of the boy accused of race-hate attack in Bondi works in a Jewish nursing home

Because the assailants were NOT Muslim, we are told about their ethnicity. Polynesians do have a high incidence of crime in Australia. They have very little respect for the law

THE mother of a boy accused of an anti-semitic bashing in Bondi has denied her son is racist, citing she works in a Jewish nursing home. The 17-year-old is accused of being among a group of boys who viciously bashed a Jewish family at Bondi at midnight Saturday. They allegedly called the group " Jews" before allegedly bashing them.

Yesterday the mother of one of the two boys arrested moved to defend her son from the racist accusations. Asked whether her son was racist, she said "no". Then, as evidence, she said she worked at a Jewish nursing home.

"When he's at home he's not racist but when they get together they like to pick on people - it only takes drinking," she said.

The two boys, who cannot be identified as they will appear before a children's court, were already on bail for assaulting a police officer when they allegedly attacked the family at Bondi Beach.

They were charged with using unlawful violence against Constable Chun-Yuan Shieh and a number of others at Coogee beach on Saturday, September 7. They were also charged with affray for assaulting the officer in the execution of his duty.

The boy's mother confirmed that her son has been in trouble before and said he hung out with a "gang" that often used her home to sleep. "He's been in a lot of trouble," she said.

The mother said her son, who is addicted to alcohol, only got out of juvenile detention last week. "When he was 16 he was in there for a very long time ... for robbery at a train station."

The two boys were part of a group of eight mainly Pacific Islander youths charged with attacking the family, including a 66-year-old father and a 62-year-old mother, and friends walking home from a Sabbath dinner.

Five of them were hospitalised with broken bones, concussion and bleeding on the brain.

The two 17-year-olds were arrested and charged with affray. They were refused bail in court yesterday. A 23-year-old was also arrested and charged but was released to appear in court in December.

Senior police said those allegedly involved in the attack had no connection to Islam.

The pair were part of a group of eight mainly Pacific Islander youths who have been charged with attacking the family and friends walking home from a Sabbath Dinner just after midnight on Saturday morning at Bondi. A 23-year-old was arrested and charged on the night before being released to appear in court on December 3.

The remaining five are still being hunted by police who are now scouring CCTV footage in the area near Blair and Glenayr Streets where the attack took place.

A 27-year-old man, his father, 66, and mother, 62 along with two other males aged 48 and 39, all ended up being hospitalised after the attack suffering from concussion, fractured bones, bleeding on the brain and serious abrasions

The family also released a statement calling for tolerance.

"We thank God that we are alive," the family said.

"Our overriding concern is that such an attack should not happen again - to anyone. Our objective at this time is not vengeance, but justice and concern. We want justice to be done in regard to the perpetrators. And we are concerned about the need for the education of future generations about the importance of goodwill and tolerance, and the need for society to embrace those concepts. We would like to see proactive measures in that regard.

"People should be free to walk the streets in safety, without fear of being attacked because of the colour of their skin or the race to which they belong.

"We wish to thank the police for their fast response on the night of the incident, as well as St Vincent's Hospital emergency staff, the ambulance service, the shopkeepers who offered assistance, the locals who tried to help, the hotel bouncers who eventually came to our aid. We also thank the Premier, Opposition Leader, ministers, shadow ministers, MPs and leaders of the many faith groups and organisations across the wider community which have expressed support and concern. We also thank friends and members of the community. The support is deeply appreciated and reminds us that what occurred is not what Australia is about.

The Jewish community is still in shock over the attack."


Labor needs to ditch the Greens and embrace the facts

In February, Senator Christine Milne announced that the Greens would be unilaterally junking their alliance with Labor. The Labor-Greens agreement, which was formalised in September 2010, did the ALP a lot of political harm. So it is possible that the then prime minister Julia Gillard and her treasurer Wayne Swan were not displeased with Milne's decision.

So the Greens publicly dumped Labor. But the ALP has found it difficult to distance itself from the Greens. Towards the end of her prime ministership, Gillard overturned Labor's policy on asylum seekers and adapted a position closer to that held by Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Kevin Rudd embraced the Gillard position when he resumed as prime minister in June. He went on to renounce Gillard's carbon tax, which he planned to replace with an emissions trading scheme. And then came Labor's defeat.

As opposition leader in the aftermath of a devastating defeat, Bill Shorten faces obvious problems. Some commentators have been heard to suggest that, in the modern era, no opposition leader has taken over after a serious loss and gone on to become prime minister.

This overlooks Gough Whitlam, who took over as Labor leader in the wake of Arthur Calwell's defeat in February 1967 and led the ALP to victory six years later. Whitlam and Tony Abbott are the most successful opposition leaders since the end of the Second World War.

It would be foolish to predict that, under Shorten's leadership, Labor has no hope. Yet Shorten Labor clearly has serious policy difficulties. They mainly turn on the policy legacy of the Greens-Labor alliance: namely, carbon pricing and asylum seekers.

The latter issue presents obvious predicaments since it brings into play Labor's diverse base. There are the inner-city working professionals, many of whom are dependent (directly or indirectly) on government funding. Then there are those who live in the suburbs and regional areas, many of whom are in the private workforce or self-employed.

Rudd Labor's decision to wind back John Howard's strong border protection policies appealed to many inner-city types but did not go down well elsewhere and was a factor in Labor's near loss in 2010 and its bad defeat last month. If, under Shorten, Labor appears to embrace the Greens' position on asylum seekers it is difficult to see how Labor can win back many of the suburban and regional seats it lost in the past two elections.

Labor's chance of developing a considered and effective policy on asylum seekers will be enhanced if it is informed by fact rather than by sentiment. This requires that prevailing myths be challenged and demolished.

Myth one: the Vietnamese boat people came to Australia by boat. Not so. Q&A presenter Tony Jones made this howler last week when he confidently declared that "we took an awful lot of Vietnamese" in the 1970s and "they came here on boats". According to Malcolm Fraser, about 70,000 Indochinese came to Australia during the period of his government - from November 1975 until March 1983. However, just over 2000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat during the entire seven-year period of the Fraser government. The remaining 97 per cent arrived in Australia by plane with valid visas. This compares with an estimated 45,000 boat arrivals during the almost six years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments.

Myth two: people arriving in Australia by boat are fleeing persecution. Not necessarily so. The overwhelming majority of boats arriving in Australia unlawfully contain people who have made secondary movements. Many have travelled freely to Indonesia or Malaysia where they buy spaces on boats from people smugglers. Their immediate fear of persecution is no greater than that of established refugees waiting for placement in United Nations-run camps in Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

Myth three: until recent times, there was a bipartisan approach on asylum seekers. Novelist Tom Keneally made this point on 7.30 last week. Not at all. During his final year as prime minister in 1975, and as opposition leader in 1976 and 1977, Whitlam opposed Vietnamese refugees settling in Australia. Labor's position only changed when Bill Hayden succeeded Whitlam. Moreover, since Labor changed its policy under Gillard, there is now a degree of similarity in the position of both the Coalition and Labor.

Myth four: only the hard-hearted lack sympathy for boat people. This is special pleading. At present rates, 4 per cent of boat people die at sea. The only way to stop the drownings is to stop the boats.

Labor's best chance of handling the asylum seeker issue turns on its ability to demolish the myths and establish the facts. This will have the effect of distancing Labor from myth-loving Greens.


Labor set to bury carbon tax

Labor is expected to support axing the carbon tax, with senior figures - including leader Bill Shorten - now convinced that its case for action on climate change will be more easily sold if the politically toxic tax is abolished.

The opposition has been wrestling with what to do on the repeal of the tax, with some saying it must hold the line to show voters and demoralised supporters that it still stands for something.

They argue that Labor proposed to "terminate" the tax at the last election and to simply block its repeal would allow the government to continue to punish it politically.

Mr Shorten is also worried that continual focus on the tax will distract from serious flaws in the government's $3.2 billion "direct action" policy, which Labor will oppose.

Under direct action, taxpayer dollars are used to pay polluters to reduce emissions and to fund other initiatives in forestry, carbon capture and recycling.

A survey of economists by Fairfax Media found only two of 35 supported direct action over an emissions trading scheme, which uses a floating carbon price driven by the global market.

Labor will continue to back some form of carbon pricing but reserves the right to deliver its policy closer to the election. Meanwhile, it will scrutinise direct action.

Independent analysis of direct action suggests it will not be able to reduce emissions by the bipartisan target of 5 per cent by 2020 without more funding - which has been ruled out by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

A senior Labor source said the party would not countenance weakening the target, amid concern that the legislation to repeal the carbon tax will change the status of the 5 per cent target from a legally enforceable cap to merely an aspiration.

"We are happy to get rid of the tax but we do think there should be a cap on pollution," said one Labor insider.

Mr Abbott has made the repeal of the tax his legislative priority when Parliament resumes in two weeks. He has urged Labor to "repent" and support the government.

A number of Labor sources acknowledge there has been a shift in sentiment since the election. Even so, the shadow cabinet is yet to finalise Labor's position and wants to see the final shape of the government's legislation before making any commitment.

Labor's climate change spokesman, Mark Butler, hinted strongly at the weekend that the option of backing the repeal bills was being considered, saying that the final policy "will be informed by the fact that we took to the last election a commitment ourselves to terminate the carbon tax".

John Scales of JWS Research said polling showed that the carbon tax had dominated the climate change debate in recent years and undermined support for action.

He said the tax was widely seen through the prism of former prime minister Julia Gillard's broken promise when she introduced the impost, and through its impact on electricity and other prices.

Mr Abbott has already begun to call Mr Shorten "Electricity Bill" as he goads him to support the repeal of the tax. With it gone, Mr Scales said Labor would have clear air to make direct action its target and to develop its alternative.


War Memorial to keep 'Known unto God' on tomb of Unknown Soldier

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) has dropped plans to remove the phrase "Known unto God" from the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canberra.

Last month the memorial's governing council decided to replace two inscriptions on the tomb with words from a eulogy delivered by then prime minister Paul Keating during the re-internment of the Unknown Soldier 20 years ago.

Rudyard Kiplings's words "Known unto God", which are on the headstones of thousands of soldiers in war cemeteries worldwide, were to be replaced with "We do not know this Australian's name, we never will".

But AWM director Brendan Nelson says the decision prompted about 40 complaints from Christians, historians, politicians and other interested parties.

He says there will now be a compromise.

"Obviously sensitive to the concerns, the council's then said right well we will leave 'Known unto God' but we will replace at the other end of the tomb the words 'He symbolises all those Australians who've died in war' with 'He is one of them, and he is all of us'," he said.

There are reports the backdown was prompted by intervention by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Veteran's Affairs Michael Ronaldson.

"I'm not going to discuss whether the Prime Minister or indeed the Minister for Veteran's Affairs have had conversations with me or anybody else here or indeed what the content of that is," Dr Nelson said. "But I think it would be fair to say, knowing Tony Abbott as I do so very well, I suspect he'd be quite comfortable with where we've landed."

Dr Nelson says political correctness had nothing to do with the initial decision to remove "Known unto God". "Historically, Charles Bean ... who conceived and drove the memorial, his ambition was always that there would be no religious symbols or references in the memorial or indeed in the hall," he said. "It was not until 1999 that the words 'Known unto God' were placed."

He says the change was designed to give permanence to Mr Keating's 1993 eulogy. "This was never driven by some suggestion that we should remove God or political correctness or anything of the sort," Dr Nelson said.

The remains of an unknown Australian soldier killed in World War I were returned from France in 1993 and buried in a tomb within the memorial's Hall of Memory to honour all Australians who have died in wars.


28 October, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has some kind words about Bob Carr

Five Jews hospitalised after mob attack in Bondi; Ordinary Ockers spring to their assistance

What would be the religion of a group of 8 males who attacked a group of peaceful Jewish pedestrians? Lebanese Muslims would be my best guess.

Two men remain in hospital with serious injuries after an alleged anti-Semitic attack near Bondi Beach on Saturday. Five people were injured suffering a fractured cheekbone, broken nose, concussion, lacerations and bruising when they were set upon by eight youths on Blair Street.

St Vincent's Hospital spokesman and member of the Bondi Jewish community David Faktor said the victims told him the attack was unprovoked and racially motivated. He said the family was returning from a Jewish Sabbath dinner and did not know their attackers or do anything to incite the violence.

"Any kind of serious unprovoked attack is of great concern but the fact it was racially motivated is all the more concerning," Mr Faktor said. "It is extremely shocking that an attack like this could happen in Australia let alone in Bondi being such a multicultural area."

Mr Faktor said the victims were wearing skullcaps and told him the attack felt like it went for about 15 minutes.

Police said four men, aged 27 to 66, and a 62-year-old woman were walking along Blair Street when a group of eight males started hurling abuse and assaulting them at 12.30am on Saturday. Police said the melee continued along Glenayr Avenue before police arrived and the attackers fled. Police have arrested two teenage boys, 17, and a 23-year-old man.

Beach Road Hotel licensee Ben Pearce said four bouncers and two managers from the hotel went to help stop the attack. He said the hotel's employees jumped into the middle of the brawl in an effort to break it up and were able to restrain a couple of offenders before the police arrived.

"The guys did the best they could to grab as many of [the attackers] as possible," Mr Pearce said. "The fact it had that extra component [was racially motivated] makes it even more ugly. "If it ever happened again we'd do the same to try and help."

Mr Pearce said a taxi driver also stopped to try and grab one of the youths as they ran away. He said the youths were not patrons of the hotel. The hotel provided security footage and statements to police.

Mr Faktor said two of the victims were released from hospital early on Saturday with superficial injuries while another man, 27, whose face and eye were injured was expected to be released later on Saturday.

Another man, 66, who suffered serious head injuries will stay in hospital overnight. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Two 17-year-old boys were charged with affray and breach of bail. They were refused bail and will appear at children's court on Sunday.

A 23-year-old man was charged with affray and granted bail to appear at Waverley Local Court on December 3.

The NSW Anti-discrimination Board of NSW will investigate the incident. Board president Stepan Kerkyasharian told Channel 7 News there appeared to be "severe racial vilification involved in the incident". "That’s a term under the [anti-discrimination] legislation," he said. "And I think that we should be taking action."


Prime Minister Abbott tells the US of the wacko Rudd-Gillard government

TONY Abbott has offered Americans an insight into the "wonderful, wacko world" of the Rudd-Gillard government, describing his federal predecessors as "scandalous".

In an interview with the Washington Post, the newspaper that famously exposed the Watergate scandal during the Nixon years, the Prime Minister also rubbished suggestions the recent bushfires were linked to climate change.

"Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government," he said. "I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history."

Asked to expand on his argument, Mr Abbott said the former government made a whole lot of commitments, "which they scandalously failed to honour".

"They did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus.

"They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network," he said. "They were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity.

"They made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power. It was an embarrassing spectacle, and I think Australians are relieved they are gone."

Mr Abbott also told Americans the arguments around climate change had become too "theological" - Australia had had fires and floods since the beginning of time.

"We've had much bigger floods and fires than the ones we've recently experienced. You can hardly say they were the result of anthropic global warming," he said.

"This argument has become far too theological for anyone's good. I accept that climate change is a reality. And I support policies that will be effective in reducing emissions, but I do think there is too much climate-change alarmism."

Mr Abbott told the Tasmanian Liberal Party Conference yesterday his "stop the boats" pledge was already being realised, despite Labor shifting to a hard line policy in June.


Boat people policy that works

"Tony Abbott makes a beeline in my arse," says people smuggler Reza Kord on a secretly recorded phone call recently.

It's a particularly rude piece of idiom in the Farsi language, apparently, but just one of the unkind things being said about the new Australian Prime Minister among people smugglers and asylum seekers in Indonesia.

If Australia's aim was, in Julia Gillard's words, to "smash the people smugglers' business model", then the recent policy changes have done the job.

Smashing the model has fragmented it into a series of complex and expensive alternative options, proposals and pipedreams, which, even if they are possible, will never see the huge volume of people hitting Australia as we've seen in the past.

"All Australian prime ministers have been chosen for two terms," one people smuggler was recorded saying recently. "Two terms means six years. Without any doubt, for six years, Australia's door will be shut for asylum seekers."

The irony here is that it's not Abbott's policies, but Kevin Rudd's uncompromising final stand - the Papua New Guinea and Nauru options - as well as Indonesia's decision (under pressure from Labor) to stop Iranians using visas-on-arrival to get to Indonesia, that have stopped the people traffic in its tracks.

So, why is Abbott being accused of making the beeline? Because his tough talk - known in the finance industry as "jawboning" - has almost fully convinced the people smugglers and their customers that this time Australia means it.

Labor's frequent policy reversals encouraged the impression that asylum seekers merely had to wait and the door would inch back open.

Of Abbott they hold no such hope. So, now, in desperation, they are casting around for alternatives.


Hodgman calls for Tasmanian election

The Green/Left have ruined Tasmania's industries -- Hydro, timber, pulp & paper -- through environmental restrictions -- and Tasmania now lives on Federal handouts. It's time to free the place up

TASMANIAN Opposition Leader Will Hodgman is demanding an increasingly beleaguered state government name an election date.

A poll is due in the state on March 15 but Premier Lara Giddings is yet to confirm the date.

A new bout of turmoil has hit the Labor-Green alliance with rogue ALP backbencher Brenton Best calling for Ms Giddings to quit as leader.

Mr Best has been a ticking time bomb for the party for months, criticising it over its partnership with the Greens, who have two ministers in the government.

He says Ms Giddings should now step aside for police and economic development minister David O'Byrne.

Labor is languishing in the polls after 15 years in power with Ms Giddings' most recent approval rating at just 18 per cent, its lowest level yet.

Mr Hodgman, the son of late former federal minister Michael Hodgman, has used his address to the Liberals' state council to call for an election.

"It should be called today," he told members. "(It) will be the most important election in our lifetime, probably in our state's history."

Mr Hodgman said Labor had reached the point where it was unfit to govern the economically ailing state.

"Infighting has now escalated to open warfare," he said. "It is appalling for Tasmanians who want to see a government that's focused on them, not on itself."

The Liberals have long drawn a comparison between the state's Labor-Green power-sharing arrangement and the former federal minority government headed by Julia Gillard.

Mr Hodgman's address came under banners reading "Jobs. Growth. Majority Government".

He repeated a warning to Labor voters that only by voting Liberal will another hung parliament be avoided, since Tasmania has the unusual Hare-Clark system which delivers five members per seat.

He said a vote for minor players like the Palmer United Party, which won a Tasmanian Senate spot in September's federal election, could also mean no clear majority. "Don't risk it and don't waste your vote," he said.

Mr Hodgman has ruled out deals with any other party.

The state Liberals' buoyancy was boosted when prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the conference on Saturday, 50 days after supplanting three Tasmanian Labor members at the federal election.


27 October, 2013

Fuel Loads Not Climate Change Are Making Bushfires More Severe

Dr David Evans

The bibles of mainstream climate change are the Assessment Reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) every six years or so. The latest was issued recently, in September 2013. Significantly, it backs away from the link between climate change and specific extreme weather events.

The IPCC says that connections of warming to extreme weather have not been found. "There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses [that is, adjusted for exposure and wealth of the increasing populations] have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change.” The IPCC claim only to have "low confidence” in their ability to project "changes in frequency and duration of megadroughts.”

The official report does say that "drought, coupled with extreme heat and low humidity, can increase the risk of wildfire”, but there is no drought in southeast Australia at the moment.

They also say "there is evidence that future climate change could lead to increases in the occurrence of wildfires because of changes in fuel availability, readiness of the fuel to burn and ignition sources.” Carbon dioxide is a potent plant fertilizer. According to NASA satellites there is more living plant matter today, with a 6% increase in the twenty years to 2000. So there is more to burn.

Some academic papers conclude that climate change might be a contributing factor (Cai, Nicholls), others say it is not (Crompton, Pielke).

If there was any specific evidence that linked climate change to bushfires or extreme weather events, we know they would be trumpeting it loudly. That they don’t, speaks volumes.

There has been a hiatus in the rise of average global air temperatures for the last fifteen years or more. Basically the world hasn’t warmed for the last decade and a half. While this does not rule out warming in some regions, climate cannot have been much of a contributor to the worsening bushfire situation over the last fifteen years.

People have been burning off to keep fuel loads low in Australia for thousands of years.

Current fuel loads are now typically 30 tonnes per hectare in the forests of southeast Australia, compared to maybe 8 tonnes per hectare in the recent and ancient pasts. So fires burn hotter and longer. (The figures are hard to obtain, which is scandalous considering their central importance. There is also confusion over whether to include all material dropped by the trees, or just the material less than 6mm thick–it is mainly the finer material that contributes to the flame front.)

The old advice to either fight or flee when a bushfire approached, and to defend property, only made sense when fuel loads were light. The fire wasn’t too hot, it was over in a few minutes, and we could survive. With the high fuel loads of today, fighting the fire is too dangerous in most cases.

Eucalypts love fire, because it gives them an advantage over competing tree species. Eucalypts regenerate very quickly after a fire, much faster than other trees, so periodic fires ensure the dominance of eucalypts in the forest. Eucalypts have evolved to encourage fires, dropping copious amounts of easily flammable litter. Stringy bark trees are the worst, dangling flammable strings of bark that catch alight and detach from the tree to spread the fire a kilometer or two downwind.

Picture lighting a fire in an outside fireplace. The more newspaper and twigs you pack in, the hotter and faster the fire will burn. Extra heat ignites thicker denser wood, which fuels the fire for so much longer. Now imagine being an ant living in or around that fireplace, and wondering whether to fight or flee. The forests of southeast Australia are our fireplace, and the eucalypts are piling up the easily flammable material around us.

Bill Gammage wrote an excellent book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia, which was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2012. The first Europeans in Australia noted over and over that Australia looked like a country estate in England, like a park with open woodlands, extensive grassy patches, and abundant wildlife. Where Europeans prevented aborigines from tending their land it became overgrown, and the inevitable fires became dangerous and uncontrollable.

Particularly memorable is the account of driving a horse and carriage from Hobart to Launceston in the early 1800’s, before there were any roads, simply by driving along the grassy park underneath the tree canopies. Try doing that today.

People will die and property losses will be high until we relearn these lessons and reduce fuel loads again. [By off-seasaon burning]


Why greenies only make me see red

Miranda Devine

BILL Leak, acclaimed cartoonist, lives in one of the loveliest places in Australia: Killcare, on the Central Coast. But one of the consequences of living in the middle of the Australian bush is fire.

And in pretty seachange and treechange communities, you’re likely to find yourself in a greenie council dominated by refugees from the city who haven’t a clue about the real dangers of living among trees.

So it is that at the start of a dangerous bushfire season, Leak finds himself with a backyard full of trees and flammable material that he is forbidden to clear by Gosford Council on threat of fines as high as $1.1 million.

"Here I am, living on the edge of bushland that could burst into flame at any time, and I’m not allowed to clear the land in my own backyard of trees that, in the event of a fire, will bring the fire straight into my home,” he says.

Council flora preservation policies warn that the removal of any native tree over 3m can attract hefty fines.

This "puts homes like mine in grave danger: the refusal of local councils to allow home owners to remove trees that can extend the bushland right up to our own back doors,” Leak says.

"The only possible explanation for this is the council is hell-bent on securing Green votes. I’ll accept, albeit unwillingly, the indulgence of Greens fantasies up to a point but if and when they cost me my house I think I’ll have to say, ‘A line has been crossed’.”

Yes indeed.

How many warnings do councils need before they understand that tea trees and eucalypts and other lovely natives, not to mention shrubs and organic litter on the ground, are lethal near homes in fireprone areas.

It’s bad enough that properties are being burned out by unstoppable infernos that erupt out of neglected national parks. But to actively stop people from protecting their homes by forbidding them to remove fire fuel on their own land is insanity.

Gosford Council is not alone, or even the worst.

Wyong Council has recently sent residents in Lake Munmorah warning letters about clearing bush adjoining their properties where dead lantana poses a serious bushfire hazard.

It’s the same all over the country wherever green sensibilities have overwhelmed sensible decision making.

Who could forget Liam Sheahan, who was fined $50,000 by his local council for clearing trees around his house, only to find that his property was the only one in a 2km area which survived the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009. Yet we still haven’t learned the lesson.

In 2009 Blue Mountains residents signed a petition condemning the state government for failing to carry out enough burn-offs as experienced firefighters warned the area was a "time bomb”.

Where 10 tonnes of ground fuel per hectare is regarded as hazardous, one veteran firefighter estimates there was 40 tonnes in areas that have been burned out in the past week. That’s despite a significant improvement in national parks and firetrails management in recent years.

But greenies are brilliant at warping the narrative, so instead what most people are hearing is that the bushfires have been caused by climate change, a claim not even the IPCC has made.

The ABC has allowed itself to shill for climate alarmists, claiming that the bushfire season has never started so early, when a simple record check shows raging October bushfires near Sydney on several occasions in the last century.

But Monday night’s 7.30 took the cake. "Scientists told 7.30 the science is in, the link between global warming and bushfires has been established and it’s time for action,” it said.

But not a single scientist was produced to say such a thing. Just the usual fear-mongering greenies such as John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, and Don Henry of the Australian Conversation Foundation, whose grave faces and confident pronouncements appeared before captions told the audience that these were not the promised scientists.

Eventually appeared Professor Andy Pitman, who is an alarmist but at least an actual scientist and halfway responsible about what he says. And nor did he say anything which backed up the conclusive link which was the thesis of the program.

The only link which has been proven conclusively is the equation between ground fuel and fire intensity. And that’s the one thing greenies don’t like talking about.


Teacher strike possible as Queensland Government pushes staff performance bonuses, contracts

A 24-HOUR teacher strike could hit schools when the State Government goes ahead with staff performance bonuses and fixed contracts for principals.

The Queensland Teachers' Union is balloting members throughout the state to authorise a 24-hour strike "if the government proceeds with a number of Great Teachers = Great Results (GT=GR) actions". They include teacher performance bonuses, which the union says are "inherently bad", performance-based fixed-term contracts for principals and deputy principals and any annual performance review process that hasn't been negotiated with or agreed to by the QTU.

""The industrial action will only occur if the government moves to implement one or more of those changes," a statement authorised by QTU general secretary Graham Moloney states.

The State Government has already indicated it will go ahead with the changes.

Mr Moloney said the process of authorising industrial action before a government acted was unusual but necessary due to "the Queensland government's propensity to announce and implement changes without notice and with no real consultation".

In a 10-minute video on the QTU website, Mr Moloney warns teachers the strike would be unprotected industrial action, so they could be fined up to $3000 each, but goes on to say he thinks the State Government would be unlikely to do this.

He urges them to push aside their fear and make a stand on the issues. "If these changes go through, they will profoundly and negatively affect your working lives and the education of students in our schools," Mr Moloney tells teachers. "We have two choices: we can either sit by and let it happen and bemoan our fates or we can stand up for ourselves and that is what this ballot is about."

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the Newman Government had a relentless focus on delivering better student outcomes and threatened strike action from the QTU would not stand in the way. "It's extremely disappointing that the Queensland Teachers Union wants to upset student learning and inconvenience parents just to make a political point," Mr Langbroek said.

"Great Teachers = Great Results is about boosting teacher quality, increasing school autonomy and improving student discipline. "Through this initiative we'll be putting an extra $50 million into the pockets of teachers as well as offering scholarships for masters degrees. "I would expect reasonable teachers would vote against the Union playing politics with student outcomes."


Tony Abbott says his government stopped the boats in 50 days

FIFTY days into the job, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he's already delivered on many of his election promises, and that includes stopping the boats. Mr Abbott emphasised the minor milestone, which he'll reach on Sunday, as he addressed Liberal members at the party's Tasmanian state conference.

His "stop the boats" pledge was already being realised, the Prime Minister said, despite Labor shifting to a hard line policy on Kevin Rudd's return as PM in June. "I don't want to underestimate the difficulty of that challenge but they are stopping," Mr Abbott said.

"Over the last month, illegal arrivals by boat have been scarcely 10 per cent of the peak under Labor in July."

Mr Abbott said immigration officials had been "managing a problem" under the ALP. "Our determination is to end the problem," he said. "Our determination is not to guide the boats, our determination is to stop the boats."

The Coalition's asylum seeker policy was one on a long list of achievements Mr Abbott said the government had already ticked off.

They also included a day-one move to axe a fringe benefits tax hit to the car industry and plans to repeal the mining and carbon taxes.

"We inherited a mess but we have made a very strong start," the PM said. "Never forget the trough into which our country had fallen."

Mr Abbott warned there were economic challenges ahead as much of the rest of the world battles recession. "It's an uncertain world," he said.

"We've seen consistent long-term economic mismanagement in so many of the countries that we are accustomed to look to for leadership."


25 October, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is also irate at the absurd accusation by Al Gore about Australia's bushfires being caused by Global Warming


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amazed at the decision to raise Australia's debt ceiling -- compares Joe Hockey to Obama

Bushfires and climate change

Australia is having some nasty forest fires (bushfires) at the moment -- as it does most years. In their usual form, Warmists want to claim that the fires are due to "climate change". Since most Australians are aware that we have ALWAYS had such fires, however, they struggle to make their case and the Prime Minister has been completely dismissive of their nonsense.

The article below is therefore both very cautious and very vague. There seems to be some claim that bushfire incidence has increased in recent years but there are no numbered graphs or other statistics to prove it. We have to wait almost to the end of the article to get some numbers and discover that we have been talking about relatively recent times. We read that fire-danger has increased substatially from 1973 to 2010 and also that the fire danger "is about a third higher since 1996-97"

It's no wonder that the author put that figure at the bottom of the article because it completely rips up his case. From 1997 on there has BEEN no global warming. So if there has been any temperature increase in Australia in that period, it is local, not global

Tony Abbott has not been afraid to use blunt language when asked about a link between climate change and this week's bushfires.

"Complete hogwash," is what the Prime Minister said in response to a question about the connection by News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt.

This came two days after an interview on Fairfax Radio, where he said United Nations climate chief Christiana Figueres was "talking through her hat" for implying a link between climate change and the bushfires blazing across large regions of NSW.

"Climate change is real, as I've often said, and we should take strong action against it. But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they're a function of life in Australia," declared the Prime Minister.

But is that the advice Mr Abbott is getting from the experts at his disposal?

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has been briefed this week by the Bureau of Meteorology, and that wouldn't be its advice.

As the bureau told a Senate inquiry into extreme weather events earlier this year: "The Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI), which essentially 'sums' daily fire weather danger across the year, has increased significantly across many Australian locations since the 1970s.

"The number of locations with significant increases is greatest in the southeast, while the largest trends occurred inland rather than near the coast. The largest increases in seasonal FFDI have occurred during spring and autumn. This indicates a lengthened fire season."

Yet, despite this, why Mr Hunt found the need to consult Wikipedia is not so clear.

Mr Hunt did, though, point to a hotly debated link in the climate-bushfire chain. "Senior people at the Bureau of Meteorology” take a precautionary line, Mr Hunt said. "They always emphasise never trying to link any particular event to climate change."

Actually, Mr Hunt is slightly off the mark. To say that such a link can "never” be made is only true if you add the words "right now”.

In fact, climate scientists around the country and beyond will already have pointed their super-computers towards identifying a signal from the changing climate system.

Australia's famously variable climate makes it difficult to prove any major event is caused by climate change, only that the odds of it happening without a warming background would be less. It would be at least as hard to rule it out as "hogwash".

Temperature is one of the key factors influencing fire danger ratings - along with wind, humidity, and dryness of the fuel load.

The science is less certain about wind and humidity trends, but hotter temperatures are among Australia's clearest climate signals. It's not a huge leap to figure that hotter temperature would tend to dry out fuel loads more than cooler ones.

And you don't need to be a climate scientist to observe a clear warming trend - assuming, of course, you accept the integrity of the Bureau and the CSIRO.

Australia has warmed up by roughly 0.7 degrees nationally since 1960, the two organisations say.

But we're a big country and have seasons, so it's worth looking at spring maximums, since that's the current problem in NSW and also the season when the rate of warming happens to be fastest:

So Australia is getting hotter, especially NSW in spring.

Bushfire experts such as Hamish Clarke, Christopher Lucas and Peter Smith, have examined the data from weather stations across the country where the data is considered of sufficient quality and duration.

(Mr Smith was the head of climate science before leaving the NSW government in March, noting this week how the O'Farrell government has slashed in-house research into the issue; Dr Lucas remains a researcher with CSIRO and the bureau; and Mr Clarke continues to work for the NSW government, and is understood to have been busy defending his home in this week's blazes.)

Between 1973 and 2010, they found the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI) – the measure used by fire authorities to determine whether the day will have a "low/moderate” to "catastrophic” fire danger – increased significantly at 16 of the 38 stations during the period. Not one registered a decrease.

The FFDI is complex, not least because it combines meteorological data and dryness of fuel. (For Sydney this year, July-October will smash records for average maximums, with each month the hottest or second hottest on record, while much of the eastern part of the state has been very dry since mid-June after a couple of wet years.)

That complexity is one reason why it's unwise to jump to a precise attribution of the NSW fires to global warming - but also why it's absurd to rule it out completely.

Sarah Perkins, an expert in heatwaves at the ARC Centre for Excellence in Climate System Science at the UNSW, can understand why some blanch at discussing climate change amid the past week's destructive fires, with hundreds of homes lost and thousands of lives disrupted.

But it's an issue that's unlikely to go away. "The eastern half of Australia is seeing an increase in the number of heatwave days,” Dr Perkins said, with heatwaves defined as three consecutive days when temperatures are in the top 10 per cent of warmth for that particular day.

"Those heatwaves outside summer are actually increasing faster than summertime events,” said Dr Perkins. "That is quite worrying for bushfire events and bushfire risk because it can induce this earlier drying of the fuel load.”

And, as fire authorities and many of their volunteers appear to accept, the science is pointing to 2013 being less extraordinary in the future. "It's more likely that these conditions will continue more often in spring, in the future,” Dr Perkins said.

NSW, of course, is hardly alone. Roger Jones, a researcher at Victoria University and former CSIRO scientist, says levels of fire dangers "have done the same thing as extreme temperatures".

For Victoria, that means the FFDI is about a third higher since 1996-97 than before. "That's generally not recognised," Dr Jones said, who is also a co-ordinating lead author for the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Dr Jones' work for the IPCC focused on decision making, aimed at resolving perhaps the most challenging link of them all - how to connect policymakers with the overwhelming findings of climate science.


NSW cuts climate change watchers

Deep cuts to staff and funding by the NSW government have largely dismantled the state's ability to investigate and prepare for the effects of climate change such as more frequent extreme fire weather, a former senior scientist with the government said.

Peter Smith, who led the state's climate change science group until March, said his team of 10 had been slashed to just three whose work remained climate-focused. A similar cut had been made to a separate team of 10 working on climate adaptation, he said.

When you really see governments are going to take climate change seriously is when you see them spending money on adaptation

"There's been more than a 50 per cent cut in the numbers of staff whose primary focus was climate change," Dr Smith said in his first media comments since leaving the role. "The [Office of Environment and Heritage] was being downgraded anyway from a super department under the previous government to being an office attached to the premier's [department]. The reduction in the climate change [section] was even more significant than the general reduction."

Dr Smith, who now works as an adviser on United Nations projects, was a contributor to peer-reviewed research reports that found Australia was already facing an increase in bushfire dangers. The shift was particularly clear in spring, with national mean temperatures rising 0.9 degrees since 1960.

Areas such as the Blue Mountains and the central coast - two regions hit by fires in the past few days - could expect to have a 20 per cent to 84 per cent increase in days with potential large fire ignition risk by 2050. Across south-eastern Australia, the number of days a year at the "uppermost" forest fire danger index levels would triple by then, according to two of the papers Dr Smith worked on.

"We know the [climate] science is unequivocal," Environment Minister Robyn Parker told a Nature Conservation Council meeting on Saturday. "It is for governments to respond. What we are doing is investing in climate change science, and so minimising the impacts of climate change on communities."

Ms Parker cited plans to introduce a regional climate model with the University of NSW next year, and is allocating an extra $3 million in research grants to universities.

"The NSW government is investing $20 million on research and programs that will assist communities to be better prepared to respond and adapt to a changing climate, such as climate projection modeling," Ms Parker said.

"The government is committed to delivering communities robust scientific evidence on which to base decisions and make the information and research widely available."

Dr Smith welcomed the projects, which he said had been initiated by the previous Labor governments. The reduction of in-house government research, though, meant the knowledge gained from the work would be harder to share with other state agencies and policymakers. As it was, getting in-house generated research approved typically took longer than the original study, and even then the O'Farrell government did little to publicise the work.

"It was very acute, very frustrating, very problematical trying to get information onto the website for climate change," Dr Smith said.

Instead, governments - federal and state - were likely to talk up other issues, such as energy efficiency. While important, such policies were easy to promote since they saved money as well as cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"When you really see governments are going to take climate change seriously is when you see them spending money on adaptation," Dr Smith said.


"Australians" at the Haj

Mina is a town near Mecca, where pilgrims sleep in tents and stone three pillars, representing the satan, with seven pebbles, on the last day of Hajj. The Saudi government has built thousand of air-conditioned tents to accommodate pilgrims, during this ritual.

A known female community leader said that when the local group entered Tent Section 40, an area designated for American, European and Australian Muslims, a pilgrim in the group was asked about his sect, by a member of another group.

"When he said he was Shi'a, they called him Kafir (infidel) and attacked him," said the woman, who did not want her name to be revealed, for safety concerns, until she leaves Saudi Arabia next week.

The attackers, who are Australians of Lebanese descent, then hit three other men in the group and dragged one into a tent, while choking and kicking him.

"They took him into a woman's tent and had him in a chokehold. They were choking him out. When our guys got to him, he was blue," she said.

The attackers threatened the pilgrims to leave the tent area, while bringing up historic sectarian references.

"We will kill you Shi'a men and rape your women," they shouted, according to the source.

The source said security officers at the tent area were aware of the attack, but stood by and did not do anything to stop it.

The pilgrims left the tent area from the emergency exits and waited about an hour for their buses to arrive and drive them back to the hotel, which was 15 minutes away.

"We were terrified. When you have someone threatening your life and threatening to rape your women and having the audacity to make such remarks and walk into your tent, you take those threats seriously," said the female community leader.

Police came to the scene, after the group had gotten out to the main road, cooperated with the pilgrims' guide and promised to get them justice. However, police officers deleted video recordings of the attack from the pilgrims' phones.


Qld govt opens more land for coal

Too bad Greenies

THE Queensland government is calling for tenders to explore coal in more than 1200 square kilometres of land in the Bowen Basin in central Queensland.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps says this is the first ever non-cash tender for coal exploration.

"The Newman government understands that a vibrant exploration sector is critical to uncovering the mineral deposits and mines of the future, and non-cash tender processes offer the opportunity for junior explorers to make their mark," he said in a statement.
Interested parties have until March 5 next year.

This comes as the government announced it's clearing a backlog of exploration permits.

Mr Cripps says a backlog of about 1400 exploration permit applications had been cleared by his department in the past week.


24 October, 2013

Qld. Government road maintenance workers made redundant

Government roadworkers have long been a conspicuously "relaxed" lot so this is long overdue

WORKERS at RoadTek have been made redundant. The State Government road maintenance workers were given their redundancy slips on Wednesday morning.

One worker, who did not want to be named, said while the redundancies were not a shock, he felt hard done by.

About 60 workers at the Nathan depot were given a redundancy.
"I don't think many people are happy about it," another worker said. "People have mortgages and everything to pay off." He said everyone had been stressed by the prospect of the redundancies.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Scott Emerson said it had been known that the long-term road asset management contracts would be opened to the private sector since June 2012. "About 140 people across Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast operations will be given an update on the progress of those tenders and the transition of work to the private sector. "These are not additional staff changes, but part off the original program outlined in media statements and budget papers since mid 2012," he said.

Staff have access to an on-going program of voluntary redundancies and redeployment.

He said the cost to build and maintain roads in southeast Queensland was increasing and the changes had been driven to give better value.

Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk says Mr Newman promised in December last year that there would be no more sackings, past the 14,000 job losses announced last year. "What sort of Christmas are these people going to have?" she said. "This is not acceptable. It is clearly a broken promise."

The government agreed in its response to the Costello Commission of Audit earlier this year that the work done by RoadTek should be opened to private bidders in southeast Queensland.

The union has come out swinging against the sackings. AWU Queensland Branch Secretary Ben Swan said the move was "senseless". "These workers have bills to pay, mortgages and families to support, but that doesn't matter to this mob on George Street," Mr Swan said. "These are hardworking Queenslanders who deliver services night and day to make roads safe for all of us". He said the government had showed "callous disregard" for people's job security.

"In the last week we have seen an attack on workers compensation rights, the stifling of fair enterprise bargaining and now a direct hit on these workers' jobs".

The State Government introduced controversial new workplace reforms and changes to the WorkCover legislation a week ago.

The winning tenders for more than $400 million in work, to begin in late November, will be announced in the next week.


Twisted logic links the tragic NSW bushfires with the Prime Minister, climate change and abolishing the carbon tax

Gerard Henderson

According to Adam Bandt's logic, the Greens are responsible for the devastating bushfires sweeping parts of NSW. Last Wednesday, the Greens MP for Melbourne accused the Prime Minister of "donning a volunteer firefighter uniform for the media". This was nothing but a slur, since Tony Abbott has been an active volunteer firefighter for more than a decade.

Bandt went on to suggest Abbott's firefighting was a "con" because he was "helping start fires that put people's lives in danger". In other words, the Prime Minister is not only a con artist but also an arsonist. Then, as if to prove when muck-racking the muck can go even lower, Bandt tweeted on Thursday, "Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia".

Bandt's attack overlooked two essential facts. First, the Coalition's policy aim on the reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 is the same as that of the Labor Party (which the Greens were aligned to for most of the past three years).

Second, if the Greens had supported Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme in 2009 and 2010, Australia would already have a form of an emissions trading scheme in place. Bob Brown, Christine Milne and their Greens colleagues in the Senate opposed Rudd Labor's reduction scheme and prevented it passing into legislation.

Of course, if Australia had introduced Rudd's scheme it would have done nothing to stop the bushfires. Australia's carbon emissions are but a tiny fraction of world output. Moreover, the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events remains uncertain. NSW experienced record bushfires half a century ago and earlier. It is just that there were no alienated political types around to lay the blame on political leaders. It appears that Labor, under its new leadership team of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, is intent on thwarting the Abbott government's determination to junk the carbon tax. This despite the fact that before the 2013 election Rudd said Labor would terminate this tax.

Labor's position appears to be that it will only support Abbott if he agrees to replace the carbon tax with an emissions trading scheme. This overlooks the fact that Abbott went to the election with a promise to junk the carbon tax and not to introduce an ETS.

There are some forthright Labor backbenchers who want Labor to cut its losses and drop its carbon pricing policies - just as the Coalition dropped WorkChoices after its comprehensive defeat in 2007. The South Australian MP Nick Champion is in this camp as is West Australian senator Mark Bishop. But they appear to be in a minority.

Certainly, as backbenchers, Champion and Bishop have a freedom to speak which is not shared by many of their colleagues. However, their approach is politically sound. Rudd lost his way in early 2010 when Labor dropped the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme without replacing it. From that time he was deauthorised and was replaced by Julia Gillard in June 2010.

Gillard at least managed to form a minority government after the August 2010 election. However, the former prime minister also became deauthorised when, in February 2011, she broke her promise not to introduce a carbon tax. Rudd and Gillard are victims of Labor's carbon pricing obsession, which does not enjoy popular support.

Shorten could be heading the same way. If Labor and the Greens defeat Abbott's carbon tax repeal legislation, there could be a double dissolution. Alternatively, the Coalition may have the numbers to abolish carbon pricing after the new Senate takes effect on July 1.

The problem for Shorten is that even if Abbott gets his carbon tax abolition through the Senate, this issue does not go away while Labor remains committed to a trading scheme. Unless Labor does to carbon pricing what the Coalition did to WorkChoices, Shorten will have to campaign in the election scheduled for late 2016 on a promise to introduce an ETS or some other form of carbon pricing. It is quite likely that neither the US nor Canada will have a nationwide ETS by then. In such a situation, Abbott would be able to paint Labor as the party of higher energy prices that will make Australia less competitive on world markets.

Labor's choice right now is not helped by the sense of urgency engendered by the tragic NSW bushfires and the perception that unusually high temperatures are the cause. Yesterday, a colleague sent me a clipping from the Herald reporting that on October 13, 1946, the temperature in Sydney reached 35 degrees. At least the Prime Minister can't be blamed for that.


"Soft" magistrate who allowed alleged bikie bail was a former Labor Senate candidate

A SUNSHINE COAST magistrate who has defied the Newman Government's crackdown on criminal gangs to release a bikie on bail is a failed Senate candidate with a history of contentious decisions - including ignoring the one minute silence in her courtroom on Remembrance Day.

As well as infuriating war veterans over the snub, Bernadette Callaghan, a former senior union official, has also previously lashed out at police for arresting a man for giving them a rude gesture, and criticised politicians for having "rocks in their heads".

Despite new laws that not only declare bikies illegal but also compel the courts to treat them more harshly, Ms Callaghan let a Rebel with 'FTP' for F... k the Police tattooed on his forehead walk this week, insisting there was not enough evidence to suggest he was a gang member.

A furious Premier Campbell Newman said it was time legal "insiders" got out of the way of the crackdown.

Police bosses say they will take legal action to overturn the decision.

Mr Newman said it was high time the judiciary understood that Queenslanders wanted criminal bikies behind bars. "What we need now is for the judiciary, those who run the court system, the insiders, to actually realise that's what Queenslanders want as well," he said. "And they need to have a look at how they're operating and make sure they protect Queenslanders."

However, it is far from the first time that one of Ms Callaghan's decisions has earned the community's ire.

In 2010, the controversial magistrate failed to stop proceedings during a coroner's inquest for a minute silence on Remembrance Day, sparking accusations she lacked respect for veterans.

The following year Ms Callaghan criticised politicians who supported mandatory sentencing during a case of a motorists who earned an automatic licence suspension. "Anyone who thinks mandatory sentencing is a good thing has rocks in their heads," she said at the time.


'Cram central' class leaps into the shadow end

It's 9.53pm on a Monday, and inside a fluorescent-lit office in Glen Waverley 16 tired teenagers are shuffling papers, punching at calculators and wolfing down warm pizza.

They have been here since 7.30, sitting on folding chairs at white plastic picnic tables, listening to their teacher, Kevin Xiao, 28, as he dissects the mathematical methods exam they will face in less than a fortnight.

They listen in part because they clearly adore the exuberant Mr Xiao, the founder of this private tutoring college.

But also because of the only adornment on the walls at Breakthrough Education: laminated posters selling a narrative of success. "11 perfect ATARs in 4 years"; "Median ATAR of 97.65"; "1 in 7 graduates scoring 99+".

The students have come in search of those promised scores, paying $45 a class every Monday night since July to try to dominate the written VCE exam period that begins next week.

"Grab a slice, grab a seat, grab a Coke and let's get cracking," Mr Xiao says, launching into an explanation of another unfathomable problem. "Ten is to H, as 2 is to R, so what does that mean?"

Welcome to the expanding world of "shadow education". In 2005 there were 24,000 people working as full-time tutors in Australia. There are now more than 36,000, and demand continues to grow, particularly in "cram schools" such as this one, which caters to 250 students here and in Balwyn and Box Hill.

Mohan Dhall, of the Australian Tutoring Association, said such instruction was found anywhere that "transfer tests" existed, whether for perfect VCE scores or entry into selective schools.

Tutoring was once mainly a remedial tool to give struggling students a hand up, but increasingly parents trying to give dominant students a head start.

Bareetu Aba-Bulga, 18, sits somewhere in the middle. Of Oromian (Ethiopian) descent, she goes to Huntingtower School, Mount Waverley, studies Indonesian and wants to be an accountant. "It's my dream to empower the women of Indonesia through business," she says.

But she struggles with numbers. Group tutoring has helped, although going to school after school is a challenge. "It's OK for the first hour, but then we hit 8.30 and I start to fall asleep sometimes," she said, laughing. "Maths isn't always exciting."

Students from St Albans and Werribee, Caulfield Grammar and Melbourne Grammar, and even Mac.Robertson Girls High School and Melbourne High School augment their education here.

Janet McCutcheon, assistant principal at Mac.Rob, said tuition had its place, provided children and parents did not think of it as the only way. "We don't want them being overloaded," she said.


23 October, 2013

Japan keen to seal first trade deal with Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott's hopes of signing a series of bilateral free trade agreements with some countries within a year may not be as unrealistic as first thought, with at least Japan privately keen to get the jump on its Asian competitors.

Japanese high-technology manufacturers are petitioning their government to wrap up the talks that have dragged on since 2007, to give them the best chance of increasing market share in Australia in everything from Japanese cars to cameras and televisions.

Canberra is now in accelerated talks with Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to finalise country-to-country trade agreements given the apparent hopelessness of World Trade Organisation talks aimed at multilateral arrangements.

Top officials from Australia and Japan have stepped up the pace of negotiations after Mr Abbott met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Brunei. Mr Abbott emerged from those talks describing Japan as Australia's best friend in Asia.

Japan places import tariffs as high as 800 per cent on beef and rice, while the tariff on cars imported into Australia is just 5 per cent.

But Fairfax Media has learnt that at least privately, Tokyo shares Mr Abbott's eagerness to conclude a deal amid growing nervousness at the progress of bilateral trade talks between Australia and Beijing, and particularly between Australia and Seoul.

Those with inside knowledge say the two major sticking points in the trade talks are beef imports on the Japanese side, and automobile imports on the Australian side.

With the Australian car industry on life support and unable to survive without continued government assistance, Canberra has shown a reluctance to lower tariffs on imported cars.

Two-way trade between Australia and Japan topped $71 billion last year.


Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron

Monsignor John Woods, Administrator of the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, comments on the recent passing of a same-sex "marriage" law in the Australian Capital Territory

Marriage is based on difference, not sameness. Two people of the opposite sex become one because of their difference, and that gives them the potential to create new life. The Marriage Act affirms this.

Margaret Thatcher claimed that there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Some people also argue that marriage is just about individual choice, and that love is enough. They forget community too.

Marriage is a radically generous idea, going beyond the woman and man involved to the children they hope to create and the contribution their family can make to the community. Marriage is the way the community encourages responsible relationships between men and women and attempts to secure the well-being of any children born of their union. Marriage is unitive of a couple in their complementarity which is potentially procreative.

Gender is significant. While there have been marked changes in the understanding of marriage, including the move away from regarding women as mere chattels, or from the use of marriage to confirm family and political alliances or from restrictions on inter-racial marriages, marriage has always been the union of a woman and a man.

Despite the claims of those advocating marriage equality, you cannot equate something that is essentially different. A union between same sex people and a union between opposite sex people is essentially different and only one has the potential to create new life.

The ACT government recognises this and seeks to circumvent it with proposed "parallel legislation" for same sex marriage. In other words, it presumes to redefine the notion of marriage in fact and in law so as to champion the oxymoron of "same sex marriage". Does it truly matter if marriage is changed? Yes, because it is something designed for heterosexual people. Imagine if Christianity was extended to people who do not believe in God, it would no longer be Christian. So how can marriage survive as a useful institution if it is extended to people it was not designed for?

Same sex marriage advocates speak of their right to parenthood. Here, one must distinguish between the loving intention of a same sex couple and the rights of a child. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says a child has "as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents".

A same sex couple cannot have a child as a result of their union but as the result of a previous relationship or an arrangement with a surrogate or an IVF clinic. In that instance, a child becomes the object of a claimed right, not the gift of unitive love. For the sake of the child and ultimately for the dignity of all, no one has a right to a child, whatever one’s aspiration for parenthood.

It is especially noteworthy that same sex civil unions now afford couples the same rights as for married couples. However it is argued that allowing same sex couples to marry would give them acceptance in the community. On the contrary, it would be recognition at odds with both their orientation (to sameness) and the nature of marriage (unitive and procreative). I am therefore advocating a natural law rebuttal to the ACT government’s proposed "parallel legislation", which is out of step with the rest of the country and in potential conflict with existing law.

Of course, now same sex marriage legislation is passed in the ACT, even with exemptions for religious bodies, the matter will not end here. Overseas experience is that churches, photographers and wedding reception facilities amongst others have all faced civil claims for not agreeing to be party to a same sex marriage. What about the right not to be involved in a union to which one conscientiously objects? What about the right to religious freedom?

Rights are not always reconciled easily. Therefore discussion of contentious issues should be conducted respectfully and in the hope of not offending against love or truth. I subscribe to that position as a citizen and as a priest purporting to minister the inclusive love of God.

While the proposed legislation is no doubt well intended, it sadly confuses the status of people by presuming to equate that which is essentially different. The legal gymnastics of "parallel legislation" should be rejected in truth and out of love for the dignity of all citizens. We can do better and how we might do that is the discussion we need to have.


Australian woman falls foul of America's race neurosis

For context, The High Court of Australia ruled a few years ago that the word "n*gger" is not offensive in Australia

Pix at source. The costumes were obviously donned by people with only vague knowledge of Africa. There were Red Indians, tongue-poking Maoris and the KKK portrayed -- as well as simple blackface

The whole thing was obviously just naive fun with no knowledge of American hypersensitivity

AN AUSTRALIAN woman has been forced to defend herself amid accusations of racism by international websites.

The woman, named Olivia, threw a 21st birthday party with an African theme, in which guests were asked to wear costumes in line with the world's second largest continent and, as with most post-party photos, uploaded the shots to her Facebook page.

In the pics, some attendees have painted their faces black which have some up in arms.

The photos surfaced soon after on Tumblr user BlackinAsia's account and American websites were quick to pick up.

"This is what resulted … blackface, elephant and gorilla costumes, warpaint, Native American headdresses (?!) and more …. I'm at a loss for words," wrote BlackinAsia. "And yes, this is from 2013.

"The girl posted the pictures proudly and flatly refused to take them down when confronted by another individual about how they were racist apparently. Pictures were reported to Facebook weeks ago and they still have not been taken down. Wow.

"In case you ever wanted to know how white folks saw us black Africans … here you go."

Buzzfeed have since deemed the party pics "incredibly offensive." Meanwhile, Jezebel, whose story runs with the headline, "Racist 21st Birthday Party Gleefully Documented on Facebook" describes the pictures as "ignorance, insensitivity and racism ahoy!"

In a response on Tumblr, which she has now deleted, Olivia defended herself, writing, "It was my 'African themed' party and it was honestly made that theme because I have always wanted to go to Africa (to teach English) but haven't made it there yet. In no way was this party intended to hurt anyone's feelings or upset anyone at all.

"However, some guest (sic) did decide to paint themselves, although this was in no way my intention or encouraged in the slightest. I understand that this has offended some people and I have no idea how these photos have even been seen, they were simply put on Facebook for my guests to see the photos of themselves.

"I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be 'Australian themed' or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don't believe anyone would be offended. People wear Oktoberfest costumes to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German? So what I am saying is I do understand the people who have painted themselves have offended people, although none of them intended that …. but how can people be annoyed that the majority of the people at the party were celebrating another countries culture."

She continues to describe a Mauritian friend who painted himself white for the party, but interestingly those photos did not make the cut in BlackinAsia's post.

She maintains she never received a request to take the images offline. "To be honest I am not a racist person at all so I didn't think anyone could possibly take it that way."

She has since deleted all of her social media profiles, including Facebook.

This isn't the first time an Australian has gotten in trouble for crossing the race relations line.

In May this year singer Delta Goodrem was branded a racist for retweeting a photo of fans dressed as The Voice judges at a costume party.

In it, one man was dressed in "blackface" to represent Seal complete with black paint over his face and arms and fake scars on his cheeks. "That is hilarious!! Hope u had fun! Ha!!," Goodrem responded before retweeting the photo.

In 2009, Harry Connick Jnr stormed off the set of Hey Hey It's Saturday after a "blackface" skit went wrong but said he did not accuse the performers of being racist.

"Where I come from, blackface is a very specific and very derogatory thing," he said in a statement.

"Perhaps this is different in other parts of the world, but in the American culture, the blackface image is steeped in a negative history and considered offensive."


Australia retailer falls foul of America's race neurosis

Australian fashion retailer Best & Less has apologised to disgruntled commentators on social media after its latest catalogue was attacked for carrying racial overtones.

The cover of the retailer’s latest catalogue depicts a dark-skinned woman eating a watermelon and a small group of its Facebook followers were quick to point out the likeness to racial iconography used in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"I hope it's just the case that you didn't know the cultural reference instead of being racist,” one man posted on Best & Less’ Facebook page on Sunday. "Imagine if you run this in USA.”

Best & Less marketing director Jee Moon told Fairfax Media her team were unaware of the American stereotype when they designed the cover, which was meant to "celebrate summer,” using a diverse range of models to reflect its broad customer base.

"I genuinely was unaware of [the stereotype] until yesterday, it’s not from a point in time and a culture that I’m familiar with - if we had known we wouldn't have done it,” she said.

"It really was not the intention to offend anyone. That said, I’m not apologising for including different women and in breaking the mould. "Throughout our catalogues we have had a theme of celebrating real women.”

Best & Less apologised for the misunderstanding in a Facebook post on Tuesday, which received 204 likes and 117 comments within its first couple of hours of going live.

"We apologise if anyone is offended by our catalogue cover - this is not at all our intent,” it read. "We're proud to show greater diversity of ages, sizes and ethnicity in our models, which is reflective of our wonderfully broad customer base.” "Thank you for sharing your perspective on the cover and again, please accept our apologies for any offence caused.”

While many people assumed the oversight was innocent, they were critical of the retailer’s advertising department for its lack of awareness.

"Although unintentional, it does warrant an apology and discussion in the advertising department about people researching the possible effects of their creative choices before going to print,” Monique Kowalcyzyk posted.

Others were more sympathetic. "Why would you be apologising for embracing diversity?” Nikki Bee said. Are you now ashamed of the campaign?”


NSW Publican gives free beers to off-duty fire volunteers as thank you for saving his pub

Bureaucacy not amused

POLICE have denied that they issued a warning to a Catherine Hill Bay publican who shouted beers for off-duty Rural Fire Service volunteers as a way of saying thank you for saving his pub.

Catho Pub publican Dean Beevor told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that a licensing officer had visited his premises to warn him that the act of serving free alcohol was in contravension of responsible service of alcohol laws.

On Saturday, Dean Beevor offered free beer and bacon and egg rolls to hero firies who saved the historic Catho Pub and surrounding village of Catherine Hill Bay from the raging Central Coast blaze that destroyed three homes.

The pub, built in 1875, was on fire and seemed destined for destruction when RFS crews intervened just minutes before being evacuated due to the flames.

Their last-ditch efforts saved the building, prompting Mr Beevor to open the bar to fire-fighters over the following two days.

But, yesterday morning, a licensing officer turned up as the town's clean-up continued. Mr Beevor said the officer told him he'd been sent to warn the hotel about breaking alcohol guidelines.

However, police denied the licensing officer issued a warning, nor had he been sent by his superiors. A spokesman said no further action would be pursued.

"Whilst technically this may be regarded as a breach of liquor legislation, Lake Macquarie police are extremely grateful for the efforts of the RFS within the Catherine Hill Bay area and do not fault the actions of the publican in acknowledging them," the spokesman said.

Catherine Hill Bay resident Nancy Smythe said people in town wanted to show their thanks however they could. "How else as a town can we show our gratitude than to buy somebody a beer - that's what you do in Australia." "He was just trying to thank them for risking their lives for his pub."

RFS volunteer Mark Tyrell, who helped protect Catherine Hill Bay from Thursday night's inferno, said it brought a lump to his throat to see the appreciation shown by people like Mr Beevor. "He was only trying to do the right thing by us," Mr Tyrell said.

Meanwhile, the clean-up got under way throughout town yesterday as locals took stock of how incredibly close they came to losing the entire village. Bush so thick it was impenetrable just a week ago has been reduced to skeletons of charred trunks and branches.

Through it yesterday morning marched a band of Red Cross volunteers determined to help in any way they could. Red Cross Lake Macquarie emergency services team leader Jill Bogaerts said it took days for the gravity of the situation to sink in for some people.

"It's surprising to see how well people are doing at the moment," she said. "But it's not over when the fire brigades leave - for us that's when the job starts."

"Some people need ongoing accommodation, some need financial assistance or counselling later on. It just depends on the individual."


AN army marches on its stomach - and the emergency services are heading to firefronts with food lovingly cooked by grateful Blue Mountains residents.

Locals are making a beeline for nearby Rural Fire Stations, bringing trays bulging with homemade sandwiches, muffins and cakes.

The bigger sheds, swamped with gourmet love, have shared food with interstate and local colleagues. Facebook requests for useful extra batteries, zip-lock bags for making ration packs, juice and water boxes and non-perishable snacks are being answered by residents anxious to do their bit to help.

"We are making 40 meals tonight, might be the same tomorrow or maybe more," said Trish Doyle, who has helped co-ordinate the impromptu firefighter dinners.

At Shipley, volunteer Chris Clutterham was serving hot meals and cold drinks to the fireys, just like she has done for 17 years. Her colleague Lorraine Norley is a 35-year veteran.

"We do sandwiches, sausages and drinks. The boys and girls have got to have decent food before they go out," she said.


22 October, 2013

Cut wasteful spending, not just public servants

Whole departments need to be abolished. Why do we need Federal Depts. of Health and Education when there are already large State government Depts. in those fields?

alex-philipatos Following a long-standing pre-election commitment to cull Canberra's bureaucracy, the Coalition government will cut 12,000 Commonwealth public service positions. A slimmer and more efficient public service means a smaller burden on taxpayers, but the method employed to cut the bureaucracy is questionable.

These jobs will be shed via attrition rather than by targeted cuts to departments and programs, which means that any savings can be easily reversed and the government cannot control where the cuts fall.

In the 1990s, the Keating and Howard governments set about implementing large cuts to the Commonwealth public service. In 1993, the public service consisted of 143,000 ongoing employees, and by 1999, employees had been reduced to just over 100,000 - a 30% reduction. Though there was a concerted effort to reduce the size of government by the incoming Howard government, both his government and the Keating government achieved some public sector cuts by privatising select public assets.

From 2000, public sector employee numbers rose strongly throughout the remainder of the Howard years and the first term of the Labor government. It was not until 2009 that the rate of growth eased, quite possibly because of the renewed urgency to mend the state of the federal budget. By 2012, there were 154,000 ongoing employees in the Commonwealth public service.

The cuts made in the 1990s were much steeper and more targeted than those proposed by the current Coalition government.

Abbott's planned cuts to the public service represent just seven percent of its current size and there is no guarantee that the workers who leave hold positions the government wants to shed. Nor does it address the pressing productivity issues.

There are departments, agencies and programs that should be scrapped altogether. Some departments duplicate existing state equivalents and add to red tape. Others complete functions the government should not be involved in at all, such as Wine Australia, the government's wine marketing body.

Cutting by attrition addresses none of these issues. Instead it simply requires existing departments and agencies to operate with a slightly smaller workforce on a slightly tighter budget. These departments can easily expand and rehire workers if the government loses cost discipline.

A better approach to public sector reform is to focus on productivity, eliminating waste and improving delivery of the services the community really needs. By targeting unnecessary agencies and terminating wasteful programs, the Coalition can also make long-term inroads to the federal budget position and ensure that the savings will endure beyond the current cost cutting campaign.


The ALP of late 2013

They’ve re-sprayed the Morris Minor, put on some chrome wheels, and hung some fluffy dice from the rear-view mirror and now claim it will win a Grand Prix - but it’s still running an 800cc engine with three main bearings.

I wonder why they think that elevating a collection of extreme-left ball-busters to the front bench is appealing to anyone. Perhaps it is to the likes of Germaine Greer, Anne Summers and "comedian” Corinne Grant.

But I’m sure that Billy "Young Frankenstein” Shorten knows exactly what he is doing. He is very impressive on TV as we saw during the Beaconsfield mining disaster when no camera could escape having his face in its lens and the whole thing turned into a job application for him. True to form, he’d flown down to take advantage of the photo ops on supreme fraud and swindler, Richard Pratt’s, private jet - as any working class fellow would.

Similarly I am sure that rampant bull-lesbian and Emily’s Lister, Penny Wong, a person who’s never actually had a job requiring the making of a profit (or paid less than a 6-figure salary), will be great in Trade and Investment. She has all the right qualification as Samesame named her as one of the most influential lesbians in the country. Maybe I’m just slow, but I can’t see much connection between international trade and investment and being deft enough to buckle-up a strap-on device in the dark.

At least Joel Fitzgibbon actually knows what it’s like to get his hands dirty, having been an auto-electrician and, almost unique in the working-man’s Labor Party, seems not to have attended an exclusive GPS school. But in true Labor fashion, he inherited his seat of Hunter from his father, Eric Fitzgibbon. I am sure he was pre-selected after an exhaustive merit selection process.

It often astonishes me how often the children, nieces, nephews, wives and husbands of Labor heavy-weights get pre-selection for safe seats. Take Kim Beazley for example, both of them, both members for Fremantle and then, of course, Kim’s daughters also get Labor pre-selection. It seems there is no-one in Labor ranks who has more merit in WA than a Beazley.

But anyone can do a bit of research on the ALP’s front bench, and back bench, and you’ll be surprised just how many are "connected” - and just how many went to GPS schools, started their careers with sinecures in Union HQs, and are lawyers. For a party that was started by shearers, agricultural workers, factory and mine fodder, low-level clerks and shop assistants, they’ve really moved up in the world. I doubt you could form a Rugby League scrum with the Labor members who have ever worked in any sort of primary or secondary production. But you’d have no trouble fielding two AFL teams of careerists with law degrees. It’s been a long journey from the cloth caps and hobnail boots to the top-hats and tails, ski chalets, and private boxes at the opera.

What the ALP has become is a party of the smug and satisfied upper-middle classes for whom the working class is a theoretical construct; whose aspirations are an abstract concept; and with whom they have nothing in common. I think solid proof of the disconnect between the worker’s party and the workers they purport to represent was exemplified by Julia Gillard’s safari to Rooty Hill for a week. If you really are a worker’s party, why would you need a Labor PM to spend a week doing field research on your own heart-land?

Is it any wonder that Union membership has dropped to about 18%? How often have unionists, on the lowest wage rate, seen their officials claim salaries greater than the US President, endless perks and rorts, outright theft and fraud, and glib, educated and connected clean-hands getting appointed to lucrative positions without even the semblance of a merit selection process.

And just to rub salt in the eyes of the great unwashed, Little Bill selects Tanya Pilberserk, with degrees in Public Policy and Communications and wife of convicted narcotics importer, former GPS schoolboy and Graduate in Journalism Michael Coutts-Trotter, who was made Director General of Education by the Obeid Government in NSW - needless to say, without the slightest expertise in education other than having attended Riverview and doing a few years of porridge at Long Bay and elsewhere in the corrections system. How he got a job in the NSW Public Service after being convicted and sentenced to 9 years, though serving less than three, is anyone’s guess. I was under the impression it was impossible for anyone convicted of a serious felony to be employed in any of the Public Services.

The Morris Minor has been re-sprayed, but all the same luggage is in the boot.


Muslim levy costs Queensland abattoirs thousands each month

QUEENSLAND abattoirs are being slugged thousands of dollars a month through a religious levy on meat exports so powerful Muslim clerics in Jakarta can raise money for Islamic schools and mosques. The Halal certification fees can cost some meat processors up to $27,000 a month.

The Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), the top Islamic body which orders fatwa religious rulings, has even banned a Brisbane business from operating - because it was not charging Queensland abattoirs enough to give the religious tick-off to export meat.

The scandal has stopped most of Queensland's Halal meat exports to Indonesia, as angry abattoir operators boycott the more expensive Halal certifiers endorsed by the MUI.

Australian companies that certify meat as Halal, or legal under Islamic law, must be accredited with Indonesia's MUI - which approves just one certifier per state or territory.

The MUI has suspended Brisbane based Australian Halal Food Services (AHFS) for engaging in "unfair competition" that could "weaken (the) Halal certification movement".

Certifiers must donate a share of their revenue to mosques and Islamic schools.

AHFS - which refused to comment on Saturday - sponsors the As-Salaam Institute of Islamic Studies, based in Eight Mile Plains. It has also spent funds repairing and maintaining mosques in Rochedale and Rockhampton.

One big Queensland meat processor, which did not want to be identified, claimed it had been quoted $27,000 a month in Halal certification fees through another MUI-endorsed certifier - four times more than AHFS had been charging.

JBS Australia - the nation's biggest meat packer and exporter with more than 8500 employees - has been unable to export beef from Queensland to Indonesia.

"We need to look at options (for hiring certifiers) rather than be dictated by one supplier of a service," JBS director John Berry said

But MUI chairman Amidhan Shaberah said AHFS had been suspended for trying to work interstate, as well as Queensland. He said setting minimum fees and restricting one certifier to work in each state was "part of our control".

"We have to standardise the charge to avoid any unfair competition between certifiers," he told The Sunday Mail during an interview in Jakarta.

The federal Department of Agriculture confirmed it had no power over approvals for religious certifiers. A spokesman said the Government "values our close relationship with MUI".


Spread the word: Vegemite turns 90

For the better part of a century, Vegemite has divided families and friends around the world. To date we've enjoyed over one billion jars and nearly 90 billion servings. But whether you're an Edger (spread to the perimeter of your toast), Streaker (apply sparingly) or Nudist (sans butter or margarine), the iconic Aussie spread turns 90 next Friday, charging past the average Australian life expectancy. While it may not be the most epicurean ingredient, Vegemite scores a tick of approval from most of Australia's top chefs.

Shannon Bennett of Vue de Monde fame is a "less is more kind of guy” when it comes to Vegemite. During service Bennett coats eel with white chocolate and tweezes edible flowers, but like 40 per cent of Australians he begins most days with Vegemite, pairing it with quality butter on artisan toast. Bennett refers to Vegemite affectionately. His four children have been "on it” since they were young, and Bennett himself is addicted: "I'm trying to cut down carbs in the morning,” he says, "but I still can't resist the convenience or the taste of it.”

Sydney-based chef Dan Hong (Ms G's, El Loco and Mr Wong) cooks with Vegemite more than he eats it. "Vegemite has a lot of umami qualities… it's really savoury, it has that meaty flavour,” he says. On Australia Day last year, El Loco's secret taco – a regular special where diners don't know what taco they've ordered until it is in front of them – was kangaroo marinated in Vegemite with a Vegemite mayonnaise.

Back in Melbourne, Chin Chin's Benjamin Cooper also uses the much-loved breakfast staple in Japanese-style lamb braises. "It fits with Japanese food because it's quite like miso,” he says.

Cooper is one of the eight out of 10 Australians with a jar of Vegemite always in the kitchen. He regularly beefs up his braises with spoonfuls of the stuff, cooking down stocks until another dimension of meatiness kicks in. He even kept some in his cupboard during a five-year stint in England, although he never converted any Britons into Vegemite lovers.

But on occasion, the English convert themselves. Darren Purchese from Melbourne's Burch & Purchese grew up on Marmite in the Motherland, but switched to Vegemite when he moved to Melbourne. "When I first came over I wouldn't eat Vegemite… I was getting mum to send over Marmite. I got the taste for Vegemite and now I use it all the time… I reckon you could live off the stuff,” he says.

After working in his sweet studio all day, the saltiness of Vegemite is a savoury sanctuary for Purchese. He spreads it thickly on Baker D. Chirico seeded toast with Myrtleford butter, "so it's dripping down my arm,” he says. Purchese often indulges in Parmesan Vegemite popcorn, mixing butter and a tablespoon of Vegemite in a pan until glossy, then pouring it over hot popcorn and adding an avalanche of grated cheese. He's yet to explore Vegemite in his Willy Wonka-esque shop, although he hinted at a caramel Vegemite crumble with a salted oat base next Australia Day.

Adam D'Sylva (Coda and Tonka in Melbourne) is one chef who grew up as a happy little Vegemite, despite his Italian and Indian heritage. "Vegemite has a unique flavour, but there's a nice balance to it also,” he says. D'Sylva is what's commonly referred to as a Wormer, sandwiching crackers loaded with butter and Vegemite together so that squiggly worms escape from the cracker holes.

Unlike D'sylva, chef Paul Cooper from Sydney's Bishop Sessa is a Vegecadoer (one who adds avocado to their Vegemite toast). He eats it daily with his 18-month-old daughter, who's becoming a Vegecadoer just like her dad.

Over 234 serves of Vegemite are in the process being enjoyed somewhere in the world while you're reading this sentence. If you were to line up a single year's consumption of Vegemite toast, it would create a bready trail long enough to wrap around Earth more than 3.5 times. The MoVida Sydney staff account for a steady slice of these statistics. Head chef and Vegemite poster boy James Campbell feeds the kitchen team Vegemite on the previous night's sourdough for breakfast most mornings. Campbell grew up in western Victoria on a cattle station and enjoys his Vegemite for breakfast, lunch and tea. "I like the irony of it,” he says, "it flies in the face of everything culinary and balanced.”

With over 22 million jars sold every year, Campbell is onto something when he points out that whether you love it or hate it, Vegemite is "part of our DNA”.

After 90 years on Aussie shelves, one thing is for certain: Vegemite will outlive us all.


21 October, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is struck by the fact that Greenies are supposed to love trees yet are largely responsible for the bushfires that burn them down.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott joins Davidson Rural Fire Brigade to fight NSW bushfires

A manly man

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has taken a break from running the country to help fire crews fight the bushfires gripping NSW as a volunteer firefighter.

Mr Abbott worked a night shift helping back burn near Bilpinwith his Davidson Rural Fire Brigade from Sydney's Warringah Pittwater Rural Fire District.

NSW Rural Fires Service volunteer Tova Gallagher said she couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott decked out in his NSWRFS uniform.

Ms Gallagher, who herself is in the area fighting fires, said she didn't recognise the PM at first. "I said 'that guy could be Tony Abbott's brother'," she said. "Oh wait, hang on. It's him."

Mr Abbott has been a member of the NSW Rural Fire Service for 13 years and is trained as a specialist breathing apparatus operator, chainsaw operator and tanker driver.

But his new job running the country has triggered safety concerns putting him and his Australian Federal Police security detail into dangerous situations.

Pictures circulating on social media show Mr Abbott riding in the fire truck and giving the thumbs up to onlookers before he posed for photos with fellow volunteers.


"Green" responsibility for the bushfires

MORE fingers than fire hoses are being pointed this fire season as serious bush fires burn around the state.

Even as a new blaze burned near Port Stephens on Thursday, tough-talking Mayor Bruce MacKenzie was hammering the point he personally made Monday to Premier Barry O’Farrell and RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons that he believed Green-Labor policies introduced by the Carr government were still blocking hazard reduction efforts.

He wants the commissioner to return to the district with Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher - who has so far been all but invisible - to face local residents at a public meeting next week when the immediate emergency is over.

Mr MacKenzie, 75, a popularly elected mayor and local identity, also has a private axe to grind with the RFS.

Last year, he clashed with the RFS over concerns it raised with the Port Stephens Council for fire safety provisions during two development application hearings.

That argument plays into his bigger criticism about the increased bureaucracy in the RFS and the red and green tape he sees as preventing more hazard reductions.

That argument is not confined to Port Stephens. Under former Labor Premier Bob Carr, the level of hazard reductions performed across the state dropped even as larger areas of land were being incorporated into the national parks of which Mr Carr was so proud.

Green groups became increasingly influential, the environmental movement flourished, bizarre New Age fads such as eco-feminism emerged among the ignorant.

Unfortunately, the NSW Parks Department was never given a budget to match its increased area of responsibilities and inevitably, it could never meet perform the amount of hazard reduction necessary, not even the bare minimum.

It was also apparent that locking up forest areas in national parks automatically increased the level of fire risk.

Before the forests were locked up, logging tracks were kept open and the forest floor was largely cleared of fuel loads by the loggers and by the stock which were permitted to graze in the Crown reserves.

Locked forests saw the tracks rapidly become overgrown through disuse and with the removal of stock, the fuel load on the forest floor rapidly increased.

Despite what the green lobby claims, the fuel loading not global warming, is responsible for the intensity of bushfires. Increasing the fuel load by a factor of four, increases the fire intensity by a factor of nearly 20.

In recent years, particularly since the Victorian wildfires of February, 2009, in which 173 people were killed, it has been easier to obtain permission to conduct hazard reduction but the permit is only the first step.

Burning huge tracts of land today (when they may well be more fuel laden than they have been for decades) is not a simple process.

To burn safely and successfully, a range of variables have to be considered ranging from the temperature and humidity, the wind speed, the amount of fuel, the moisture content and the type of vegetation.

Coastal scrub, for example, has a very oil content which serves to protect it from the salt air environment.

The Australian bush is very site specific. Some trees and shrubs can take regular burning and will grow their seeds and thrown them into the ash of recent fires, others take years for the seeds to mature and set.


Boats will be stopped, Abbott says

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the arrival of asylum seekers by boat has dropped dramatically since the election of the coalition government.

But Mr Abbott says he's under no illusion that people smugglers will continue to test the commonwealth's resolve to stop the flow of boats.

The prime minister told the South Australian Liberal Party annual meeting in Adelaide on Saturday that in the month since the government was elected arrivals were running at just 10 per cent of the worst level under Labor.

"I don't pretend that the people smugglers won't test us," Mr Abbott said. "I don't say that there won't be worse months as well as better months in the time ahead. "I don't pretend that the boats have already stopped.

"But I can say to you with great confidence, they are stopping, they are stopping and they will be stopped."


In Qld., Jarrod Bleijie takes on unions, bikies and lawyers in one week

It has been an extraordinary week for the man they have labeled the Boy Wonder.

The state’s 31-year-old Attorney-General pushed three pieces of contested legislation through parliament this week, taking on the unions, the bikies and law firms in one fell swoop.

Jarrod Bleijie, the royal loving, rock and roll dancing, proudly Christian Member for Kawana was finally able to tick some bugbears off his list.

He was given open slather to bring motorcycle gangs to their knees. He responded by crafting laws some have labeled "medieval”, while others rang talkback radio shows to applaud.

He took the power to determine when certain offenders – namely sex offenders, such as Robert John Fardon, a particular bane of his, left jail, out of the judiciary’s hands and into, effectively, his own.

And he went against his own committee’s advice not to apply a common law threshold to workers’ compensation claims and did just that. Which, as Attorney-General, he has every right to do.

Those laws all passed this week, just days after they were introduced into Parliament, in some cases, just weeks after ‘we are looking at doing this’ media releases were sent out.

He did it while less flattering nicknames ‘The Article Clerk’ [an old taunt, calling back to his days in a Maroochydore law firm doing just that, while he completed his law degree] and ‘Vlad the Legislator’ [a new name gifted to critics by the naming of the Vicious Lawless Associated Disestablishment legislation passed this week] were muttered under breaths, lawyers threatened to de-rail MPs re-election prospects and the unions shouted.

But the unions always shout. It was the response of the Law Society which was most telling. Seemingly brought to the brink by Mr Bleijie’s ‘Plan B’ for keeping 64-year-old Fardon in jail, president Annette Bradfield, as circumspectly as she could, questioned whether the state’s "fundamental principle of democracy”, the separation of powers, were at risk.

Privately, Queensland’s lawyers are combing over the new legislation looking for holes. Publicly they are calling for Mr Bleijie to declare his confidence in the judiciary.

While shadow Attorney-General, Mr Bleijie said he would never attack a judge, he has said he would have no problem questioning their judgment. "Our judicial system needs to hand down sentences that government requires them to,” he said in Brisbane Legal in 2011.

The amendments to the Criminal Amendment Act, which allow the Attorney-General to effectively overrule a release order issued by the courts, once all appeals are exhausted, now allows him to ensure they do.

It is a hard job to argue against keeping prolific sexual offenders in prison. So the Opposition was left with attacking the urgency of the law’s passing and the blurring of lines between state and judiciary.

Still, there was no question of the law passing. Thursday’s late sitting debating the legislation was almost as wasted as Tuesday’s marathon effort when the anti-bikie laws went through.

When it came to WorkCover, that was easier to argue. Mr Bleijie said Queensland’s statutory cover would mean all workers would be covered, regardless of whether they had been judged to have less than a 5 per cent injury impairment.

But Queensland has a short-tailed scheme, which means once the WorkCover statutory cover runs out, there will no longer be any further avenues an injured worker can take for compensation, if they fall under that 5 per cent threshold.

Personal liability lawyers have estimated that will be about half of all WorkCover cases.

Business groups had lobbied intensely to have journey claims removed from the legislation, which means employees would have lost the right to claim for injuries which occurred to or from work.

Mr Bleijie said he "found the balance” by keeping journey claims, but adding the common law threshold.

That "balance” meant lawyers and their staff joined union supporters outside Parliament House on Thursday, calling for "Bl-liar” to come out. But business, that all-important sector the government vowed to listen to, are, if not entirely satisfied with the changes, content that some of what they wanted was done.

But the laws created this week to "break the spirit” of motorcycle gangs are what legal sources expect to create the biggest headache for the government, long after the hyperbole has died down.

Mr Bleijie, though, who despite the long hours in the lead up to this week has maintained the shiniest shoes in parliament, and has not faltered in matching his pocket chiefs to his tie, doesn’t seem to care.

He says when the laws are challenged – not if, because he knows that it is a foregone conclusion – he’ll just keep tweaking the legislation until the courts hands are tied.

And he’ll do it with the full support of Premier Campbell Newman, the government and the LNP.

"Not only does he have my personal support, but also he has, without question, the unequivocal, 100 per cent, rock solid support of the cabinet and those honourable members of the LNP in this place … he has the total, unequivocal support of the LNP state executive and I am confident, almost all of the 14,000 members of the LNP across Queensland who worked hard to get a government that would be strong on these law and order and safety and security issues,” Mr Newman said.

"This Attorney-General has the ticker and the guts to actually stand up to entrenched interests right across this state without fear or favour and to do what is right for Queenslanders, do what is right for Queensland families, do what is right for Queensland businesses … I could go on and on. He has done the right thing by Queenslanders.”


20 October, 2013

Coalition Government resurrects temporary protection visas

The Federal Government has officially reintroduced the Howard-era temporary protection visas (TPV).

Under the Migration Act, the visa gives refugees protection for up to three years and prevents the visa holder from applying for permanent protection. Reintroducing TPVs was one of the Coalition's key election promises.

In August, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced plans to deal with the backlog of nearly 32,000 people already in Australia on bridging visas in detention centres.

He said the Coalition would introduce a rapid audit of their claims, by which a single immigration case worker would decide the refugee status of people who had arrived in Australia by boat.

Those found to be refugees would be given TPVs, with no prospect of permanent settlement - including for family reunions.

Those judged to have no refugee claim would be deported or detained, and stripped of appeal rights.

TPVs to undermine human rights, asylum advocates say

TPVs were a feature of the Howard government's asylum policy in 1999 and Mr Abbott referenced the former prime minister's own words during his announcement of the policy in August.

In an election policy speech in 2001, Mr Howard famously stated: "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

The Rudd Labor government abolished TPVs in 2008.

Amnesty International spokesman Graeme McGregor says the re-introduction of TPVs will undermine human rights protections for asylum seekers.

"Once again, we have favoured punishment over protection of genuine refugees by choosing to repackage failed policies of the past," he said.

"The use of TPVs during the first Pacific Solution was shown to have severe mental health consequences on recognised refugees, who in many cases have fled terror and torture as a result of the insecurity around employment, residence and family reunion."


Coalition in the ballpark on household savings from axing the carbon tax

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced he will introduce legislation next month to scrap the carbon tax from July 2014. "When this bill is passed, Australian households will be better off to the tune of $550 a year," he promised in a press conference on October 15.

Minutes later, Environment Minister Greg Hunt echoed that figure, but was more precise about when it applied. "The legislation will also bring in to being, as the Prime Minister said, a saving of $550 on average next financial year, as opposed to the current situation," he said. "On average, it's a saving of $3,000 per family over the next six years."

The verdict:

Based on Treasury modelling, households will be better off by around $550 in 2014-15 if the current legislation is scrapped. However the following year, when the legislation moves to a floating price, the estimated impact on households drops to $280.

Mr Abbott was overstating the case to say households would be better off to the tune of $550 a year, but Mr Hunt reasonably said the legislation would mean "a saving of $550 on average next financial year, as opposed to the current situation".

Mr Hunt's claim of a $3,000 benefit to households stretches to 2020. But it is impossible to make a reliable estimate of the impact of a carbon tax on households that far beyond the forward estimates.

Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt are in the ballpark.


First bikie arrests in Queensland under new laws

The first two people to be charged under Queensland's tough new anti-bikie laws which came into force this week have been released on bail in the state's far north.

Police officers in Cairns carried out searches on three known clubhouses, two in the inner suburb of Bungalow and one in the CBD, all of which were declared prescribed criminal locations under the new legislation.

Detectives arrested Peter Johnston and Mark Filtness at a Spence Street address that police allege to be the clubhouse of the Odins Warriors.

The men, both 47, appeared in the Cairns Magistrates Court this afternoon charged with being a participant in a criminal organisation entering a prescribed place.

They were granted bail and will be released once their passports have been surrendered, which is a mandatory condition under the new laws.

The matter will return to court on November 1.

Brazen violence and intimidation on the Gold Coast prompted the Queensland Government to come down harshly on outlaw motorcycle gangs and their members.

New laws targeting the gangs passed with bipartisan support after a marathon session in State Parliament on Wednesday night.
Australia's outlaw motorcycle gangs.

The legislation names 26 "criminal organisations", including the Bandidos, Finks and Mongols.

It restricts their members' and associates movements and meetings, and increases minimum sentences for their crimes.

Premier Campbell Newman said: "The unequivocal purpose of these laws is to destroy these criminal organisations."


Conservative Capitalism: a strange way to remain the same

My heading above is lifted from an article by the Australian Leftist Grant Wyeth. My leading post on Friday was also a comment on one of his lucubrations so I thought I might have a bit more fun with him today. On Friday I solved for him his puzzle over why Left and Right are so starkly different and opposed. Today I want to solve for him the puzzle in the heading above: He cannot fathom that change is in the essence of capitalism so *therefore* conservatives should oppose it, not support it

Like many Leftist writers before him (e.g. Altemeyer), Wyeth's problem is that he wouldn't know conservatism if he fell over it. His concept of conservatism is the caricature of it that circulates in his own little Leftist bubble.

And he even realizes dimly that he doesn't know what it is. With a schoolboy level of sophistication, he even turned to his dictionary to find out what it is! Sad that so many historians have written in vain for Wyeth! Altemyer is the same.

And what Wyeth found in his dictionary is that conservatives are opposed to change. That is exactly what Leftists say about conservatives but it ignores one of the most salient facts about politics worldwide -- that conservative governments are just as energetic in legislating for their agenda as Leftists are. Both sides busily make new laws all the time. And the point of a new law is to change something. The changes that Left and Right desire are different but both sides push for change. On Wyeth's understanding of conservatism, a conservative government that wins an election should do no more than yawn, shut up the legislature and go home until the next election!

So in good Leftist style, Wyeth ignores one of the most basic facts about politics. That sure is a weird little intellectual bubble that he lives in. EVERY conservative that I know has got a whole list of things that he would like to see changed. But Wyeth obviously doesn't know any conservatives.

So Wyeth finds politics puzzling because his most basic premise is faulty.

So what is conservatism? I have taught both sociology and psychology at major Australian universities but when it comes to politics my psychologist's hat is firmly on. One can understand conservatism at various levels but to get consistency, you have to drop back to the psychological level. And at that level it is as plain as a pikestaff. Conservatives are cautious. And that is all you need to know to understand the whole of conservatism.

In science, however, explanations just generate new questions and, as a psychologist, I am interested in dropping down to an even lower level of explanation and asking why conservatives are cautious. And I think that is pretty obvious too. It is in part because they can be.

As all the surveys show, conservatives are the happy and contented people. And with that disposition, conservatives just don't feel the burning urgency for change that Leftists do. Leftists cast caution to the winds because they want change so badly. ANYTHING seems better to them than the existing arrangements. Conservatives don't have that compulsion. Leftists are the perpetually dissatified whiners whereas conservatives can afford to take their time and get things right from the outset.

And why does that difference in happiness exist? As the happiness research often reminds us, your degree of happiness is inborn and, as such, is pretty fixed. Leftists are just born miserable.

So we have now dropped down into a genetic level of explanation. And we can at that level even derive and test a hypothetico-deductive prediction. If conservatives are happy and happiness is genetic, then conservatism should be genetic too. And it is. As behaviour geneticists such as Nick Martin have shown, conservatism has a strong genetic component -- which suggests that some people are just born cautious. It is, of course, no surprise that caution and happiness go together.

So I think I have now gone as low as I can go in explaining conservatism. There are of course even lower levels of explanation possible (tracing the brain areas involved, studying the DNA) but our understanding of those levels of function is at the moment so crude that anyone purporting to offer explanations at that level is merely speculating.

So having gone down the levels of explanation, I now need to go up the levels of explanation too. What does being cautious lead to? It rather obviously leads to distrust: Distrust of the wisdom and goodwill of one's fellow man, both as individuals and in collectivities. In Christian terms, man is seen as "fallen" and ineluctibly imperfect.

But trust and distrust are matters of degree and conservatives are perfectly willing to give trust when it has been earned. So where ideas are concerned, conservatives usually trust only those ideas that have already been shown to work as intended or which extend existing successful ideas. Leftists, by contrast, trust and put into action ideas that "sound" right to them -- without bothering to test first whether their ideas really do generate the consequences that they envisage. They usually don't of course. Leftists are theorists extraordinaire. They have no use for Mr Gradgrind's "facts". That theory is useful only insofar as it is a good guide to facts seems to be beyond their ken.

The enthusiasm for "whole language" methods in teaching kids to read is an example of untested Leftist policy being implemented. It was widely adopted in the schools but worked so badly that most schools have now reverted to phonics -- the old "tried and tested" method.

And conservative caution leads to conservatives valuing stability generally -- because sweeping changes could well not work out well -- and usually don't. Leftists usually seem to think they know it all but conservatives know that they don't. So conservatives want various changes but also want to proceed cautiously with change. They want "safe" change, change off a stable base -- a base that embodies what has worked in the past.

And the traditional conservative advocacy of individual liberty also stems from caution. It is highly likely that a tyrant won't have your particular interests at heart so you want to be free to pursue your own interests yourself. And in the economic sphere that is capitalism.

I think I have by now said enough to solve all of Wyeth's puzzles below but if I have left anything out, you will probably find it in my big historical survey of conservatism.

ON FRIDAY LAST WEEK in The Age, Waleed Aly wrote a thoughtful piece on the tensions that currently exist globally within "the Right” of politics.

Aly hit the nail beautifully on the head when he wrote that modern ‘…conservative politics [has come] to be built on a contradiction: a pact between the opposing forces of free market-liberalism and social conservatism.’

However, Aly didn’t quite go far enough in explaining just how strange and counter-productive to conservative ideals this alliance has become. Modern political thought tends to view this as a perfectly consistent philosophy, but I would contend that nothing could be further from the truth.

The way I see things, World War II and the Cold War induced conservatives in the West to go looking for the most anti-socialist (both national and garden variety) philosopher and economist they could find. It led them to F. A. Hayek, a man who diagnosed the brutally restrictive machines of state-centric Fascism and Communism earlier than most. However, this was an ironic choice for conservatives, seeing he had also written an essay entitled Why I’m Not A Conservative.

However, as insightful (and misunderstood) as Hayek was (and still is), I think we need to look towards another economist for a more succinct reason as to why this is such an odd match.

Joseph Schumpeter noted: ‘Capitalism is by nature a form or method of change and not only never is, but never can be, stationary.’
Which is why I find it strange that we conventionally call capitalism "economic conservatism”, when the dictionary tells me that conservatives are uncomfortable, opposed, or suspicious, of change.

Schumpeter, however, also observed that capitalism is: ‘…a process whose every element takes considerable time in revealing its true features and ultimate effects.’

This could be considered "conservative”, in that the more rational conservatives believe change needs time to digest, not full-scale resistance. But since the post-World War II period, market-fuelled economic and social change has moved at such a rapid and multiplying pace that surely conservatives would advocate more state intervention against the market, not less?

The train, the car, the aeroplane and the internet – all major inventions fuelled and enhanced by competition and the free exchange of ideas – have been instrumental in breaking down ethnic and cultural barriers as they moved the masses out of the monoculture of the village and into the wonderful world of difference. Firsthand knowledge is the biggest enemy of the ignorant, and capitalism has given us these wonderful tools to gain it.

Furthermore, when it comes to cultural and ethnic relations, the conservative adherence to the market is again odd. If, as Hayek would promote, the state is a physical impediment to exchange amongst humans, then surely the nation is a mental one? The nation is one particularly dangerous form of collectivism that conservatives seem to have overlooked.

Swedish academic Hans Rosling has noted that a capitalist invention such as the simple washing machine was a significant tool in the women’s liberation movement. The massive amount of time it saved allowed women to educate and organise themselves. The result being that within a very short period, women now out-attend and out-perform men in education, and will soon translate this to out-earn.

The state just doesn’t have the knowledge, the mechanisms, nor the self-interest to create change on this scale. And when it has tried, it has ended up with a lot of dead bodies.

The state is a reactionary institution in the purest sense. Its role is to react to what occurs around it, and when you concentrate considerable power and prestige in it, the state is less likely to be comfortable with change that may threaten this power.

This is why I refer to both the state itself, and the ideas of "the Left”, as "structurally conservative”. Presently, "the Right” have the desire to resist change, but "the Left” have all the instruments to do so.

This is something Bob Katter understands with his conservative "Old Labor” instincts. He may be backwards, but at least he is philosophically consistent. There are no homosexuals in the seat of Kennedy, just as there are none in Tehran and Pyongyang. By a head in the sand or a gun in the hand.

However, in a modern liberal society, the issue is lost for poor Bob. The prevalence of gay characters on television now, and the popularity of a prime time show like Modern Family, indicates just how far the state in Australia is behind.

In reference to his own support for gay marriage, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden noted: "I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.”

Shows such as these are not just educational tools though. Their prominence is actually a reflection of society’s values. They’re shown in prime time for a reason. The state only hears the loudest voices, the market has a much more finely tuned ear.

Aly notes that: ‘Bob Katter’s constituency have long been globalisation’s losers.’

A similar thing can be said about America’s Tea Party movement. I (smugly) call them "Reagan’s Losers”. Yet what The Tea Party miss, that Katter understands, is that they only sow the seeds of their own further discomfort by advocating for increased liberalisation from the state. The increased "freedom” they call for, is actually the freedom that will continue to create significant global, economic and social change.

Theirs is an essentially nationalist movement, they attach themselves to market-liberalism due to America’s national mythology, not due to its cosmopolitan outcomes.

This existential crisis within the Republican Party, along with the rise of UKIP that Aly mentions, the minor parties formed out of the Coalition and the irrational and unhinged rhetoric that spews from elements on the Right these days, are all symptoms of conservatives struggling to reconcile this pact with market-liberalism that doesn’t provide them with the outcomes they desire.

The changes occurring globally and locally in the 21st Century are too strong for this contradictory alliance of ideas to hold. Conservatives are going to either have to learn to embrace the era in which they live, or find a different philosophical and economic model to align themselves in order to resist it.


18 October, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on Leftist intransigence over the carbon tax

Greens MP Adam Bandt tries to make political mileage out of fires

Bandt is a Trotskyite -- an acolyte of Leon Trotsky, leader of the Red Army in the Russian revolution and a mass murderer. Trotsky never took prisoners of war. He shot the lot. So Bandt has exactly the low level of fellow-feeling you would expect of that

AN unrepentant and defiant Adam Bandt has stood behind the ill-timed bushfire comments he made on social media at the peak of yesterday's NSW firestorm.

The Greens MP infuriated many when he tweeted that "Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney".

That comment came at the very moment that every TV network in Australia showed graphic images of people's houses burning.

Mr Bandt tried to hose down his comments on ABC News 24 on Friday morning, arguing:

"Well, in the last 12 months we've had the hottest year on record, the hottest month and the hottest day. Tony Abbott has picked this time to say he's going to rip up action on global warming, which is going to to mean these are the kind of fires we will see more often."

The point many have already made as a counterpoint to this statement is that Mr Abbott didn't pick the exact moment that people's houses were burning down.

Mr Bandt attempted to add further context in his comments today, carefully adding words like "tragic" and phrases like "the amazing work of emergency services". But he continued to harness the moment to say things like:

"This is what global warming in Australia looks like and it's going to mean more fires happening more often and some of them more severe when they happen."

Mr Bandt also displayed a rather troubling ignorance of Australian geography today with his repeated statement that October is very early for bushfires.

October would indeed be super-early for Victoria, where Mr Bandt lives, but hot weather always arrives earlier in NSW, and fires have long occurred in the east of NSW in October and even earlier in September and August, which are the state's driest months of the year.


PEOPLE'S lives are at risk. Houses have been lost. At latest count there are at least 40 homes burned to the ground. That number will almost certainly rise.

It is a shocking, distressing time right now in eastern New South Wales. The sky above Sydney is thick with smoke. Ash is falling from the sky in many suburbs. A dry southerly change due any minute may only make things worse as the fires change course.

So what does Greens MP Adam Bandt do?

He ignores the unfolding human tragedy and pushes his political barrow on Twitter.

"Why Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney," Mr Bandt tweeted this afternoon, along with a link to the blood red sky over Sydney

Talk about too soon.

You'd imagine that even the strongest believer in climate change caused by human activity would concede there is a more appropriate time to argue the issue of carbon pricing than when people are fleeing their homes and brave fireys do their best to protect them.

Many people on Twitter are certainly expressing that sentiment.

If the great democracy of social media is any guide, people feel that by attacking the PM's plans to abolish the carbon tax on this particular afternoon, Adam Bandt comes across as a man more interested in political points-scoring than that basic human emotion called compassion.

And politicians wonder why people don't much care for them.


Hundreds left homeless as the gravest bushfire emergency in a decade strikes NSW

HUNDREDS of homes are feared destroyed and Premier Barry O'Farrell has spoken of the first death to be confirmed in the distaster.

"Regrettably this is what no one wants to happen," Mr O'Farrell said of the death of a 63-year-old man who suffered a heart attack while he was fighting a fire at his home at Lake Munmorah on NSW's Central Coast.

Mr O'Farrell amde the comments from Rural Fire Service headquarters in Sydney where he was being briefed this morning.

The premier will head to the Blue Mountains on this afternoon where he will inspect the damage from the air and speak to the media.

While the extent of the devastation was unclear on Thursday night, one of the worst-hit areas was Springwood, in the Blue Mountains, where more than 40 homes were known to be lost.

Large fires continued to burn into the early hours of the morning with emergency warnings remaining in place for the Ruttleys Rd fire near Wyong on the Central Coast and between Lithgow and Bilpin.

A drop in temperature is expected today of about 10C with the hope that the cooler conditions will give firefighters the upper hand but 100 fires continue to burn with 20,000 hectares being lost to the inferno in the Blue Mounatins area.

But when the ashes settle, the number of destroyed or damaged properties across the state is expected to be much worse.

Elsewhere, thousands of firefighters were struggling against around 100 blazes across the state - on the Central Coast and further north, the Southern Highlands and the south coast.

It was too soon to estimate how many properties had been lost, but Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons predicted: "we'll be counting properties in the dozens, if not the hundreds." Premier Barry O'Farrell and Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters the public should brace for widespread destruction.

"It will take some days until we see the end of these fires," Mr O'Farrell warned. "I suspect that if we get through that without the loss of life we should thank God for miracles."

Mr Fitzsimmons said firefighters faced the worst of conditions. "This is as bad as it gets," he said.

Schools at the Blue Mountains were also drawn into the drama and scores of Blue Mountains residents sought refuge at evacuation centres on Thursday night, including the Springwood Sports Club and Springwood Country Club.

While St Columba's students were kept in their school, St Thomas Aquinas School was evacuated.

"Firefighters are undertaking property protection under difficult, dangerous and erratic weather conditions," the RFS says on its website.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said it was one of the worst days he'd seen. "It's probably the most serious fire risk we've faced since the early 2000s," he said.

For most of the day there were six fires at "emergency warning" level, meaning homes were at risk and residents were being asked to consider fleeing.

At least two firefighters were injured, with one man sent to Sydney's Concord Hospital with burns to his face.

The fires created traffic chaos around Sydney, with a 20km queue on the Hume Highway for city-bound traffic.

All northbound lanes on the highway were reopened about 9.45pm (AEST), the Transport Management Centre said, with just one southbound lane opening.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has formally declared a "catastrophe" for affected areas.

ICA CEO Rob Whelan said the group expected to have a better idea of the damage by the weekend, but added that insurers were ready to take claims.


Aboriginal jobs program a complete disaster, says Nigel Scullion

THE remote indigenous jobs scheme launched by Labor in July is in "crisis", with people not turning up to work and some retreating to alcohol, prompting the Abbott government into emergency talks to try to rescue the $1.5 billion national program.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion will meet his senior departmental officials today to devise an immediate strategy to get indigenous people re-engaged in the scheme, which operates in 60 remote regions.

"It's just a complete disaster, all we know for sure is that people are disengaged," Senator Scullion told The Australian.

Under the Remote Jobs and Communities Program, a single provider in each region is contracted to work with individuals, communities and local employers to help more people into jobs and build stronger communities.

Senator Scullion said he had been told participants had left the scheme and returned to drinking. "People have told me privately that the people who were working are now 'sad'," he said. "I can tell you that is code for a very bad state of mind. They are drinking more. This is a disaster well beyond what I expected.

"We need to move very quickly. With the wet season coming on and Christmas coming on, if people are disengaged for five months, to re-engage them after decades of work will be very difficult."

Senator Scullion cited the example of 61 people who had been on an indigenous work-for the-dole-program in Gunbalanya, 300km east of Darwin. "Now they have gone home, but they are still getting paid, so they are completely disengaged from employment," he said. "You couldn't think of a worse possible outcome."

The RJCP was designed to provide a more integrated and flexible approach to employment and participation services for people living in remote areas. Most of the communities involved are in the Northern Territory.

Senator Scullion said a new community development fund - the centrepiece of the new scheme that provides $237.5 million in funding over five years - was not providing an adequate level of support for providers to run meaningful programs.

As a result, indigenous people were being sent home or choosing to leave. Senator Scullion said the program was contracted out for a five-year period and the department would need to look at ways of improving it within its legal obligations. "We are making this a priority," he said. "We need the people to re-engage with whatever system we have.

"I have a great deal of sadness about it and I know there was no mischief from the previous Labor government but they have got it so badly wrong that it can only take a couple of days to disengage and it can then take months to re-engage."

This week, The Australian witnessed many people in the West Arnhem community of Gunbalanya approaching the minister about the collapse of the system. He has also received reports from many other communities about dysfunction in the scheme.

"They have told me that previously people were turning up to work in hundreds (and) they were significantly engaged," he said.

"When the new RJCP provider turned up in Gunbalanya they expected some of the existing deliveries to continue delivering somehow but the net consequence is that people are not turning up."

The four main programs that previously delivered employment, participation and community-development services in remote Australia - Job Services Australia, Disability Employment Services, Community Development Employment Projects and the Indigenous Employment Program - have been brought together under the RJCP.

In a speech to residents of Gunbalanya on Wednesday, Senator Scullion said he believed that the previous CDEP scheme, which both sides of politics had been trying to get rid of, was superior to the new system.


O'Farrell fights push to ban CSG

The O'Farrell government has rejected a Labor push to keep coal seam gas activity out of Sydney's water catchments, despite a pre-election pledge to ban the practice.

Opposition Leader John Robertson introduced legislation to Parliament on Thursday seeking a ban on coal seam gas operations in designated "special areas" surrounding major water storages. The move would rule out about 371,000 hectares around Sydney, the Illawarra, the Blue Mountains, the southern highlands and Shoalhaven.

Labor will also investigate banning coal seam gas activity from catchments in the Hunter, the central coast and north coast. It follows calls by the Sydney Catchment Authority, as reported by Fairfax Media on Thursday, for coal seam gas mining to be banned in the same areas proposed by Labor, because it "may significantly compromise" water supply assets.

Mr Robertson said coal seam gas licences renewed by the Coalition as recently as March still covered Sydney's water catchments.

In 2009, while in opposition, Barry O'Farrell told a rally opposing a central coast mine: "The next Liberal-National government will ensure that mining cannot occur in any water catchment area. No ifs, no buts. A guarantee."

Mr Robertson said the government "has had almost three years to deliver on a core election commitment and has failed". But Energy Minister Chris Hartcher said water quality would be protected.

He accused Labor of "absolute hypocrisy", saying it approved coal seam gas exploration licences when in power. Fairfax Media understands the government will not be supporting the bill.

The debate came as the government announced measures to fast-track mine approvals by cutting conditions for future standard coal mining leases from 24 to nine.

Nature Conservation Council NSW chief executive Pepe Clarke said accelerating the development of mines that will "have serious negative environmental impacts for centuries is not good policy".


When two tribes go to war

The article below by an Australian Leftist has some correspondence with reality. Left and Right do seem to some extent to exist in separate universes. The author does not know why, however. I think the answer is obvious. I think that the separation exists because the Left has a reflex of closing its ears to anything it does not want to hear. They do that because their beliefs are so easily open to challenge. They cannot AFFORD to listen. Reality is against them. They have to invent a fictional mental world where, for instance, "all men are equal", despite the perfectly obvious fact that all men are different. All men are (allegedly) equal only in the sight of God -- and Leftists don't generally believe in him/her.

Global warming is a good example of reality denial too. It is agreed on both sides of the divide that the total amount of warming over the last 150 years has been less than one degree Celsius. Why is such a triviality worth notice? Leftists never say. Global warming scientists theorize that the warming might suddenly leap but that is mere prophecy -- and we know how successful prophecies generally are.

Conservatives, on the other hand spend most of their time in politics discussing and refuting Leftist arguments. Read almost anything on, for instance, and it will be discussing and refuting Leftist arguments and policies with appeals to the facts -- anything but ignoring them. By contrast, the fact that Leftists do NOT generally address conservative arguments is what makes them seem alien to conservatives. It makes them seem alien to rationality. Leftists very often mock conservative arguments in a superficial and cherrypicked way but that is a far cry from seriously working through them and honestly addressing ALL the relevant facts -- JR

My parents don't know anyone who would vote for the ALP [Leftist party] or Greens.

My friendship and cultural circles don't know anyone who would vote for the Coalition [conservatives].

Both view those without their voting intentions as highly strange, suspicious and people to fear. The opportunities, and the desire, for conversation are non-existent.

In mainstream political discourse we talk about 'Left' and 'Right', or 'progressive' and 'conservative', as political groups, hanging on to antiquated notions of consistent political ideas, but in fact it is becoming increasingly evident that these are now simply cultural groups.

We can broadly describe a culture as the behaviours and beliefs of a particular group of people. These behaviours and beliefs compound themselves as they are continually practiced. Large distinctions in cultures occur when groups are isolated and not exposed to any different influences or practices.

Both of these cultural groups are what could best be described as 'subscription packages'; with a checklist of positions to hold in order gain membership.

For the 'Left' we have positions that fall under the umbrella of socially liberal and economically interventionist. For the 'Right' it is the binary opposite: socially conservative and economically liberal. Regardless of the outcomes they produce these are the standpoints of the tribe.

These coalitions of ideas feel consistent because everyone in the group continually reiterates them. The beliefs of the group are reinforced by the group's beliefs. With an added constant suspicion of outsiders, any attempt to influence their positions is vigorously resisted.

The internet was meant to be the great conversation, the space where difference would converge and enlightenment would prevail. Yet it instead seems to be forming into information ghettos, where these 'Left' and 'Right' groups inhabit spaces exclusive to one another. Increasingly this is even becoming the way that we consume our mainstream news.

While news outlets have always had perspectives and agendas, we are now experiencing what is best described as the 'Foxification' of news. It is a model that preaches solely to the converted and strokes and manipulates their biases. In the US we have seen Fox's tribal rival MSNBC adopt this model for the 'progressive' cultural group with similar success.

In Australia this is mimicked in a less extreme, but still significant, fashion by the News Ltd/Fairfax divide.

As a result public debate has now become an endless game of Pong, where these two cultural groups simply expel rhetoric into public space to be rejected by the other. The suspicion between the two cultural groups is so strong, that if one iterates a position then the other simply claims the opposite must be the truth.

Persuasive arguments aren't worth communicating because there is little intention of them being considered. Greater comprehension or even conversion are not motives. The objective is solely about expressing one's outrage at topic du jour.

This kind of rhetoric is designed solely to consolidate one's position within the pack. It is a combination of conformity to the group and a desire to increase your power within it. The louder you yell, the more impassioned your indignity, the more removed you are from the other reviled group.

Social media plays an important role in highlighting this phenomenon. There is the obvious echo-chamber of following only those who are members of your tribe.

However, there is also the interesting device of changing a Facebook profile picture to indicate a voting intention, or using a Twibbon to demonstrate support for a cause. These are not intended to be a persuasive arguments, in fact there is no argument at all. The audience is their peers, an indication that you above reproach with your adherence to the team.

This firm adherence to the group is expected of each member of the group, and anyone who would stray will not be tolerated.

Former ALP President and prominent Indigenous Australian Warren Mundine is a good current example of this. It is believed that he is 'selling out' by working with the new conservative government on indigenous issues. Instead it is expected that he get in the trenches and throw solution-less grenades at them. The conflict between the two tribes takes priority over any potential positive results. Conflict is the oxygen that they need to survive.

Conspicuous free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs insistence on choosing warriors like Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen to speak at their events indicates that their intentions are combative, and not persuasive.

No other organisation looking to attract sympathisers would go anywhere near such polarising figures. These are hostile acts, roadblocks to conversation that entrench mindsets and make finding consensus increasingly difficult.

During the election campaign I had to explain to my mother that Kevin Rudd's use of the phrase "working families" was an attempt to talk to her. As a member of a family that worked she was offended that someone not from her tribe would use a term that described her in his vision.

It was an indication of the depth of this cultural divide.

I'm not naïve enough to believe that differing political allegiances have ever simply been disagreements in the approach to problem solving. Yet the idea that we view our opposing group in this political culture as actively nefarious is highly detrimental to any problems being solved.


17 October, 2013

The great climate fiction

IT is natural that when Tony Abbott told Asia-Pacific leaders he was going to repeal Australia's carbon tax he found no opposition, and a good deal of support instead. He mentioned it in plenary sessions and bilateral meetings with all the leaders.

In taking this action, Abbott is bringing us into line with Asia-Pacific practice. There is not one significant national carbon tax or emissions trading scheme operating anywhere in the Asia-Pacific.

One of the most disagreeable defects of the Rudd and Gillard governments was the way they so often misrepresented reality, especially international reality. They tried to do this on such a scale that ultimately the public could see through it on many issues, especially boats and climate change.

The politics of climate change the world over is full of rhetoric and devoid of action. If Australians are being asked to pay a tax, even if it's called an emissions trading scheme, they should compare what other countries are actually doing, not what some politician might once have said.

The ABC in particular runs a constant propaganda campaign in favour of the idea that the world is moving to put a price on carbon. But the information is never specific. Any ABC interviewer with a speck of competence or professional standards should always ask the following: Name the specific scheme? Is it actually in operation? How much of the economy does it cover? What is the price of carbon? How much revenue does it raise?

You can impose no real cost on your economy, but still have a scheme to brag about if you have economy-wide coverage but a tiny price, or a big price but a tiny coverage. Either way you have a good headline scheme to fool the ABC with.

But here are some actual facts. The UN Framework Convention on Climate has 195 members. Only 34 of those use anything resembling an emissions trading scheme. Of those, 27 are in the EU scheme. No one in the Asia-Pacific has an effective scheme.

What about these Chinese schemes we hear so much about on the ABC? There are seven designated pilot projects in China. One - that's right, one - has begun operation. That is in Shenzhen. So far all the permits are given away for free. It has had no impact at all on carbon emissions.

The Chinese government has indicated it may look at a national scheme for the five-year plan from 2016. This is at most speculative, and there are a million ways it could be completely ineffective, which is almost certainly the result. China is by far the world's biggest polluter. Its per capita emissions are now comparable with Europe's. It has some plans to reduce carbon intensity, that is, the amount of carbon per unit of production, but no plans to reduce the absolute size of its emissions.

Japan has effectively abandoned plans for an ETS. No economy-wide carbon tax or ETS is operating today. South Korea has a plan, but it will issue all permits for free in the first period and is looking to redesign its scheme partly to avoid the impact on electricity prices, which Australia's scheme had. New Zealand has a notional scheme, but the price is a meaningless $1 per tonne.

The US has no carbon tax or ETS and is unlikely ever to have one. The separate Californian scheme is frequently adduced by pro-tax Australian partisans. But this scheme covers only 37 per cent of emissions, compared with the Australian tax that covered 60 per cent of our emissions. More importantly, in California, 90 per cent of permits for electricity are given for free.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covers several northern states in the US. But the price is $2.55 per tonne and it covers only electricity.

Canada does not have an ETS or a carbon tax. The Quebec scheme covers a minority of emissions and because the province is so reliant on hydro-electricity the scheme has little impact.

Some of the biggest carbon emitters in Asia - like Indonesia and India - not only do not have national carbon taxes or ETS schemes, they have massive fuel subsidies to make carbon-based fuels accessible to all their people. A fuel subsidy is the opposite of a carbon tax, it is a carbon subsidy.

The European scheme has a price of about $7. Famously, it covers a substantially smaller proportion of its emissions than our carbon tax did. Equally famously, in its first five years it tended to raise about $500 million a year whereas our carbon tax raised $9 billion a year. So all of Europe combined imposed a cost on itself of one-18th of the cost Australia imposed on itself.

Europe also allows, within its scheme, a certain amount of imports of Certified Emission Reduction Units, basically UN-approved carbon credits created in Third World countries. The price for these shonky bits of paper has now fallen below $1 per tonne.

Labor's Mark Butler was yesterday repeating the ALP mantra, much recited, too, by the Greens and the ABC, that not a single reputable climate scientist or economist endorses direct action of the kind Abbott and his minister, Greg Hunt, propose. This is untrue. The vast majority of the governments of the world, certainly the US and Canada, are using direct action mechanisms to address greenhouse gas emissions.

The rise of gas as an energy source has been the key driver of reductions in the US, but tighter automobile emissions standards and many other direct action measures have also been important. Australia would be extremely foolish to move substantially faster or further than most of the world. That is what we did in the biggest way with our hugely destructive carbon tax.

To compare ourselves with the world we must be absolutely accurate about what the world is actually, really doing in its physical manifestation today, not what some EU bureaucrat or NGO activist is willing to say in an always unchallenging ABC interview. Even within Europe's compromised scheme there is a great deal of re-thinking as economic logic trumps climate change piety.

The carbon tax and the ETS are based on a complete misrepresentation of what other countries are doing. Australians have never voted for either an ETS or a carbon tax and, unless the world changes radically, are unlikely to do so in the future.


Preoccupied by hatred of conservative leaders, the Australian Left fails to offer realistic policies

Chris Kenny

MORE than a month on from Tony Abbott's election victory there are eerily familiar signals from Labor and the commentariat.

They betray not only a failure to learn from last month's landslide but wilful blindness to similar lessons from the entire Howard era.

From the denunciation of Abbott as a "relentlessly negative" misogynist, to Kevin Rudd's pre-election warning that Abbott's policies would cause "some sort of conflict" with Indonesia, we are, as the quip goes, seeing deja vu all over again.

With the clarity of hindsight, it is accepted wisdom that Labor and its acolytes underestimated John Howard.

Yet the same clique, even some of the same players, seem to be stumbling into the same pitfall with Abbott.

Intense efforts to undermine Abbott's electability failed to prevent a strong mandate for the Coalition, and had the side benefit of lowering expectations.

And already, the chagrin in the commentariat echoes the anti-Howard whining of more than a decade ago, when by focusing their resentment on their conqueror, Labor and much of the commentariat avoided an examination of their own positions, policies and failings.

Their disdain for Howard dragged them away from mainstream concerns, while Howard made it his business to focus not on the Left critiques but on mainstream sensibilities.

Abbott saw all this and clearly learned. The Left doesn't seem to have taken heed.

In The Australian during the 1996 campaign, Glenn Milne summarised Labor's strategy. "With policy convergence almost totally achieved, the issue of Howard's stature is now a live one," said Milne. "Howard has always suffered - however unfairly - from the 'little Johnny' tag."

And on the day of the election, The Australian's own Phillip Adams captured this best when he determined to at least start the Howard years with some deft, if indignant, humour. "Howard would be a fine prime minister," he imagined, "if Dee Why or Coogee had its own prime minister. But he wants to be prime minister of the whole country."

From this distance we no longer need to imagine.

We know the Howard government substantially deepened and strengthened relations with Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea, India and much of the region.

Support through the Asian financial meltdown was crucial, and difficulties created by the intervention to support East Timor's independence, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the trauma of terrorism in the region were often leveraged to enhance relationships rather than undermine progress.

More than a decade of economic prosperity and reform enhanced Australia's global standing. We hosted the Olympic Games, APEC, Bill Clinton, Hu Jintao and George Bush.

Howard won a landslide in 1996, clung on in 1998, consolidated in turbulent times in 2001 and defied the odds in 2004.

Throughout this period, Howard's many critics in the parliament, on the airwaves and in the oped pages made life difficult for him but never managed to knock him far off course.

In the end, it was an inconvenient drought, overreach on industrial relations and Howard's intransigence over succession that gifted Rudd the chance to replace him.

Rudd paid Labor's nemesis the ultimate compliment by winning office (deceptively, as it turns out) as Howard Lite.

Over the intervening years the signs had been obvious. But rather than adjusting policies to mainstream settings - say on border protection or indigenous advancement - the Left's obsession with hateful attacks on Howard poisoned its politics.

Yet surprisingly, right at the outset, the diagnosis was explicit. As Paul Kelly outlined in The March of Patriots, the Liberal campaign director (now Trade Minister), Andrew Robb, described Labor's malady in his National Press Club address a fortnight after Howard won office, when he outlined the rise of the Howard battlers.

"This shift is not an overnight development," he revealed. "It owes much to Labor's attempts over 15 years or more to chase the votes of the socially progressive, often highly educated, affluent end of middle-class Australia."

Robb said Keating and his colleagues came to reflect the values and priorities of this clique. "Labor ended up governing for a few and not for all of us. There are now deep contradictions within the Labor Party in regard to what they stand for and who they represent."

The inescapable shock of those words is that Robb could deliver them to the Press Club tomorrow - changing only the names - to reflect on how Labor governed under Rudd and Julia Gillard, leading to the current Abbott ascendancy.

Lessons that should have been learned 17 years ago seem unabsorbed.

For the best part of two decades, Labor has paid no more than lip service to that best known of Sun Tzu's dictates on the art of war: "Know your enemies and know yourself."

Year after year, issue after issue, the progressive commentariat declared Howard misguided, and the public wrong to have faith in him.

In the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2000 Mungo MacCallum lectured on Indonesia in the wake of Howard's East Timor intervention. His reasonable summation was that Indonesia could disintegrate or emerge as a great democracy and Australia had to prepare for both eventualities.

But he gave the prime minister no credit: "There is no sign that John Howard and his government really understand either." Really?

In The Sydney Morning Herald in 1998, David Marr looked through the prism of religion to see a shrivelled heart on indigenous issues: "Contrition is what young John Howard wasn't taught by the Methodists."

Now Marr's religious preoccupations focus on Abbott's Catholicism and its implications for women: "As a devoted Catholic he won't give up the possibility that at some point in the future, and it might be hundreds of years away, there will be a possibility to do something about abortion."

Abbott's physical stature and fitness prevent direct comparisons with "little Johnny" but the gibes about small targets and limited vision are repeated.

Unabashed about his admiration for Howard, Abbott knows being underestimated is no disadvantage in politics.

Last year Marr's essay on Abbott said: "Australia doesn't want Tony Abbott. We never have." And three months ago, the AFR's Tingle saw problems for Abbott. "Rudd's return has only once again raised the question of whether Abbott is electable."

The day before last month's election, Tim Colebatch in The Age said even Abbott's foreign aid cuts would undermine his ambitions: "This will not help Tony Abbott's chances of getting the Indonesia co-operation he needs to stop the boats."

Since the election the tactics, the enmity and the perspectives are familiar. (Even the cacophony over entitlements this week provides an echo of the early Howard government instability on similar issues.)

In Abbott's first week, Tingle warned about the "clear rejection" of Abbott's policies by Indonesia, and when that didn't seem to be matched by reality she urged us not to "get sucked in by the Prime Minister's weasel words in Jakarta".

"Abbott said in Jakarta the only thing he was ultimately interested in was 'stopping' the boats," wrote Tingle last week. "It is not clear whether that will ever quite happen."

We will see. But after a dozen years of demonising and doubting Howard and, now, Abbott on asylum-seeker policy it seems inconceivable that the Left could continue this posturing if the boats are stopped again.

Or, perhaps the delusion will continue.


A-G Jarrod Bleijie announces Qld Government to change dangerous sex offenders law to bypass courts

The Queensland Government plans to take away the courts' power to determine whether some sex offenders remain behind bars indefinitely.

Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has introduced legislative amendments into Parliament, allowing him to recommend that serious violent offenders be kept in jail indefinitely.

"It does take it out of the court and it does put it in my jurisdiction," he said. "We are rebalancing the scales of justice."

Premier Campbell Newman admits to reservations about the move. "I want to stress how absolutely reluctant we are to do this," he said.

Mr Bleijie says his recommendation would then be signed-off by the Governor. He says it will be another layer of protection for the community. "It will be reserved for the 'worst of the worst' - it's legislation of last resort," he said.

He says cases will be reviewed annually by two psychiatrists. "We have put an assessment process in there with two psychiatrists currently under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1945 as well," he said.

"The fundamental difference is though if in my view this person still poses a risk to the community, then my recommendation to Executive Council will be not to release this person."

Mr Bleijie says this is the 'plan B' he previously flagged to keep notorious serial rapist Robert John Fardon in prison.

Fardon was the first person to be detained indefinitely under Queensland's Dangerous Prisoners and Sexual Offenders Act.

The 64-year-old has spent most of his adult life in prison after being convicted of numerous sexual offences against women and children. Fardon was briefly released under a supervision order earlier this month, but he was returned to jail when Mr Bleijie lodged an appeal against the decision.

A review of Fardon's indefinite sentence was due in August in the Supreme Court in Brisbane, but was adjourned until next month.


Tasmania Parliament set to debate 'improved' voluntary euthanasia bill

Euthanasia advocates and opponents will be watching the Tasmania Parliament closely this week as it again attempts to make it legal for terminally ill people to end their lives.

There have been several attempts in Australia, but euthanasia supporters believe the island state could lead the nation in enacting assisted dying laws.

Tasmania's 25-member Lower House will start debating the Voluntary Assisted Dying bill today, with MPs allowed a conscience vote.

The bill, co-sponsored by Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, will allow terminally ill Tasmanians to end their lives 10 days after a process of making three requests to their doctor.

However, it is not expected to pass, with 10 Liberal Opposition members likely to be joined by three Labor MPs in voting against it.

Greens MPs remain optimistic and believe just one of two votes will decide the bill's fate.

Cassy O'Connor says there are Liberal MPs who agree with the assisted dying bill before Parliament but will vote against it this week.

"I know on voluntary assisted dying there are a number of Liberal members who are more socially progressive than the vote on the floor of the house will show," she said.

It will be Mr McKim's second attempt at introducing euthanasia laws after a bid in 2009 failed.
Tasmania Greens say bill is better than euthanasia laws in place overseas

The party believes the latest bill is a vast improvement and will be better than those already in place overseas.

"This legislation has got a very strong system of protection against people being coerced into participating in the scheme, including jail terms of up to five years," Mr McKim said.

The bill has the backing of voluntary euthanasia advocates, including the former Northern Territory chief minister Marshall Perron who introduced Australia's first laws in the territory in the mid-90s.

But after three assisted suicides they were overturned by the Commonwealth, which has power to override Northern Territory legislation.

Mr Perron says Tasmania could now lead the way. "Elderly dying Australians are killing themselves in violent methods and it's just disgraceful and what they want is a more peaceful, reasonable option," he said.

The Liberals' Rene Hidding says research in countries where it is legal has revealed flaws. "Research in the Flanders region of Belgium has uncovered frequent abuses of the euthanasia law in most health institutions, 32 per cent of the officially reported euthanasia cases occurred without the explicit consent of the patient," she said.


16 October, 2013

Tony Abbott primed for a double dissolution on carbon pricing

Tony Abbott will have the first half of a constitutional trigger for a double-dissolution election in place by Christmas, after announcing plans to present his carbon price repeal legislation this year.

The move keeps open the chances of another election in the first half of 2014 if the eight bill package is rejected in December as expected and then rejected a second time by a hostile Senate in March or April.

The Prime Minister released an exposure draft of the package on Monday along with a commitment to introduce the legislation as his government's first order of business when Parliament convenes for four weeks from November 12.

The government claims removal of the carbon price would send household energy prices tumbling, saving the average household $3000 over six years from July 1, when it would come into effect.

Failure to pass the repeal legislation before July 1 would either delay the scrapping substantially, or require any legislation passed subsequently be retrospective.

The government's urgency comes despite repeated Labor commitments to combine with the Greens to block any repeal in the Senate, the configuration of which does not change until July.

Mr Abbott said he wanted to give new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, whom he described as "nothing if not a political pragmatist", a chance to repent because the election had shown clear public support for scrapping the carbon price.

"The people of Australia understandably want lower cost of living, and they want more secure jobs," Mr Abbott said. "This bill gives them both. That's why the pressure on the Labor Party in the end not to oppose this bill, I believe, will be irresistible. "Australian households will be better off to the tune of $550 a year.

"When this bill is passed, the government estimates that power prices will go down by 9 per cent, gas prices will go down by 7 per cent, and that means that the average power bill will be $200 a year lower and the average gas bill will be $70 a year lower."

Asked whether he wanted the Senate vote before Christmas, Mr Abbott said: "The short answer, if you like, is yes."

"But I'm only the PM," he added with a wry smile. "I realise that the Senate operates in accordance with its own rhythms and patterns. I would like the Senate to consider this matter as quickly as possible."

Mr Abbott would not repeat statements by other members of his government that the carbon price repeal would inevitably lead to a double dissolution if frustrated by the Senate.

The government preference for a vote in both houses before Christmas suggests the Prime Minister wants, at the very least, the threat of a snap poll and the political bargaining leverage that comes from keeping the option alive.

Under the provisions of the constitution designed to resolve deadlocks between the two houses of Parliament, a prime minister can ask the governor-general to dissolve both and order a fresh election if a bill is rejected or otherwise amended in an unacceptable way, twice over a greater than three-month interval.


ALP still tearing itself apart

What you expect from a party of haters

Disquiet within the parliamentary Labor Party over the leadership contest and selection of the shadow ministry is threatening to boil over, with some MPs furious about the public presentation of harmony while in reality, the process had been "brutal and treacherous".

The depth of feeling has brought claims of dishonesty and vote selling for jobs in the caucus ballot, and an allegation that a parcel of votes was delivered to the ALP's headquarters by the Right faction last Friday, just an hour before the membership election closed.

Left faction MPs loyal to unsuccessful leadership aspirant Anthony Albanese claim the Victorian Left faction chieftain, Kim Carr, voted for Bill Shorten in the secret ballot, despite his denials.

Another eight members of the Left's 36 MPs also broke ranks for Mr Shorten, giving him sufficient votes in the caucus to overcome a 60/40 vote in the rank-and-file ballot in favour of Mr Albanese.

Fairfax Media understands that the leadership ballot got off to a rocky start because Mr Albanese, the former deputy prime minister in the second Rudd cabinet, had been led to believe that if he ran, Mr Shorten would not.

While some senior Labor figures, such as former Speaker Anna Burke and former minister Warren Snowdon, have spoken out about the insidious role of factions in the process of selecting the Shorten frontbench, there was also anger at the way the month-long leadership ballot was conducted, and the way some MPs voted.

One senior Labor source described the situation in the Left as "open warfare", with Mr Albanese said to be seeking revenge on those in his faction who did not give him their leadership vote. "One or two more votes in caucus and he would have been leader, so he's not happy," one insider said.

Another said recriminations were still being meted out in the Left, with Albanese loyalists driving them. "The knives are out, yes," the source said. "It is very clear that if you didn't vote with your faction, you're going to be punished."

While both Mr Shorten and Mr Albanese emerged from the contest professing support and respect for each other, sources suggest the relationship is more strained after the Shorten camp was seen to engage in activities that were "not in the spirit" of the ballot. These included a revelation from a taxi driver that Mr Shorten had been overheard arranging to be asked a question during a party debate between the two hopefuls.

The behaviour of MPs in the caucus ballot also provoked anger in the Albanese camp.

According to one source, Mr Albanese secured 80 per cent of the rank-and-file votes in the ACT yet he got none of the three caucus votes from ACT MPs in the separate caucus ballot.

Fairfax Media has been told a parcel of 42 votes was delivered to the ALP's head office by Mr Shorten's supporters just an hour before the ballot ended.

However, a source from the Shorten camp said it was possible votes were pooled to ensure they were counted.


Teacher used student's log-in to access porn sites

The Opposition says the South Australian Education Department has given $30,000 in 'hush money' to a former student who was wrongly accused of pornography offences.

It said a teacher viewed hundreds of porn websites using the log-in of the then-year 10 student in 2004.

Opposition education spokesman David Pisoni said the man was still a teacher at another school.

He said the settlement required the former student to keep secret the details of the case.

"South Australians will be asking themselves what sort of an Education Department do we have when executives at the highest level appear to be running around the state with bags of money to shut people up that have criticisms or concerns or are victims of the education system," he said.

"Unfortunately the student had already been suspended and went from being a straight-A student to leaving school.

"It's a shocking situation, and for the Government to think that the best way of dealing with this is to pay someone hush money is an extraordinary development."

Premier Jay Weatherill suggested the confidentiality constraints on the former student should be removed.

"From my perspective, I think that if a victim of a particular wrongdoing wants to say something publicly, I don't think as a government we should be standing in their way, so if they want that confidentiality waived, I think that's something we should give consideration to," he said.


Qld Government's tough anti-bikie laws passed after marathon debate in Parliament

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says tough new anti-gang laws passed in Parliament early this morning are just the first phase of a crackdown on outlaw bikies.

Brazen violence and intimidation on the Gold Coast prompted the Queensland Government to come down harshly on outlaw motorcycle gangs and their members.

New laws targeting bikie gangs passed with bipartisan support after a marathon session in State Parliament, with three separate bills adopted just before 3:00am (AEST).

The legislation names 26 "criminal organisations", including the Bandidos, Finks and Mongols. It restricts their members' and associates movements and meetings, and increases minimum sentences for their crimes.

Newman vows bikies 'will be destroyed'

Premier Campbell Newman last night used his parliamentary majority to rush through the laws. "They are very tough laws - the toughest in Australia," he said. "The unequivocal purpose of these laws is to destroy these criminal organisations.

"I say this evening: take off your colours, get a real job, act like decent, law-abiding human beings, and become proper citizens in the state of Queensland and you won't have to go to jail.

"But if you continue to persist as members of criminal gangs, with criminal activities, creating fear and intimidation across Queensland, you will be destroyed and we make no apologies for that."

Police Minister Jack Dempsey says the laws should give assurance to law-abiding citizens. "People need to know when they go to bed at night and the darkness of the evening comes over, that they can sleep safely in their beds," he said.

Mr Bleijie told Parliament that more anti-gang legislation is likely. "I would fully expect... that in the two sittings of Parliament we will be debating more tough measures," he said.

"As the criminal motorcycle gang members respond to these laws - come up out of the ground from where they are hidden at the moment - we will have to introduce more laws targeting criminal motorcycle gang members."


15 October, 2013

Bob Carr gets a grip -- on illegals policy

TANYA Plibersek's view on refugees and migrants is shaped by a deeply personal experience, but that doesn't mean the deputy Labor leader will be soft on asylum-seeker policy.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr has warned Labor it faces years in opposition if it doesn't match the coalition's hardline border protection measures.

He has told his Right faction colleagues there should be no "daylight" between the ALP and the Abbott government on asylum seekers.

"If you want to embrace the Greens-Left-Fairfax-ABC position, you are going to go backwards at the next election," he said, according to Labor sources quoted by The West Australian.

Ms Plibersek, the daughter of Slovenian migrants, says her family's experience has given her a degree of compassion on the red-hot issue.

"I guess the difference with my parents was that they waited in refugee camps in Austria and Italy and they were offered a choice between Canada and Australia," she told ABC radio on Tuesday.

A balanced policy approach was needed to ensure asylum seekers do not take up dangerous travel options.

Allowing asylum seekers to get on a boat in Indonesia and make a dangerous journey to Australia was not the next best way to have a compassionate approach, Ms Plibersek said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has flagged a more compassionate Labor approach to the refugee issue.

Former immigration minister Brendan O'Connor said he didn't want to see the vilification of people who were genuinely seeking asylum.

"We cannot allow people to continue to die at sea," he told Sky News. "I'm very sensitive to the difficult issues this presents. People want to see compassion."

Parliamentary secretary Simon Birmingham said Senator Carr was offering "sage advice" to Labor.


New Vic. rules allow speed cameras to be concealed, but police say it's OK to flash lights and warn others

POLICE say they are happy for drivers to flash their lights to warn other motorists about speed cameras.

Traffic Superintendent Dean McWhirter today said he was happy for motorists to flash their lights to warn other motorists they were approaching a speed camera.

"If that occurs I am comfortable with that because it means actually people are getting the message," Supt McWhirter said today.

Supt McWhirter also defended rule changes, revealed in the Herald Sun today, which allow the hiding of speed cameras behind bushes and road signs.

"It was done to make sure that there was some protection in relation to the mobile speed camera operators," he said. "To make sure the risk to them is mitigated.

"Unfortunately, what we know is that there have been a number of incidents where mobile speed camera vehicles have been swerved at.

"In the last 12 months there have been 247 incidents of threats in relation to mobile speed camera operators. "And of those 247 incidents, 110 of those have been swerving at mobile speed cameras."

Supt McWhirter confirmed there would be occasions that operators would be concealed by bushes or signs to protect them. "That's a commonsense approach," he said.

The force policy used to say that "under no circumstances" were cameras to be concealed by any covert means. It also used to ban them on downhill stretches of road unless the site had a significant speed-related crash record.

The new rules - effective immediately - permit mobile speed cameras to be hidden behind trees, bushes, posts and road signs to lessen the risk of harm to camera operators from angry motorists.

They also allow them to be used at the bottom of hills and on slopes if the "road safety objective" can't be achieved at an alternative location.

"There is no restriction from a technical, legislative or enforcement perspective on a mobile road safety camera being operated on a slope, hill or gradient," the new rules say.

The force spent months creating its new policy after the Herald Sun revealed some cameras were being hidden despite the ban and also that fines had to be scrapped because a camera was wrongly set up on a steep hill.

Almost 510,000 motorists paid more than $103 million in mobile speed camera fines in the past year.

Victoria Police yesterday defended the changes to the mobile speed camera policy, saying they included recommendations made by speed camera commissioner Gordon Lewis.

"The amendments were made to specifically focus on the occupational health and safety of mobile speed camera operators, which is paramount in ensuring they can work in a safe environment," force spokesman Leonie Johnson said.


Labor party hostility to Israel

EXPLAINING why her foreign minister was "so hostile to Israel" and blaming the Jewish community for the weakness of her cabinet and caucus on Israel - this was what Bob Carr had reduced Julia Gillard to in her final months as prime minister.

Leaked documents reveal the acute embarrassment Senator Carr created for Ms Gillard over the question of Australia's support for Israel.

They also provide a remarkable insight into Labor's ongoing internal tensions over the Middle East.

Ms Gillard's briefing notes for a Jewish community event in Sydney in April included talking points with suggested answers to the question: "Bob Carr is so hostile to Israel what are you doing about it?"

The then prime minister's speaking notes also included a plea for the Jewish community to lobby Labor MPs to bolster support for her position in cabinet and caucus.

"There were not many voices in caucus," she complained. "This community has work to do."

The split over the Middle East came to a head last December when Ms Gillard told cabinet of her intention to vote no to a UN resolution giving the Palestinian territories observer status at the UN.

This triggered a backlash within government, led by Senator Carr, that forced Ms Gillard to back down and instruct Australia's UN ambassador to abstain from the vote.

It is the only clear instance on record of Ms Gillard being thwarted by her own cabinet and caucus.

It ended a strong bipartisan position on firm support for Israel, demanding negotiation without preconditions towards a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Australia received diplomatic complaints from the US and Israel for failing to vote against the resolution, which passed comfortably regardless. And domestically, Jewish community leaders conveyed their disappointed to the government.

So on April 23, when Ms Gillard went to a high-powered lunch at Chifley Tower, hosted by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, she was in a difficult position. At the event she would become the first Australian politician to sign the London Declaration on Anti-Semitism.

But she also might have to apologise for her foreign minister, who had led the charge on the UN vote and also had made strident comments about Israeli settlements on the West Bank being illegal.

"I know Bob is genuinely committed to Israel's security and survival," her speaking notes suggested. "He feels exceptionally strongly on the settlements."

The notes also directly addressed the way Ms Gillard was rolled by her party on the UN resolution; and they suggested putting the onus back on the Jewish community.

"There were not as many voices in cabinet supporting a 'no' vote on that resolution," they prompted. "There were not many voices in caucus. There were a lot of members who should have been heard from - and who were not. So I believed this exposed a weakness in the community's reach compared with previous years."

This issue was so divisive for Labor that during the election campaign Labor's Melbourne Ports MP, Michael Danby, took out a newspaper advertisement to distance himself from his own foreign minister.

Once Labor's new leadership team is resolved on Sunday, it can expect to be lobbied fervently by the Jewish community to strengthen its support.

New Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was critical of the Gillard government's posture at the UN, has signalled Australia's intention to return to a position of unstinting support for Israel.


States and Feds at odds over homosexual "marriage"

THE Commonwealth is throwing down the gauntlet to the ACT on gay marriage as legal experts in Tasmania say there's no reason states shouldn't be able to make their own laws on the issue.

Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis has confirmed the federal government will challenge the ACT's same-sex marriage law in the High Court once it passes, which could happen within the next four weeks.

"Irrespective of anyone's views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia's interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws," Senator Brandis said.

The Commonwealth Marriage Act provided that consistency but the ACT's law would be "a threat to that well-established position", he said.

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said he and Senator Brandis had a "polite but forthright" discussion about the matter during a meeting of the standing committee on law and justice in Sydney on Thursday.

"We will be robustly defending our law and asserting that our law is capable of concurrent operation with the Commonwealth law and that it is not inconsistent," he told AAP.

A Tasmania Law Reform Institute report released on Thursday has found no legal reason for states not to make laws on marriage.

But its authors do say there is no way to predict how the High Court would rule on a challenge.

The island state made a bid to go it alone on gay marriage last year when its lower house became the first in the country to pass legislation on the issue.

It was narrowly defeated in the upper house because of concerns about its legitimacy under the constitution and whether it left Tasmania open to a costly High Court challenge.

In the ACT, the first same-sex weddings could happen as early as December.

Marriage Equality chair and independent NSW MP Alex Greenwich said the fact the federal government was intervening would encourage same-sex couples to get married sooner rather than later.

"The more people we have expressing their love and commitment will make it harder for any laws to be overturned," he told AAP.

But Senator Brandis warned it might be distressing for same-sex couples who marry under the new law, only to have their union later invalidated by a High Court challenge.

"It would be better for all concerned if the ACT government waited for a short time until the validity of the proposed law was determined by the High Court," he said.

But Mr Corbell said the territory had "declined to do that" because there's strong support for the law, which could pass within the next four weeks.

"We are disappointed that the Commonwealth professes concern for same-sex couples entering into marriage in case the law is struck down when it is they themselves who are seeking to have it struck down," he told AAP.


14 October, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks the new leader of the Labor party has learnt nothing.

Shorten under pressure on carbon tax

Shorten looks like a little weasel. Won't last

THE federal government is pushing new Labor leader Bill Shorten to support legislation scrapping the carbon tax.

"This is an early test for Mr Shorten," Environment Minister Greg Hunt told ABC radio on Monday.

The government has flagged it will ask parliament to repeal Labor's carbon pricing regime before Christmas.

"Only Mr Shorten can stand between Australians and lower electricity prices," Mr Hunt said.

Labor and the Australian Greens together have the numbers in the Senate to stymie any repeal legislation before a likely more compliant upper house operates from July 2014.

Mr Shorten said after his election as Labor leader on Sunday that he supported a price on carbon, prompting a pledge from Mr Hunt: "We will not stop until the carbon tax is repealed."

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne urged Mr Shorten to hold his ground on carbon pricing, saying "the writing is on the wall" regarding climate change, with extreme fires, floods, droughts and heatwaves.

"Tony Abbott may have a mandate to lead the government of the nation, but he doesn't have one to stand by and watch it swelter and burn," she said in a statement.

Labor MP Michelle Rowland said the party supported a market mechanism for pricing carbon and had gone to the past three elections arguing it was the best approach for tackling climate change.

"I can't see us not supporting that," she told Sky News.

Parliamentary secretary Steve Ciobo said Labor wasn't listening to voters who had clearly indicated they wanted the carbon price scrapped.

"We've indicated we will go to a double dissolution, and we'll get the Australian people to have their say for a second time," he said.

Mr Shorten said he didn't have to support Prime Minister Tony Abbott's campaign to dump the carbon tax.

"He has a mandate to form a government of Australia, but there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that Labor has to be a rubber stamp for every coalition proposition," he told Fairfax Radio in Melbourne.

Mr Shorten said he would consult with caucus before making a big policy statement but he backed a price on carbon pollution.

"I don't support the coalition putting off until tomorrow and next week and next year tackling issues of climate change and carbon pollution and leaving this issue for our kids to solve."


Some more multiculturalism for Australia

A CHILD bride forced to ­illegally wed at 14 has won a disturbing custody fight that shines rare light on arranged unions in suburban Australia.

Married off as a schoolgirl to a 21-year-old groom by her Muslim parents, the woman endured years of violence and abuse before walking out with their young daughter.

The Federal Circuit Court heard the bride's mum pushed her into the Islamic ceremony, telling the then-teen she'd get to attend theme parks and movies and eat lollies and ice- cream with her new husband.

But once the girl moved in to the man's outer-Sydney home she was locked inside, let out only to attend high school.

The court heard evidence her husband used to burn her homework, and made her drop out of classes entirely after about a year.

He also stopped her watching her favourite TV shows - Home and Away and Neighbours - instead screening a ­violent DVD showing soldiers taken hostage and blown up with grenades.

In a decision published last week, Judge Joe Harman ­described the man as "a most heinous, capricious and ­revolting misogynist".

The judge stressed that he accepted all of the wife's ­evidence, and expressed his concern that while the girl ­apparently reported her predicament to a teacher, mandatory reporting laws appeared not to have protected her.

In his decision the judge ­invited authorities, such as police, wishing to investigate the serious matters raised during the case to apply to the court to obtain material from the file.

Legal restrictions prevent the Herald Sun from identifying the parties.

The woman, now 24, can only be referred to by the pseudonym "Ms Elia", and the man, now 31, as "Mr Essey".

Ms Elia fell pregnant at age 17 and gave birth to a daughter, now 6, who was the subject of the custody proceedings.

Her affidavit included a claim Mr Essey had once threatened to marry off their young daughter when she turned 14.

The judge found that the couple's illegal marriage ceremony had taken place "with the full knowledge, if not connivance and co-operation, of her parents".

Ms Elia was subjected to ­violence, including being kicked, punched, stamped on and thrown into walls, and their daughter was also attacked, he?found.

The court heard claims that Mr Essey was involved in ­regular criminal activity, ­including robberies and ­assaults and was a routine user, if not a dealer, of drugs.

The couple separated in early 2009. She has since found a new partner.

Ms Elia gave evidence she'd stopped speaking to her parents after her divorce.

"My father has said to me, 'So what if he raped you? So what if he bashed you?'

"He has also said, 'The only way you can come back to me is in a coffin to pray on you'."

Judge Harman ordered Ms Elia have sole ­responsibility for the child and that Mr Essey be restrained from having all contact with them.


Indonesia changes tack as asylum-seekers returned

INDONESIA has been accepting asylum-seekers rescued at sea by Australian authorities, boosting hopes that Jakarta may be prepared to shoulder a greater share of the burden of dealing with the people-smuggling trade.

Australian officials have been taking advantage of Jakarta's goodwill by trying -- on at least two occasions in recent weeks -- to intercept asylum-seeker boats further north as soon as calls for help are received.

In both cases, the transfer of asylum-seekers was done at sea and came after Australian officials requested Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Basarnas, take them.

As a result, Customs and Border Protection vessels have been operating slightly further north of Christmas Island than they have in the past.

The returns have a similar effect on asylum-seekers as turning back boats -- the most controversial element of the Coalition's policies -- but avoid any possibility of a diplomatic stoush with Jakarta.

Although they do not represent a formal policy, the returns are understood to be a priority for the Abbott government, which has long held the view that Australia is not obliged to receive every boatload of asylum-seekers rescued by Australian authorities.

Australian and Indonesian officials have been engaging in talks aimed at deepening co-operation on a range of anti-smuggling measures.

The talks followed the visit two weeks ago by Tony Abbott to Jakarta, where the Prime Minister met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Although there has been a lull in arrivals, authorities intercepted an asylum boat carrying 55 people on Wednesday afternoon.

The boat, which was carrying Iranians, Afghans and Sri Lankans, was unloaded at Christmas Island on Saturday morning, just two days after another boat bearing Sri Lankan asylum-seekers arrived off Cocos Island.

The Australian has been told there are encouraging signs Jakarta is now prepared to accept asylum-seekers intercepted by Australian authorities during rescues.

Senior Australian officials are understood to be heartened by what they see as a new-found willingness among the upper echelons of Indonesia's political and bureaucratic elite to co-operate with Australia, particularly during rescues.

Last week, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus offered an insight into the type of co-operation between the AFP and its Indonesian counterparts, saying more than 550 asylum-seekers had been prevented from boarding boats.

It is understood the high tempo of disruptions is in part the result of a request by Kevin Rudd, who after reclaiming the Labor leadership in June petitioned Dr Yudhoyono to increase law enforcement efforts against the smugglers. Indonesia's ocean-faring boats, the ones capable of mounting rescues in high seas, are deployed to the country's north for strategic reasons, meaning Jakarta struggles to mount rescues within its southern search-and-rescue zones.

Its civil maritime assets are ill-equipped to operate far from shore, effectively leaving Australia responsible for co-ordinating, or even conducting, rescues that occur between Indonesia and Christmas Island.

But given the rescues occur within Indonesia's search-and-rescue area, there is scope for returning asylum-seekers to the custody of Indonesian authorities lawfully and without any loss of face.

One source familiar with the present situation said the SOLAS, or safety-of-life-at-sea conventions, "were being pushed to their limits" by Australia's new government.


Vic Students to face fast-track expulsion

Parents may not be warned when their child is suspended from school and principals will have greater power to expel students - even for being "unproductive" - under a discipline crackdown by the state government.

In a move critics fear could exacerbate drop-out rates, students may also have to fend for themselves once they are kicked out because principals will no longer be required to help them find another school.

The Coalition went to the state election promising to give principals more authority to deal with unruly students. But leaked department documents reveal how extensive those powers will be, sparking concerns from families, welfare advocates, and the state opposition. Among the proposed changes seen by Fairfax Media:

* Students could be kicked out regardless of whether they present an "actual" or "perceived" danger, and if they "consistently behave in an unproductive manner" that interferes with other students.

* Principals will no longer be required to schedule a meeting with another school or training organisation that could take on the expelled student.

* Department staff could stand in for parents or guardians if they are being "unco-operative" or delay the expulsion/suspension process.

* Principals will no longer have to convene special support meetings, designed to inform students and their parents that suspension is being considered.

* Schools will have more grounds to throw out students for bad behaviour while travelling to and from school, and on school premises.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the changes were still being finalised by his department, but the government's aim was to make schools safer for teachers and students.

"This is about trust. I know that principals are not just going to expel a child without any good reason, without any good process, and totally disregard the future of that child just to get them out of their schools," he said.

But parents say that children who break disciplinary rules should have the right to a fair and lawful process, just as their teachers would, and the right to have their well-being protected in the long term.

"Exclusion, long or short-term, may remove or relieve the problem and stress in the interim … but it does not change the incident, harm or trauma that has been experienced by those affected or sorting it all out," said Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy.

Figures show that 11,876 students were suspended in government schools last year, and a further 150 were expelled. But the proposals have raised fears parents will have less of a say when their child is kicked out.

For instance, under the old guidelines, schools were required to convene a special meeting to inform students and their families about an expulsion. Under the proposed changes, a new "behaviour review conference" will be held before the decision to expel, but principals will ultimately have the ability to make on-the-spot decisions in the interest of the rest of the school. The new guidelines don't say whether parents take part in the behaviour review conference.

Opposition parliamentary spokesman for education Colin Brooks accused the government of placing vulnerable young people at even greater risk: "This tick-and-flick approach to school expulsion and suspension will see many kids fall through the cracks and disengage from education."

Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said she would have "enormous concerns" if students were not properly supported once they were expelled.

But Frank Sal, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, welcomed the changes, saying they would give schools greater flexibility to deal with unruly students.

The guidelines will form part of a new ministerial order being developed by the Education Department. In another bid to expedite the process, it will no longer be a requirement to inform the department's regional directors before an expulsion takes place.

Students will retain the right to appeal an expulsion, but parents do not have that right. Mr Dixon said this was consistent with legislation introduced by the former Labor government.


13 October, 2013

An obnoxious Muslim

Then there is this curious Federal Court case in which the judge deleted any reference to the religion, language and birthplace of the two parties before him, and even gave them Anglo-Saxon pseudonyms (Mr & Mrs Irvine) although every detail suggests Islam is the issue. One wonder exactly WHY the religion is seen as in need of protection:

This is a wholly extraordinary case. I hope I never have another like it. For reasons which I hope will become apparent, it has been a proceeding almost impossible properly to control, essentially because of the position adopted by the respondent husband, a position unique in my experience on the Court…

On 27 February 2013 the wife filed an Application for Divorce… The application asserted that the applicant wife was born on (omitted) 1967 in (country omitted) and had lived in Australia since (omitted) 1970. It affirmed that the husband was born on (omitted) 1964 also in (country omitted) and had started living in Australia on (omitted) 1989…

The application further revealed that the husband did not regard Australia as his home, was an Australian citizen by grant of citizenship but had not lived in Australia for the previous twelve months…

On 22 March 2013, the wife filed a Notice of Child Abuse, Family Violence, or Risk of Family Violence form. This asserted an assault by the husband on the wife in January 2010. It also asserted that in January 2012, a further daughter, U, had been threatened by the father in (country omitted) by pointing a knife to her neck and had had her Australian passport destroyed…

She alleged that the husband verbally, psychologically and financially abused her and used all his earnings for himself and bought properties in (country omitted) and in (country omitted)…

On 11 April 2013, a Divorce Order was made in standard terms by a Registrar of the Court… I note that at paragraph 27, the wife deposed:

"I believe that the Respondent Husband may be avoiding service because he does not believe that under (religion omitted) I have grounds to seek a divorce."…

The respondent husband was served with the Initiating Application and supporting documents ... by the applicant’s solicitor. On 22 May 2013 the matter returned before the Court…

First of all, Mr Irvine stated in the clearest of terms that the Court did not have jurisdiction to entertain the applications before it. This was because, as he put it, his marriage was governed by a contract entered into pursuant to (religion omitted), and it was not open to this Court to interfere with it… It will be noted that the husband repeatedly refused to answer very straightforward direct questions put to him, such as whether he was an Australian citizen or not…

The affidavit filed by Mr Irvine asserts at paragraph 7 that:

"he holds firmly to the fact that his religious beliefs, customs and practices are absolute perfect, sacred and honoured”. He also asserted at paragraph 8: "no other belief, laws or way of life and practices may be regarded as applicable, nor equal or superior and may not be allowed to go or act contrary to, violate or contravene the Commandments and Orders of (omitted)”.

The affidavit went on to say at paragraph 11:

"(religion omitted) must be governed at all times and in all circumstances & conditions, only in accordance with (religion omitted) as a mandatory basis of our religious faith and belief”.

At paragraph 14, the affidavit states:

"(religion omitted) is the only form of law that may be applicable for the conduct, governing and jurisdiction of a (omitted), what is generally termed as a "(omitted)” (marital) relationship between (religion omitted). The official power to make lawful and legal decisions, judgments and the extent of this power, is explicitly limited to the parties who are contractually bound to its terms and conditions in (religion omitted)”.

Paragraph 19 of the affidavit relevantly says:

"… The sole "Parties” to a contract in (omitted) are the (religion omitted) man and (religion omitted) woman only and no third party or entity of any type is a party to any (omitted) contract. Any party wishing to interfere outside is deemed as absent jurisdiction, a third party interloper and any court magistrate or parties acting in such regard commits a tort. ...”

The husband purported to say that he did not understand the proceedings. Nonetheless, it should be noted that his command of English is excellent and he is an educated man… The husband purported to express a lack of understanding as to what was happening both on the day and previously. I should record that while such matters must be approached with caution, everything Mr Irvine did and the way that he did it suggests to me that he is a highly intelligent man who is engaged in an extensive filibuster with a view to enforcing his basic position that the Court does not have jurisdiction…

The wife went on to say that she was being terrorised by the two elder children, V and X…

It is quite apparent from the materials that the husband has filed that it is his view that the wife, under (religion omitted), has no capacity or entitlement to make any decisions, although she is required to be consulted. I indicated on 22 May 2013 that it would be appropriate to give (religion omitted) such consideration as is appropriate in considering the children’s best interests in the final trial. As things have turned out the only emphasis given by the husband to (religion omitted) has been his essential proposition that this Court should not inter-meddle in the matter at all.

It is quite impossible to evaluate the force and effect that should be given to the (religion omitted) background of the parties given the paucity of evidence in this case.

The judge ended up giving the woman all she asked


The ironies of Australia's public health policy regarding "obesity"

Jeremy Sammut

This week the CIS' WasteWatch blog focused on a new taxpayer-funded growth industry - the ever increasing number of reports into Australia's obesity 'epidemic'.

This is a very lucrative business for public health academics, especially now that the National Preventive Health Agency is able to fund research into the stubborn problems of over-eating and sedentary lifestyles.

However, the proliferation of obesity-related reports reflects the hard truth of public health policy - we have next to no idea about what actually works in terms of getting people off the couch and out of the takeaway shops.

The evidence regarding the effectiveness of the billions of dollars that Australian governments already spend on the promotion of healthy lifestyles is very weak.

This was the central finding of the UK Wanless review of public health policy, which found, in particular, that 'there is little evidence about what works among disadvantaged groups to tackle some of the key determinants of health inequalities.'

The lack of evidence reflects the fact that in a free society, governments rightly have limited authority over unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and lack the ability to micro-manage daily dietary and exercise habits.

Achieving lifestyle change is also extremely difficult as it ultimately depends on personal qualities - will, self-discipline, and impulse control - that public health policies struggle to instil in people who do not already possess them.

Not for nothing, therefore, have anti-obesity campaigns been accurately described as a 'policy looking for an evidence base.'

Obesity invites endless investigation and report after report after report.

Herein lies a greater irony. Those who endlessly warn the community about the perils of eating too much junk food have much in common with so-called 'vice industries' they love to attack.

Like those who trade in fatty foods and sugary and alcoholic drinks, the public health lobby is equally dependent on the flaws and weaknesses inherent in human nature to justify its call on public resources.

Rather than continuing to pour money into public health research that implausibly seeks to straighten the crooked timber of humanity, policy makers would be better off recognising the limits of government activity in relation to obesity.


Australian researchers reveal upside to gaming

The benefits of playing video games may offset the negative impact of exposure to screen violence, according to Australian-led research.

Experts are divided over whether brutal games increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour and desensitise people to violence.

The chief executive of the young and well co-operative research centre at the University of Melbourne, Jane Burns, said gaming could provide stress relief and social engagement for adolescents.

"Moderate gaming can reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing," she said. "It also helps young people form connections with peers because gaming creates a sense of community, mutual participation and a shared passion. That's the kind of thing that young people could harness to improve their mental health."

While there were risks associated with "extreme" gaming, she said the vast majority of young Australians were not in that category.

A professor of community, child and family health at the University of Newcastle, Graham Vimpani, said there were conflicting views about the dangers associated with violent video games.

In a presentation to the Australian Council on Children and the Media conference in Sydney last week, he said the Australian government had reviewed the evidence and found it to be inconclusive, but the American Academy of Paediatrics said screen violence "represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents".

Research presented at the conference claimed exposure to screen violence in adolescence changed the development of young people's brains, leading to increased aggression, reckless behaviour and decreased empathy. The chief executive of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association of Australia, Ron Curry, said there was no "strong evidence that violent video games can cause long-term effects on aggressive behaviour".

Research commissioned by the association found 68 per cent of games submitted to the Australian Classification Board for rating in the first eight months of this year were either G or PG rated.

Morgan Tear, a social psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, said playing violent video games was one of many activities which could produce negative effects on social behaviour.

"As a society we say it's OK for children to play contact sports which can be very aggressive and inflict real pain but at the same time worry about the impact of violent video games," he said.

"I'm not sure we should be so concerned about violent video games when there are a number of other activities which could be just as bad."


The future is not bright for the deeply divided Green Party

ARE the Greens finished? Christine Milne, explaining the poor election result, says minor parties build up their political capital in opposition and spend it in alliance with governments.

But an alternative explanation is that the Greens are in terminal decline, suffering voter capital punishment rather than cycles of political capital. Which is it?

One thing is certain: events in the past few weeks demonstrate that the Greens are no different from any other political party. All parties contain internal divisions which they struggle to overcome. Some have Left and Right, some have "Rudd and Gillard", some have Victoria and NSW, but the Greens have all of these and more. So extensive are the divisions inside the Greens parliamentary party that the party's future must be bleak.

One rift of significance is a generational one, between Sarah Hanson-Young and Milne.

Milne is a hard warrior learning her craft in the heat of activist battle. She adopts what is called a strong ecological modernisation stance. This approach says that dirty industries are ruining the planet and must be fundamentally transformed.

Milne has no time for fossil-fuel industries such as the electricity industry. For her, these industries must be transformed root and branch. They are beyond saving. Get rid of them.

By contrast, the younger generation, supporters of Bob Brown, are weak ecological modernisers, parliamentarians, negotiators, conciliators. Like Brown, they are deal brokers who consider dirty industries to be salvageable with the right incentives for renewables. They are also interested in issues beyond the environment, such as asylum-seekers and cancer victims among firefighters.

The question of what to do about industries becomes critical now that there is a new Coalition government committed to an approach to climate change that it calls Direct Action.

Direct Action, unlike carbon pricing, discriminates against industries, quarantining some, such as the electricity industry, from emissions reduction. The rationale is to protect consumers from electricity price rises. Direct Action will open up these divisions within the Greens.

Old versus young, weak ecological modernisers versus strong ecological modernisers, as well as Tasmania versus the mainland - not to mention the NSW watermelons (Green on the outside, red on the inside) versus the rest. The rifts that lay hidden within the Greens are revealed.

Milne can say the party is united but the leadership challenges ahead are acute. Not only does she have to manage the divisions within her own party but she has to retain the support of the broader environmental movement. The Greens' decision to join Julia Gillard's multi-party climate change committee opened up divisions between the Greens and the broader environmental movement, contributing to a fall in support for the party at this year's election.

The Greens leadership has to decide which way to go: co-operate with Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt on Direct Action or continue the carbon-price fight? Either way, it will be difficult to contain the divisions within the parliamentary party and with the broader environmental movement.

In politics, context is everything. The context has changed. The Greens must lead the environmental movement to accept that there is more than one way to reduce emissions. The obsession with a carbon price does not fit the times. Direct Action is an acceptable alternative to a carbon price aiming to reduce emissions by capping the amount spent on greenhouse gas reduction rather than capping the emissions themselves.

The Greens will be able to contribute to a reduction in emissions, and save themselves from destructive divisions internally, if they are able to adjust to the changed political and policy context in Australia. However, this will take formidable leadership skills inside the party.

Nikita Khrushchev said to John F. Kennedy that the two of them should not pull tightly on each end of a rope, for that would tighten a knot that would then have to be cut. Last week, Hanson-Young and Milne each pulled on the rope and tightened the knot of division. This knot will have to be cut. Either she goes, or she goes? That is the question for the Greens as they work out how to deal with the weak ecological modernisation of Hunt and Direct Action.


11 October, 2013

Australian Doctor Could Be Fired For Refusing To Abort Baby Girl

Australian doctor Mark Hobart might be losing his job after refusing to perform a sex-selective abortion.

A woman who was nearly five months pregnant came to Melbourne doctor Mark Hobart seeking an abortion on her unborn baby girl because her husband did not want a daughter. Hobart refused to perform the abortion, saying he had a moral dilemma over performing an abortion on an otherwise-healthy girl. He refused to refer the couple to another doctor, as he is legally required to do under Australia’s Abortion Law Reform Act 2008, claiming he did not know a doctor who would be willing to perform an abortion for sex selection reasons.

As a result of his refusal to perform the abortion or to refer the couple, Hobart has been under investigation by the Medical Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency for months. He is now at risk of being stripped of his medical license. Hobart has been practicing medicine for 27 years.

Abortion is legal in Australia until 24 weeks gestation. The woman in question was 19 weeks pregnant, and got an abortion a few days after being denied one by Hobart.

According to Hobart, the woman requesting the abortion was of Indian descent. India has one of the worst sex ratios in the world: for every thousand male births, only 893 females are born. In some areas of the country, the ratio is as low as 751 female births for every thousand male births.

An act that would ban the practice of sex-selection abortions in the United States was rejected in the House of Representatives last year.


Banned painkiller sold under names of Di-Gesic and Doloxene to remain on sale in Australia

I have used Di-gesic for post-operative pain and found it ideal. I was most put out when it was banned

A controversial painkiller which has been banned in several countries will still be sold in Australia.

In 2011, the Therapeutic Goods Administration de-listed painkillers sold under the brand names Di-Gesic and Doloxene, saying "the safety of those medicines was unacceptable".

There were concerns about the medication as it can cause heart arrhythmias and death in high doses.

But drug manufacturer Aspen Pharmaceuticals took to the decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). It ruled that the drugs could be sold under strict conditions.

In a statement, the Therapeutic Goods Administration says it will not seek leave to appeal the AAT decision.

Medical experts say caution should be used when administering the drug, particularly with the elderly and with patients who may also be using tranquillisers, antidepressants or excess alcohol.

Under the new arrangements, doctors and dentists will need to sign a form when prescribing the drugs, confirming they are only available for patients who cannot be treated with other analgesics and who understand the restrictions placed on the drug.

They must also be convinced that the patient is not at risk of accidental or intentional self-harm.

Pharmacists who want to dispense the drug must also fulfil special requirements.

Some patients had lobbied for the drug to remain on the market, saying it is the only medication that gives them good pain relief.

But emergency physicians in Australia had asked for the drug to be withdrawn.

In a submission to the TGA, the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM) says "emergency physicians are acutely aware of the toxicity of this agent".

It says there is insufficient evidence to accept that products containing including Di-Gesic and Doloxene can be used safely for the relief of pain.

ACEM spokeswoman Dr Sally McCarthy wrote in the submission that there are no adequate measures that have been identified to sufficiently minimise the safety issues posed by the drugs.

"The medications have been associated with numerous deaths in the UK and has a high abuse potential," she said.


High Court backs people smuggler laws

THE High Court has upheld the validity of mandatory prison terms for convicted people smugglers.

The case, brought by the crew member of a boat carrying 52 asylum seekers in 2010, was seen as a test case for mandatory sentencing.

The court, by a majority, ruled the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence was not inconsistent with the institutional integrity of the courts and did not involve the imposition of an arbitrary sentence.

The court ruled the mandatory sentencing provision in the Migration Act was lawful, saying it was not beyond the legislative power of the Commonwealth parliament and did not confer judicial power on prosecuting authorities.

Bonan Darius Magaming appealed his five-year imprisonment, the mandatory minimum sentence, after being convicted of an aggravated form of people smuggling.

He argued that in circumstances where prosecuting authorities could choose between a charge that carried a mandatory minimum sentence and one that did not, they wrongly exercised judicial power.

The court held that although prosecuting authorities had a choice, it did not involve an exercise of judicial power or confer an ability to determine the punishment to be imposed for the same conduct.


Same-sex marriage law High Court challenge confirmed

The ACT government has vowed to fight an Abbott government challenge in the High Court to the territory's same-sex marriage laws.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said on Thursday the government believed its laws were valid and "attempts to stymie, block or prevent reform will only lead to an even greater impetus for it".

Attorney-General George Brandis described the territory laws on Thursday as "a threat" to the "well-established position" that marriage laws should be nationally consistent and were the domain of the Commonwealth.

Senator Brandis informed the ACT government of the legal challenge in a phone call on Wednesday night before confirming the move at a meeting of state and territory attorneys-general on Thursday.

The ACT government says it will "robustly defend" its laws, which are expected to pass at the October sitting of the ACT Legislative Assembly with the support of all eight Labor MLAs and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury.

The federal government will ask for an expedited High Court hearing and has called on the ACT government not to pass its laws until their constitutional validity is tested. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said on Twitter that the ACT government had declined that request.

"It would be very distressing to individuals who may enter into a ceremony of marriage under the new ACT law, and to their families, to find that their marriages were invalid," Senator Brandis said.

He said the advice of the acting federal Solicitor-General was that the ACT's marriage equality bill was invalid because it was inconsistent with the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

"Irrespective of anyone's views on the desirability or otherwise of same-sex marriage, it is clearly in Australia's interests that there be nationally consistent marriage laws," he said.

"At the moment, the Commonwealth Marriage Act provides that consistency. The ACT's proposed law is a threat to that well-established position. It has been understood for more than half a century that there is a single Commonwealth law governing marriage in Australia. The Abbott government believes that that should continue to be the case."

Mr Corbell said on Thursday: "I'm not surprised but I'm disappointed that there is a failure to acknowledge that this fundamental matter of inequality needs to be addressed.

"Attempts to stymie, block or prevent reform will only lead to an even greater impetus for it," he said.

Mr Corbell said there "are still battles to be fought" and reiterated the ACT government's intention to "robustly defend our law in the court". "The Commonwealth have confirmed … that they will be commencing legal proceedings in the High Court once our laws become operational," Mr Corbell said. "They argue it's inconsistent. I indicated the territory's view, legal advice and the advice of other constitutional law experts differed from that and we will be robustly defend our law in the court."

Mr Corbell said Coalition-aligned state and territory governments had indicated they would support the federal position.

He said that included NSW, whose same-sex marriage bill served as the basis for the territory's legislation.

Mr Corbell said the federal government would assert that its view of marriage covers all aspects of that matter and that it was not open to states and territories to legislate for same-sex marriage. "We assert that our bill is capable of concurrent operation and is therefore not inconsistent."

A Tasmanian Institute of Law Reform report on same-sex marriage, published on Thursday, concluded there was "no legal impediment to states enacting marriage laws" because marriage powers were shared by the states and the federal government.

The report said it was uncertain whether a High Court challenge to same-sex marriage laws would succeed.

The report's author, Amelia Higgs, said the study "clearly dispelled the idea that the states can't do this".

She said the outcome of a High Court challenge would come down to whether or not "the states can enact a marriage power that doesn't clash with the Commonwealth".

"I think what some people don't realise, or conveniently forget, is that opposite-sex marriage used to be regulated by the states," Miss Higgs said. "It wouldn't be an unusual thing for the states to be the ones to get the ball rolling [for same-sex marriage]".

Mr Corbell said the report showed that the validity of the ACT laws was "a contested and open question".

"There is just as much prospect that our law will be found to be valid as there is that it will be found to be invalid," he said.

"No one can be certain what the High Court will decide."


10 October, 2013

APEC summit wraps up with new commitments to free trade

Tony Abbott has acknowledged that his government needs to do a lot more work to sell the idea to Australians that a new, United States-sponsored free trade agreement is a good idea.

But after speaking with American secretary of state John Kerry at the tail end of the APEC meeting yesterday, Mr Abbott said he thought a deal could be done on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement within the next three months.

The APEC summit in Indonesia wrapped up yesterday with new commitments to freeing trade in the region and building infrastructure.

Mr Abbott will visit the Bali bombing memorial in downtown Kuta on Wednesday morning, and then flies out to the another international conference, the East Asia Summit in neighbouring Brunei.

The Prime Minister declined to comment on his own success or otherwise at his first big international conference, saying: "I'm not in the business of big-noting myself and I'll let others judge, but certainly I've very much appreciated the chance to meet . . . with the significant leaders of our region."

Among his exchanges over two days was an apology to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak for things said about his country during the political dispute over Labor’s Malaysia Solution.

Mr Abbott also said he had confirmed with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill the "strength of our commitment to working together", after jarring the relationship with his suspicion of former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s PNG solution.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of APEC, wrangling continued into the third year over the "pluri-lateral" TPP trade pact, which some suspect is as much a projection of US foreign policy as a free trade agreement.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves Australia among 12 nations representing 800 million people and 40 per cent of the global economy seeks to cut tariffs and non-tariff barriers. But it also contains a number of contentious elements from the US foreign policy wishlist including extended benefits for big pharma and copyright holders, the right of private businesses to sue governments over their policies, as well as environmental and labour safeguards.

A communique released late on Wednesday said the leaders of the 12 nations would push for an agreement by the end of the year. But deep divisions remain.

Mr Abbott said after his meeting with Mr Kerry that "there’s a lot of painstaking negotiations still left", but if the TPP could be completed, it would "represent an historic trade breakthrough".

"Nevertheless, I think the public do need to get their head around the fact that we're talking . . . about this pluri-lateral agreement,"Mr Abbott said.

Australian civil society groups are sceptical about the deal, with Dr Patricia Ranald from the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network said "extreme US demands" would likely push out the timetable.

"The US wants to impose regulatory frameworks in the TPP which suit its largest industries and corporations, but tie the hands of other governments . . . and these are rightly being resisted," Dr Ranald said.

The fact that president Obama was not in the negotiating room cast a pall over proceedings. Despite this, Mr Kerry urged the TPP nations (which do not include China or the APEC host, Indonesia) to hasten towards a deal.

However, Malaysian Prime Minister Razak, who is inside the TPP tent, said on Monday that some of the areas encompassed by the proposal "impinge fundamentally the sovereign right of the country to make regulation and policy".

"That is a tricky part and that is why we ask for flexibility," he said.

And Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that the world should work together towards a "regional co-operation framework" and avoid the "spaghetti bowl effect" of different, overlapping agreements.


Time for a quiet word about rowdy classes

EVEN the students admit it: Australian schools tend to be on the rowdy side.

About one-third of 15-year-old high school students say their class often ignores what their teacher is saying and about two in five characterise their classrooms as noisy and disorderly.

For almost one in five students, their classroom is so disruptive they find it difficult to work.

Among the 65 countries surveyed by the OECD group of industrialised nations, Australia ranks No 34, just above the average level of disciplined classrooms but behind the US and Britain as well as many Asian and eastern European countries.

Australian classrooms are slightly worse than the average in terms of listening to the teacher, as is Finland, which is one of the top nations in international literacy and numeracy tests including those run by the OECD.

In fact, Finnish classrooms are some of the noisiest in the world, with half the students reporting noise and disorder occurs frequently, bucking the trend that an orderly and quiet classroom is most conducive to high student performance.

The OECD's monthly newsletter focusing on findings from its three-yearly test of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science -- known as the Program for International Student Assessment -- says the test results show students in orderly classrooms tend to perform better. The impact is more marked for students from socially disadvantaged families, where a well-managed classroom can help students close the gap on their more affluent peers.

Teachers such as Reema Ali say the key to an orderly classroom is ensuring students are engaged in what they are learning.

A social sciences teacher at Randwick Girls High in Sydney's east, Ms Ali says a noisy and out-of-control classroom is more a reflection on the teacher than the students. "I thoroughly believe that classroom management goes hand-in-hand with a range of teaching strategies," she said yesterday. "I care for all types of students, and I adapt what I do for individual students. I try to meet every student's needs."

Some schools that have radically changed the way they teach in recent years, introducing open-plan classrooms enabling students to work in small groups on projects, have counter-intuitively resulted in quieter schools and better behaved students.

For Australian teachers, noise is not necessarily a bad thing; the distinction is between noise that is disruptive from students mucking up, and noise that is constructive from students talking about their work. After more than 40 years teaching, Parramatta Marist High School principal Brother Pat Howlett has had to adjust his expectations of acceptable decibel levels in the classroom.

"I used to think that a quiet classroom was a good classroom, but it gives you no earthly idea to gauge what they're learning," he said.

The deputy principal at Randwick Girls High School, Lance Raskall, agrees. "It's a fine line. You don't want a hush-hush classroom, and constructive noise is good. Engaged students are going to ask questions of the teacher and each other," he said.

Mr Raskall said the technological invasion of schools, particularly the introduction of laptops and interactive whiteboards, had improved students' interest in their lessons, but also raised noise levels.

"It's not chalk and talk anymore; students are exploring as they're talking, they're using the internet and finding out what you're talking about while you're talking," he said. "They're very engaged because it's very relevant and it's in front of them. It's immediate."

Mr Raskall said disadvantaged students were often the highest performers and best behaved, because they knew education was a way to improve their lives, while some students that came from private schools "have not been the best students in the class by any stretch".

The OECD survey is conducted among students who are mostly in Year 9, widely acknowledged as the most challenging year for managing student behaviour and keeping them interested in school.

To address this, Parramatta Marist introduced "project-based learning" in Year 9 about five years ago, in which students work in small groups on projects in their subjects or across more than one subject over a period of weeks. It has been so successful, the school has since expanded the approach to years 7, 8 and 10.


Dr Karl’s klimatekrap

(Karl Kruszelnicki is an Australian-based Jewish funnyman who frequently broadcasts on scientific matters. He sometimes broadcasts for the ABC, Australia's major public broadcaster)

Every science presenter on the ABC is a fully paid-up climate alarmist.

But because of the 16-year temperature stasis that nobody wants to acknowledge, Dr (for a doctor he is*) Karl resorts to spouting krap:

Even before this report was released, some of the news media (such as the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom) recklessly claimed that this latest IPCC report revealed that global warming was over — and that in fact, the world was now cooling. This was very wrong.

Krap. The four major temperature series, GISS, HadCRUT, UAH and RSS (take note, Dr Suzuki) all show either stasis, imperceptible warming or cooling (see image below). And whether global warming is “over” or not is irrelevant – that’s just a tabloid newpaper making a story.

The real issue is why there has been such a divergence between models and real-world temperature. Despite fudging the graph in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers to give the impression that the models are still on track, the truth is that the models have spectacularly failed to predict the current stasis in global temperatures. Climate sensitivity to CO2 has been overestimated and natural forces ignored.

For one thing, nine of the 10 hottest years on record have happened in the last decade.

True, but irrelevant. Yes, the planet is warming, and has been for a couple of centuries, so it’s no great surprise that each decade is, generally, warmer than the last. The old “on record” chestnut is wheeled out, despite the fact that records barely cover 150 years. Dispassionate? Krap!

The trouble is, the surface of our planet has many many square metres. So that extra heat reflected back down to the ground is roughly equivalent to exploding a few hundred thousand Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons in our atmosphere — every day.

This is recycled krap. Recycled by Dr Karl, from John Cook of Un-Skeptical Pseudo-Science, who in turn recycled it from James Hansen. Despite sounding terrifying, because the Sun is so powerful and the Earth so huge, this amount of energy approximates to half a watt per square metre (your average light globe is 60 watts), which would be lost in the downwelling radiation of approximately half a kilowatt. Cheap alarmist krap.

The overwhelming majority of the heat trapped by the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere enters the oceans.

Since 2007, we have been monitoring the oceans with small drifting oceanic probes — ARGO probes. Today, there are some 3,600 of these robotic probes in the oceans of the world. They continuously float up and down, rising to the surface and then diving down to a depth of 2 kilometres on a roughly 10-day cycle.

These ARGO probes have measured the heating of the oceans caused by that 93.5 per cent of the heat energy reflected back down by the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It turns out that about two thirds remains in the upper ocean between the surface and a depth of 700 metres, while the remaining one third of that heat energy goes deeper into the ocean — between 700 and 2000 metres.

Dr Karl trots out the buzzword du jour (see yesterday), ocean heat. The dog ate my warming. They seek it here, they seek it here, they seek it everywhere. Everywhere it can’t be measured, that is.

The ARGO probes have been around less than a decade, and the changes in temperature are of the order of a few hundredths of a degree. But here’s a thought – perhaps the warming over the last twenty years was caused by the oceans releasing heat (that couldn’t be measured) into the atmosphere, and was nothing to do with CO2?


Aussies the world's richest people: Credit Suisse

Australians remain the richest people in the world, by one measure at least. The median wealth of adult Australians stands at $US219,505 ($233,504) - the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest, meaning that 50 per cent of the population has more than $233,504, and 50 per cent less than that.

By the measure of average wealth, Australians fall back to second with $US402,578 per person, ranking behind the Swiss who were the world’s richest on $US513,000.

Credit Suisse chief investment strategist, Australia, David McDonald said the nation’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in the past year. That was slower than the global average of 4.6 per cent, but Australia still had the best distribution of wealth among developed nations.

"Although we are up there at a high level of wealth per adult we’ve also got a better spread than a lot of the other developed countries including, obviously, the Swiss, but also places like the US," Mr McDonald said.

The number of Australian millionaires increased by 38,000 to 1.123 million people. About half of the rise in Australian wealth is due to exchange rate appreciation.

The millionaire calculation includes the value of real estate owned outright.

Australians were shown to have a much higher level of wealth held in property and non-financial assets - 58.5 per cent compared to the world average of 45 per cent and just 38 per cent in the US.

The US remains the millionaire capital of the world, with 13.2 million people topping the seven-figure mark and nearly 46,000 people in the ultra-high net worth $US50 million-plus category.

Australia has 2,059 ultra-high net worth individuals, 2.1 per cent of the global total.

While the Land Down Under has maintained its place at the top in median terms for three years running now, Credit Suisse reported that North America has regained its title as the wealthiest region in the world.

Rising house prices and stock markets fuelled a 12 per cent rise in North American wealth to $US78.9 trillion from mid-2012 to mid-2013, putting the region ahead of the Asia Pacific and Europe for the first time since before the global financial crisis.

Credit Suisse global head of research for private banking, Giles Keating, said Japan’s economic slump had dragged down the Asia-Pacific region.

"The fourth annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows an $US11 trillion rise in (global) wealth to $US241 trillion, with the US as the clear winner, overtaking Europe, while Asia Pacific fell back due to sharp depreciation of the yen," Mr Keating said.


9 October, 2013

No more dole, Tony Abbott warns the under-30s

TONY Abbott has proposed banning the dole for people under 30 in a bid to entice the unemployed to head west and fill massive skill shortages in the booming resources sector.

The Opposition Leader made the controversial remarks during a two-hour meeting with about 15 senior resources industry leaders in Perth on Monday night.

Mr Abbott told the roundtable briefing he believed stopping dole payments to able-bodied young people would take pressure off the welfare system and reduce the need to bring in large numbers of skilled migrants to staff mining projects.

His comments were attacked last night by Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes, who described them as "Hansonesque".

"If he genuinely thinks you are going to solve an economically crippling skills shortage by taking punitive measures against welfare recipients, he has clearly never lived in the real world," Mr Howes said.

"You can't just get any old Joe off the street and plonk them into a mine, and think that's going to mean they can work."

Six of the attendees confirmed yesterday that Mr Abbott had raised the idea of banning welfare payments for young people to encourage them to fill the thousands of jobs emerging in states such as Western Australia and Queensland.

"He said he was thinking more and more about it, with a view to formulating something on it," said one of the participants, who asked not to be named.

Another recalled: "He definitely said it was something he was considering as a policy."

A third executive said: "It certainly wasn't a throwaway line. He brought up the issue twice during the meeting."

Mr Abbott also told the business leaders that safety mechanisms would be needed under such a scheme to protect disabled people or those with mental health problems. And he raised the possibility that employers would need to be given funding to train the unemployed, according to those present.

Some of the business leaders were surprised by the remarks, while others were impressed Mr Abbott was considering new measures to address the labour shortages in Western Australia that threaten to crimp the next resources boom.

"I thought to myself: here is a guy who thinks outside the square," said one participant.

The Minerals Council of Australia said the number of workers in the resources sector would need to grow by about 86,000 in the next decade to maintain Australia's share of global minerals markets. It said 31,000 of those workers would need to be skilled tradespeople.

The demand for labour is expected to be most severe in Western Australia, which has about $200 billion in resources projects either under way or in the pipeline.

This is led by the $43bn Gorgon liquefied natural gas project on Barrow Island and the planned expansion of Woodside Petroleum's Pluto gas plant near Karratha.

Among the attendees at Mr Abbott's roundtable were BHP Billiton iron ore chief executive Ian Ashby, Rio Tinto's Pilbara managing director Greg Lilleyman, Woodside general counsel Rob Cole, Fortescue Metals Group director Graeme Rowley, Gindalbie Metals chief executive Garret Dixon and Inpex's Australian head, Seiya Ito.

Mr Abbott's views echo comments he made as employment services minister in 2000 when he announced that people on the dole in South Australia's Riverland would be required to seek fruit harvest work before receiving benefits.

Last night a spokeswoman for Mr Abbott confirmed he had made the remarks about the dole to the mining leaders.

The spokeswoman said Mr Abbott had posed a question about the dole for the benefit of the argument and the debate at the meeting. But, she said, Mr Abbott's comments did not mean the approach was Coalition policy.


Perth Anglicans vote to ignore Bible

(See Romans chap. 1)

Anglicans in Perth have voted to have same-sex relationships recognised.

The church synod voted by a two-thirds majority to call for legal acknowledgment of civil unions between people of the same sex.

Rector of Darlington-Bellevue Anglican parish, the Reverend Chris Bedding, presented the motion to the synod.

"We presented a motion saying that the Anglican Church and the Diocese of Perth would like to acknowledge that legal recognition of same-sex relations can coexist with legal recognition of marriage between a man and a woman," he said.

"That had already come last year, it had essentially been vetoed by the Archbishop and it came back this year and the bar was set even higher.

"We needed a two-third majority amongst both the clergy and the laity to get it passed. "And, I thought there was no way that the motion would be passed. "Strangely enough the synod, via quite a convincing majority, [decided] to make that acknowledgment.

"As a church, we are not ready to have marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples in our churches yet, but we wanted to say that if the government has civil recognition of unions or equality, then we are comfortable with that."

Australian Marriage Equality's acting director Ivan Hinton says it is an encouraging step forward. "I think this is a great moment to recognise that Christianity in Australian culture is far more diverse than what has been expressed on the political level for a very long time," he said.

The motion needs the support of the Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, before it is officially adopted. Archbishop Herft has 30 days to assent or dissent to the vote.

A similar motion last year was vetoed by the Archbishop, but Reverend Bedding says this year may be different. "Things might have changed in a year or they might not. The one thing that did change was that the vote increased amongst both laity and clergy," he said.

"So a lot of people changed their mind in a year. "It's possible that the Archbishop has changed his mind over the last year."

Gay Christians like Graham Douglas-Meyer are worried the Archbishop will not endorse the vote. "I think it would actually be a slap in the face of the people of Perth. It would be saying that 'I know better than you'," he said. "I think he (the Archbishop) really does need to give his reason, and a good reason to the people.

"It would be distressing for them, specifically if they are from an Anglican background themselves, because they are actually being put into position where they're being told, once again, that their relationship is unacceptable."


NSW Students stop taking Asian languages in senior years

Asian languages are just too hard for Anglos

Senior high school students in NSW are giving up on Asian languages at an astonishing rate, despite growth among younger students.

Between 2010 and 2012, the number of high school students learning Chinese grew by 42 per cent to almost 10,000. Yet, over the same period, the number of HSC students studying the language shrunk by 27 per cent. And figures released last week show just 902 HSC students studied Chinese this year, a 5 per cent drop from last year.

The president of the Board of Studies NSW, Tom Alegounarias, said it was likely students were not convinced a language gave them the competitive edge it once did.

"To the extent that studying a language is a functional advantage for interacting globally, the paradox is that as the world globalises, you don't need another language and people are aware of that," he said. "Everyone that goes to China knows you can get around pretty well with English."

Figures provided by the NSW Department of Education and Communities show primary and secondary enrolments in all four of the state's priority Asian languages grew between 2010 and 2012. A large proportion of those high school students would have learnt the language as part of the state's compulsory 12-month course.

But the proportion of students continuing to more advanced study in the senior years continues to slide, with Fairfax Media revealing last week that the rate of students studying a foreign language for the HSC is at a historic low of just 8 per cent.

The director of the Chinese Teacher Training Centre at the University of Melbourne, Jane Orton, said that when it came to the high-stakes HSC exams students are deterred by having to compete with classmates who have grown up around the language.

"There are kids who would like to go on but they just literally can't afford it for their futures," she said. "It's like having a race for the under 12s. You can't have long-legged 15-year-olds racing down. Of course they're going to win."

She said the continued push for Asian languages by successive governments was not having the desired effects.

"They seem to throw money at it rather than invest money in it," she said. "If they are doing it for national interest, they need to hothouse just as they do for sport."

Mr Alegounarias says the challenging nature of Asian languages might also partly account for the drop-off.

"There is a different cultural and theoretical linguistic underpinning which actually makes it harder to study those languages, particularly if you’re competing with students of that background," he said.

A senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of New England, Dr Liz Ellis, says "the closer a language is in structure and general orientation, the easier it tends to be to learn."

French, for example, would typically be easier and quicker for an English speaker to learn than Mandarin.

This year 663 HSC students took French as a beginner, while only 52 students took Chinese as a beginner.

Dr Ellis there is a lot of evidence that bilingualism can enhance cognitive abilities.

"There certainly is research that shows [a link between bilingualism and academic performance] because it expands their facility for thinking and their understanding and ability to think creatively," she said.

Dr Orton says more parents need to value the learning of language, beyond just employment opportunities. "A lot of parents take an increasingly utilitarian view of school, so it’s a question of will it get you a job," she said.


Tasmania has a killer prosecutor

LAWYERS for Director of Public Prosecutions Timothy James Ellis SC say they want a Tasmanian magistrate to hear the case.

Mr Ellis, 58, yesterday pleaded not guilty to causing the death of another person by negligent driving over a crash in which a Launceston woman died.

The state's top prosecutor -- whose leg was badly broken in the collision -- appeared on crutches in the Hobart Magistrates Court yesterday.

His lawyer Michael O'Farrell SC told Chief Magistrate Michael Hill: "Mr Ellis will enter a plea of not guilty" to the single charge.

Mr Ellis' Mercedes and a Toyota hatchback driven by 27-year-old Natalia Pearn, of West Launceston, collided near Lovely Banks about 6pm on March 24. Ms Pearn was killed and Mr Ellis suffered serious leg injuries.

Mr Hill told Mr O'Farrell that every Tasmanian magistrate had disqualified themselves from hearing the case.

The Chief Magistrate said he had a "personal difficulty" with the matter and was troubled by the issue of public confidence in the system should the case be heard by a local.

Mr Hill said steps had been taken to appoint an interstate judicial officer to preside over Mr Ellis' trial, but Mr O'Farrell said the defence team had identified at least five local magistrates who could hear it without difficulty.

"Mr Ellis, like any citizen, is entitled to be given due process according to the laws of the state and for all of the magistrates of the state to excuse themselves -- without hearing from Mr Ellis -- is not due process," he said.

Police allege that Mr Ellis was negligent for: failing to keep a proper lookout; failing to drive with due care and attention; failing to keep his vehicle to the left; failing to keep his vehicle from crossing to the wrong side of the road; failing to return to the correct side of the road, failing to manoeuvre to avoid a collision; driving without reasonable consideration for other road users and failing to pay sufficient concentration to the task of driving.

Mr Hill adjourned the case until November 11 to allow the defence and prosecution to negotiate how the case might proceed.


8 October, 2013

Tony Abbott offers 'act of contrition' to Malaysia over asylum seeker criticism

Tony Abbott has apologised to an Asian leader for the second time in a week over his robust political campaigning before he was elected, offering an "act of contrition" for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

The Australian Prime Minister acknowledged in a meeting with Mr Najib at the APEC conference late on Monday that in Australia, "we play our politics very hard".

"I offered an act of contrition, if you like, to Prime Minister Najib for the way Malaysia got caught up in what was a very intense and at times somewhat rancorous debate in Australia. He knows we play our politics pretty hard in our country," Mr Abbott said.

When in opposition, the Coalition heavily criticised the Gillard government's proposed "Malaysia Solution" for asylum seekers, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison arguing in 2011 that Malaysia could not guarantee the human rights of people sent to that country under the program.

"Our criticism was never of Malaysia, it was of the former government. I guess you might say that, in my own way, I offered an apology because I appreciate this was a difficult situation for Malaysia and it was only in that difficult situation because, in its own way, it had tried to help out a friend," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott also apologised to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta last week for the fact that Australian politicians should have "said less and done more" about asylum seekers passing through Indonesia to Australia.

Mr Abbott declined to comment in detail about Mr Najib's response, saying only, "I think he understood".

Moving to repair another regional relationship damaged by Australia's jarring asylum seeker debate, Mr Abbott also met Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on Tuesday, saying he would "take full advantage" of Labor's PNG solution.

"I have indicated to Prime Minister O'Neill that I am grateful for the assistance that he is giving to Australia in its hour of need," Mr Abbott said.

"I have indicated to him that we certainly want to take full advantage of PNG's offer to host, if necessary, very significant numbers of illegal arrivals by boat in Manus."

During the election campaign his then shadow ministers criticised the PNG arrangement as unworkable, characterising it as paying off a third-world nation to handle Australia's problems.

Mr Abbott said at the time he would "salvage what we can" from the arrangement, which now appears to be every aspect of the PNG Solution negotiated by Labor.

In return, Mr Abbott also said 50 Australian Federal Police officers would be seconded to PNG by Christmas.

"They are helping us out with the boat people issue. They have certain domestic issues that they believe we can assist with, and we are," he said.

Mr Abbott also met on Monday Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and said the pair agreed to disagree over human rights issues in Sri Lanka.

Mr Harper is boycotting the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the country, saying he was deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka, pointing to the impeachment this year of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice, along with reports of judicial killings, the intimidation of political leaders and journalists, and the harassment of minorities.

"It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth's core values, which are cherished by Canadians," Mr Harper said on the sidelines of APEC.

But Mr Abbott is determined to attend CHOGM. In his meeting with Mr Harper he said the issue had been discussed but not in detail.

"He knows where I stand and I think there is just an acceptance as there ought to be with friends that at different times we'll take a different approach," Mr Abbott said.

Australia's position is that Sri Lanka's human rights situation is benign enough to mean that refugees fleeing the country to Australia are able to be immediately repatriated.


God and Allah to be scrapped from court oaths in South Australia

A SHORTLIST is being drawn up for a simple and inclusive new oath for witnesses in South Australian courts, which could also remove references to God and Allah.

The proposed reforms would lead to a single statement for witnesses to pledge to tell the truth in South Australian courts.

There are several forms offered to witnesses preparing to give evidence in court, such as swearing on the Bible or Koran, or a non-religious "affirmation".

Attorney-General John Rau has asked the SA Law Reform Institute to create a shortlist that would contain new wordings for a uniform court statement.

Former Thinker In Residence Judge Peggy Hora has argued some people would not be bound to tell the truth under the current oath because it did not hold any meaning.

Law Reform Institute Deputy Director Helen Wighton said one example of people who would not necessarily feel bound by current wording would be residents of tribal Aboriginal lands.

Of the 3000 people who live in the APY Lands, in the State's Far North, a majority do not speak English and live a semi-traditional lifestyle.

The State Government changes will be released as a discussion paper for public comment later this month and aim to design one oath suitable for all aspects of the community to provide binding and truthful evidence in court.

Ms Wighton said she hoped there would be comments from a range of people, including those who could give an insight into the type of statement that would bind all people to tell the truth.

"We are hoping that we will get responses not just from lawyers and judges who have direct experience but religious groups and cultural groups and linguists," she said.

"I hope to hear from psychologists and people like that who understand how much saying something which you can identify encourages the telling of the truth, let alone comprehending what they are saying."

Ms Wighton said Mr Rau had told the institute he wanted one oath which would bind all people.

Ms Wighton said the issues paper would be released after being presented to Mr Rau later this month.

"We have identified where the oath or affirmation comes from, where the principles are and what the current practice is, and what it is elsewhere," she said. Uniting Church SA moderator Rob Williams said the solution would be two oaths, one religious and one not.

"It would seem to make more sense to have one affirmation for people who are not religious and also one for people who would prefer to swear on the Bible or Koran," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Rau declined to comment.


Subsidies, federation 'stifle next big sectors to boom'

The report below is patchy. Getting rid of subsidies to uncompetitive industries is a no-brainer and the potential of tourism is undoubted. Australia can offer magic tropical destinations where you can safely drink the water and you don't have to press 1 for English! But the idea of feeding Asia is unlikely to be realized. China itself is already a net food EXPORTER under capitalism. Those Chinese farmers are good!

WASTEFUL industry subsidies, a lack of skilled migrants and a "creaking" federation are stopping businesses from reaping maximum benefit from five "super-growth" industries that can bolster Australia's enviable prosperity as the mining boom wanes.

A Deloitte report argues Asia's increasingly prosperous nations will make farming, gas exports, tourism, education and wealth - where Australia already has advantages - potential boom industries over the next 20 years.

"Exceptional growth in these five sectors would add an additional $25 billion to Australia's GDP in 2033," said Deloitte Access Economics director and report author Chris Richardson.

"The reality is that we need new growth drivers - several new waves - and the first place to look is markets that can be expected to grow significantly faster than the global economy as a whole over the next 10 or 20 years."

Co-author Mehrdad Baghai, managing director at Alchemy Growth Partners, said: "The multi-billion-dollar question is where will global growth and Australia's natural advantage next intersect?"

Farming or "agribusiness" - Australia's "forgotten hero", which offers the greatest economic potential among the five - will be buoyed by a global trend towards higher protein diets coupled with the dollar's anticipated fall to US80c in coming years.

The report recommends "encouraging the consolidation of mature or declining industries, and winding back poorly directed subsidies (as) specifically directed government help can often miss its mark" - advice that defies the Abbott government's plans to prop up the ailing car industry.

The report slams Australia's "creaking federation, with overlapping responsibilities at every level of government leading to wasted spending and atrocious efficiency outcomes".

The potential for education and tourism made sense to visiting English tourist Claire Stokes, who is studying for a year in Melbourne and was yesterday enjoying the sunshine in Cairns, after a week-long east coast bus tour.

Ms Stokes said she was lured to Australia by its natural beauty, a drawcard identified by the Deloitte report, which highlighted the country's 60,000km of shoreline and 3000 average hours of sunshine each year.

"We just visited Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays and it was paradise," Ms Stokes said.

"Australia is my ultimate destination in a lot of ways: it's got great weather and its natural destinations are stunning."

Ms Stokes is studying international development at Melbourne's Monash University. Deloitte pinpointed the teaching of foreign students as Australia's fourth-biggest export earner.

The report says the industry generates $15bn a year and employs 100,000, figures expected to grow as demand intensifies.

Ms Stokes chose to study for one year in Australia, rather than backpack here for two weeks, so she could fit in as much travel as possible. "I don't want to go home without seeing absolutely everything I can," she said.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Ken Morrison said the report emphasised the need for governments not to take for granted tourism's potential.

He said: "Tourism generates more than $100bn in expenditure every year, directly employs more than 530,000 Australians across the country and is Australia's largest services export."


No excuses for Aboriginal brutality to women and children

Gary Johns

IN 2010, Ernest Munda of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia killed his common law wife of 16 years, with whom he had four children. He was sentenced to prison for seven years and nine months, with a non-parole period of three years and three months.

The taxpayer funded an appeal to the High Court that his sentence was too harsh. He claimed that the Court of Appeal of Western Australia failed to have "proper regard" to his personal circumstances as a "traditional" Aboriginal man. In particular, "an environment in which the abuse of alcohol is endemic in indigenous communities", was not taken into account.

The High Court knocked him back. The court reiterated that while a person's background could play a part in mitigation, it needed to be "weighed by the sentencing judge". At present, judges have discretion, but in future, if Aboriginal culture is recognised in the Constitution, do not be surprised if the likes of Ernest Munda get lighter sentences.

The desire among many for Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution is genuine and there is a very real possibility of a "yes" case succeeding. The task ahead for sensible people is to draft a yes case that eliminates the risk that bad behaviour will be excused.

The "experts" who advised the Gillard government, recommended, among other things, "respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples". This inclusion will increase the likelihood of a "Munda appeal" succeeding.

Just so the foolishness of the cultural recognition proposition is understood, here are the facts of the Munda case.

Munda and his common law wife were drunk and Munda had used cannabis. The pair argued. Munda punched his wife, threw her about the bedroom and repeatedly rammed her head into the walls. Munda "caused the deceased to fall on to a bed mattress". He then stood over her and repeatedly punched her in the face. The next morning, Munda had sexual intercourse with his wife. He then left the house to get some tea. When Munda returned, his wife was dead.

She had died from traumatic brain injury. She also had a fracture to her left jaw and broken ribs. In 2009, Munda had been sentenced to 12 months' jail, suspended for 12 months, for "unlawfully causing grievous bodily harm" to his wife. The injuries included a fractured femur, tibia and right radius as well as deep lacerations to her forehead inflicted by a metal shovel. Earlier in 2009, Munda was also sentenced to six months' jail, suspended for 12 months, for common assault upon his 13-year-old niece and the ex-partner of Munda's sister.

This is a sick culture. And it is a weak society that pays for this person to go to the High Court of Australia to attempt to get less than three years and three months in jail for his horrific crime. Politicians and Aboriginal leaders who want you to vote to change the Constitution to make it possible for the likes of Munda to spend less time in jail should be ashamed.

These cases are not rare. In 2005, a "traditional" man who anally raped his 14-year-old promised bride was convicted to 24 months for "assault and unlawful sexual intercourse", which in effect had him released after one month. The Court of Criminal Appeal of the Northern Territory heard the appeal and marginally increased the sentence.

Sitting in the old man's settlement of Yarralin for sentencing, Brian Martin, then chief justice of the NT Supreme Court, made the following sentencing remarks to the convicted man. "I accept that these offences occurred because the young child had been promised to you. This is not a case where you simply sought out a young child for sexual gratification ... I have a great deal of sympathy for you and the difficulties attached to transition from traditional Aboriginal culture and laws as you understand them to be, to obeying the Northern Territory law."

An alternative yes case is to recognise the historical truth in a preamble to the Constitution: that an Aboriginal people lived on the continent before its settlement by the British.

The experts also recommended "recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples". This is sensible, as long as it sits in a preamble. The Constitution is not a storybook, it is a rule book, and every Australian should play by the same rules.

Presently, judges have discretion in sentencing. If you want to look after the Ernest Mundas of the world, go ahead and vote yes for "cultural" recognition. If you are for human rights, then vote yes for "historic" recognition.


7 October, 2013

Abbott Government in crime crackdown on asylum seekers

ALMOST 30 asylum seekers released into the community have been charged with offences ranging from people smuggling to pedophilia and murder.

The Coalition will launch a new behaviour crackdown for bridging visa holders and community detainees who will be automatically returned to detention if they are charged with an offence.

Under the previous government some asylum seekers remained in the community while facing charges with revocations considered on a case-by-case basis.

Since the election ten asylum seekers of 14 who have had their bridging visas revoked since May have been returned to detention.

Another 14 asylum seekers in community detention have been returned since mid-2011 after being accused of serious offences.

Most of the alleged offences have occurred in NSW with 11, four in Queensland and South Australia, three in Victoria, two in the ACT and the NT and one in WA.

The alleged offences against children include the sexual assault of a child, indecent assault of a child, indecent act with a child under 16 and physical assault of a child.

Asylum seekers in the community have also been accused of rape, stalking, acts of indecency and torture.

An asylum seeker is also facing charges of murder while others have allegedly committed armed robbery with assault, aggravated burglaries and assaults, domestic violence, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, assault while armed, threatening to kill and drink driving.

Mr Morrison called for behaviour protocols in February after Sri Lankan boat arrival Daxchan Selvarajah, 21 was charged with the indecent assault of a Macquarie University student in her dorm.

He lost an appeal against the cancellation of his bridging visa in May. At a bail hearing earlier this year his lawyer said the 21-year-old denied the charges and that the case against him was weak. A court is yet to determine the case.

Mr Morrison said yesterday while the offences were not "disproportionate for these groups" with about 20,000 people in the community he would have a "zero tolerance attitude for those who violate the trust given by granting them permission to live in the community."

"The escalating number of these serious offences is of great concern to the new government and we are putting strong controls in place," he said. "Visas are being cancelled for those charged and they are being taken back into detention."

The Coalition has also moved to provide address details of asylum seekers living in the community to police.

State police and police unions had requested the information but were only provided postcodes under the previous government which attacked Mr Morrison's behavioural protocol policy.

Mr Morrison said the "mandatory behaviour protocols" for bridging visa holders and community detainees were being developed.

Last month an Afghan asylum seeker allegedly stabbed to death another asylum seeker at Berala.

Another asylum seeker was charged over the alleged indecent assault of a visually impaired woman on a Sydney train in July.


Clive Palmer an overnight political force

THEY came from nowhere, obscure, multicultural, unfinished but ambitious people, wanting a shot in Clive's Army. Most have disappeared back from where they came, for now, but the Palmer United Party has won enough seats to give them the balance of power in the Senate.

Now Tony Abbott needs Clive Palmer, whose candidates are more naturally aligned to him than Labor, to deliver him the power to pass laws through both houses of parliament when the new Senate takes its place from July next year.

Labor and the Greens together have 35 Senate seats.

Abbott has 33. But if you include the three new PUP senators-elect, and another three new independent senators who are either loosely or extremely Right, Abbott's got it sewn up. He just has to be nice to Clive.

Palmer offered people an unprecedented shot at instant party power, herding candidates into every one of the 150 lower house seats in the country, and into all Senate races.

There were no arduous preselection campaigns. Nominees filled in a form stating their health status, criminal history, previous political affiliations, any history of bankruptcy, military and academic record, and were asked to provide three referees.

It appears the party took just about anyone who put up their hand. Better candidates were given up to $8000, asked to acquaint themselves with the party's key policies and told: go for it. Sure-fire losers got budgets of $3000 or less, to be spent on printing and ads.

There was a big name or two, such as ex-rugby player Glenn Lazarus (now Queensland senator-elect Lazarus), and older sporting heroes like the AFL's Doug Hawkins and boxer Barry Michael, but most were complete unknowns.

It became clear after meeting some PUP candidates that all they had in common was an admiration for Palmer and a desire to get into parliament.

Palmer had five key policies: abolishing the carbon tax; building refineries to process minerals at home; and requiring that a portion of wealth flowed directly back to any community from where it was generated.

His refugee policy was unfathomable, and his vendetta against political lobbyists (no.1 on his policy list) was of little interest to Palmer.

There was no defence policy. No foreign policy. On asylum seekers, anyone who wanted to come to Australia should get a passport, pay $800 for a flight, land at an airport, have their claim heard on the spot, and if it was rejected they'd be sent home on the next flight. That would stop the boats, said Palmer.

Bikkar Singh Brar, 68, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Indian army, was notified less than three weeks out from the election that he would be the candidate in Alexander Downer's old seat of Mayo, in South Australia, after the previous PUP candidate was shifted to another seat at the last moment.

The PUP jammed anyone it could find into seats and Brar didn't have a hope. "I didn't know any single person in that electorate at the time of my nomination," he says, without complaint.

Yet Brar, who does not live in the electorate, somehow picked up 3434 votes. This willingness to vote for a total stranger was happening all across Australia, and it was a personal endorsement of Palmer.

Brar liked Palmer's uncosted promise to find $80 billion to improve Australia's health system. Brar had travelled back home to India to get two root canals and six fillings at the cost of $180. He said the same treatment would have cost $4000 in Australia.

"The gentleman is concerned about Australia," said Brar of Palmer. "He wants to see Australia as a leading country in the world. He is a passionate person. He does not seek his employment by becoming a politician."

The chance of entering parliament brought out people such as Doug Te Wake, 42, a long-serving member of the special forces, who only left the Afghanistan battlefield in 2012 after serving with the 2 Commando Regiment.

Te Wake was strongly against Labor's carbon tax, and what he sees as the Coalition's complicity in allowing it through (though they voted against it in both houses).

When Te Wake says he went through a preselection process for an NT Senate seat, he really means that he filled out the form and was notified by party headquarters in Queensland that he'd got the nomination.

He agrees that if by some freak the party had won a big number of lower house seats, rather than Palmer's (likely) sole victory in Fairfax, the party would have arrived without any true ideological alignment.

That situation remains true for the three new PUP senators, who now must confer to see if they share any true common ground beyond being united under Palmer and his core policies, most of which are so generic in nature that are open to freewheeling interpretation.

"I agree there isn't a nucleus within the party, but the reason is that it is so new," says Te Wake, who missed out on a seat but announced himself with about 7 per cent of the vote.

"It's just the start for me," he says. "The party will be contesting the various state and territory elections as they come up. We are serious. We're not a flash in the pan. We're sticking around for the long haul."

What can be said for certain about PUP candidates, successful or otherwise, is they share two unique characteristics: they don't expect to be bullied by party headquarters; and they all believe in Clive.

Whether that is basis for unity remains to be seen. But it cannot be disputed Australia found itself with its fourth-largest political party almost overnight.

Wayne Slattery, 42, the CEO of the Good Samaritans, sick of both major parties, contested an ACT Senate seat for the PUP and lost. He agrees that the party's policies must become a "deeper thing".

Most Australians, even those who've spent time reading PUP policies, would be hard pressed to say what the party really stands for, except for offering a non-Green alternative.

Slattery says PUP policy will evolve naturally. "Clive did a lot of research, about increasing pensions and making governments more accountable in their spending," he says. "It's all just common sense stuff."

But there is something of America's uncompromising Tea Party about them, an obstinate view that after winning 700,000-plus of the national vote they are entitled.

They are powerful already, but not yet dangerous. We will know once Palmer starts instructing his three senators on how to vote, from July next year. We will learn, then, whether they have the discipline to be party people and follow his wishes, or are really three new independents in disguise.


Fracking too hot a topic till after Vic election

A decision to end a ban on the controversial practice known as fracking could be deferred until after the state election in a bid to avoid a regional backlash.

As The Sunday Age reported last week, the Napthine government is headed for a showdown between farmers, miners and environmentalists as it decides whether to lift the moratorium and allow the expansion of coal seam gas (CSG) in Victoria.

Tensions over CSG have reignited as the government awaits a review from former federal minister Peter Reith, which is expected to recommend developing an unconventional gas industry in the face of future price rises.

But with the Coalition at risk of angering voters in country seats - and potentially causing a split between Liberals and Nationals within its ranks - the government has signalled it might delay the process until after the November 2014 poll in an attempt to neutralise political sensitivities.

Days after Premier Denis Napthine said he was "in no hurry when it comes to unconventional gas", Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said: "It will take as long as it takes; we're not trying to time it to a calendar.

"To do that would be a bad mistake and would fly in the face of our approach: that we have to do justice to this issue and accommodate all the concerns from the community."

Mr Ryan's Gippsland South seat is one of several under fire from CSG opponents.

Fracking is the practice in which gas is extracted by injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals underground. While coal seam gas has been mined and used in parts of Australia for nearly 30 years, farmers and environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate aquifers and result in gas escaping into drinking water as it rises to the surface.

The government says it has not yet received Mr Reith's review, but well-placed sources believe it is likely to recommend lifting the moratorium on fracking, which was put in place last year, and explore the development of CSG and other types of unconventional gas in Victoria. The review is also expected to suggest giving farmers royalties for the use of their wells.

Last week Mr Reith said community concerns about water contamination were understandable, but at the same time action had to be taken in Victoria to avoid future gas shortages and rising prices.

"Just a straight-out ban to me is not an approach which suggests a sort of rational consideration," he said.

Concerns have been raised that the taskforce assisting Mr Reith is heavily weighted towards industry. It includes representatives from Dow Chemicals, the Australian Pipeline Industry Association, Energy Australia, the Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Origin Energy, and Australian Industry Group. Newly elected federal Liberal MP Angus Taylor was also enlisted.

Documents obtained by Labor MP Lily D'Ambrosio under freedom of information laws show that Mr Reith is being paid at a rate of $2000 a day (capped at 30 days) to chair the review.

Prior to the moratorium, dozens of licences had been granted for unconventional gas exploration around the state, including in Dr Napthine's electorate on Victoria's south-west coast, Mr Ryan's electorate, and parts of western Victoria.

In the Nationals heartland of Gippsland, Lakes Oil, which is partly owned by Gina Rinehart, has already fracked 11 sites, and is ready to frack another - the Wombat gasfield - as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

Gerald Leach from the Victorian Farmers Federation said farmers should be given the right to veto mining on private land. This would be better than paying them royalties, he said, because it would allow farmers to negotiate for a share of future profits.


Australia's leaky submarine program

This week some interesting leaks have suggested that Australia's six Collins Class submarines are facing serious (read expensive) risks that might make extending their operating life difficult (read really expensive) or even impossible.

Originally the first Collins Class submarine was scheduled to be retired in 2024, with the remainder to be decommissioned by 2031. They were to be replaced by 12 Future Submarines, which have a largely bespoke or developmental design, and will be assembled in Adelaide.

The Future Submarine was the centrepiece of the 2009 Defence White Paper. The implementation of this ambitious plan to reorganise the nation's defences has languished due to systemic underfunding and heel dragging on the part of government decision makers. Nowhere was the delay more evident than the Future Submarine project.

It takes 15 or more years to bring the first boat of a developmental class to operational status. If work on the Future Submarine had begun promptly in 2009, it would have been theoretically possible to meet the original timeframe. But it didn't.

By the end of 2012 many fundamental decisions and preparatory steps still had not been taken. The likelihood that the Future Submarine would be in service before the Collins Class became obsolete was very low.

It was at this time that the Gillard government released findings that the Collins Class service life could be extended for another full operating cycle (seven years), regaining the four years they had wasted through inaction since the 2009 Defence White Paper. It was a fortuitous finding, but what would the cost of the extension program be?

The Collins Class has very low reliability and high costs compared to its rivals (as detailed in my 2012 report). With the news that 68 major systems aboard the submarines pose a high to extreme risk of preventing the fleet from reaching its life expectancy or being extended, it seems that the bill for keeping the Collins Class subs operational will get even larger.

The Defence Department has commented that 'identify[ing] potential issues and risks ... is a common and normal process to be followed if consideration is being given to the life-extension of any system.'

If this was a common and normal process, why was the existence of these risks (and the expected cost of dealing with them) not released to the public before the election? Operational security should not be invoked as a shield to hide poorly performing defence programs from public scrutiny.

Taxpayers are entitled to know whether the Collins Class currently represents value for money. They are entitled to ask whether the service life extension of the Collins is a good investment, before we commit tens of billions of dollars to replicate the Collins Class process for the Future Submarine.

They are also entitled to ask whether there are other options, but that is a story for another day.


6 October, 2013

A great day for the monarchy in Australia

Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, has welcomed Prince Harry to Sydney – but apologised that not everyone was pleased to see him.

Mr Abbott was born in Britain [of an Australian mother] and was once head of Australia's monarchist movement.

And addressing Prince Harry on his first visit to Australia, he said: "I regret to say that not every Australian is a monarchist, but today everyone feels like a monarchist."

He added: "You grace us as your family has graced our nation from its beginning. It is quite fitting on a day such as this when we think back over 100 years of the Royal Australian Navy that you are here as the crown is a symbol of continuity, decency, stability in our public life."

Prince Harry received a rapturous welcome in Sydney for his short visit, which included a trip on the harbour to inspect a warship parade. The harbour visit generated much excitement and forced police to remove one woman, Victoria McRae, 20, who ventured onto the harbour on a kayak with a flag that read "I (heart) U Harry".

"He's an eligible bachelor, I thought I was in with a chance," she said. "I just wanted to see Harry on the boat really, I thought we'd get up close. We got towed away, but it was worth it. We were under the Harbour Bridge and they were worried we were going to get run over."

Mr Abbott was beaming as he blithely ignored warnings to "lock up" his daughters and proudly introduced his wife and two younger daughters to the visiting prince.

Prince Harry then joined Mr Abbott, his wife Margie and two daughters, Frances, 22, and Bridget, 20, for a casual stroll through the waterside gardens of his official residence.

The prince later cheekily warned some well-wishers at the front gate that their new neighbour, Mr Abbott, who was elected last month, may be planning to bring his dogs into new residence.

"What do you think of your new neighbour?" Prince Harry asked. "He has got lots of dogs. They have not arrived yet."

Prince Harry earlier boarded the Australian navy's survey ship HMAS Leeuwin to sail past the Sydney Opera House and inspect a parade of international naval fleets and tall ships on the harbour. The parade marks the centenary of Australian navy's entrance into Sydney harbour.

The Prince was then greeted by thousands of well-wishers and spoke to screaming fans during a stroll along the waterfront.

He had a lengthy chat with a Georgia Marks, 11, who later burst into joyful tears. "He asked me about the fireworks," she said, referring to an impending fireworks display across the harbour. "He is nice. He talks to everybody."

The Prince's visit has sparked much interest in Australia, despite the public's slight leaning towards becoming a republic. His visit has been short – he leaves Sydney for Perth and then Dubai on Sunday – but generated excitement and roars of applause wherever he was sighted.

"Go, The Ranga," went some cries, using the slang term for redheads. Others cried "We love you Harry" and "Harry, Harry, Harry!"

Around the harbour, crowds had flocked to watch the naval parade, view the fireworks and try to spot the Prince.

"It's the new game to play on the harbour," reported the Sydney Morning Herald. "Let's spot Prince Harry. Made easier because Captain Wales is dressed in a white tropical dress uniform of the British Army and a blue Army AirCorp beret. He stands out quite well among all those dark naval uniforms."


Prince Harry's popularity

There has been huge coverage of Prince Harry's visit to Sydney

PRINCE Harry is arguably the most popular royal in Australia.
We love the fact that despite his position of privilege, he has somehow managed to remain a normal bloke.

He likes to party, he drinks, he dresses up in stupid outfits and every now and then he ditches his clothes for a friendly game of strip poker.

He's one of us.

The 29-year-old will arrive in Sydney today for the International Fleet Review and thousands of Aussies will no doubt wave at him as if he's one of their best mates.

In fact we probably know more about Harry than we do about some of our close friends.


Incredible workers' compensation claims from the Australian Public Service

A MAN who says his penis and surrounding tissue swelled because his government employer made him sit in a small plane seat is among current and former public servants seeking compensation.
Another woman claimed to the taxpayer-funded insurer Comcare she suffered a psychological injury after she said colleagues laughed when she revealed she had suffered a bout of diarrhoea in the office toilet.

Comcare offered to pay part of another man's $16,000 fitness bill after he said the gym and personal training helped with his workplace psychological injury and his "fear of people and strangers."

The former public servant who claimed his genital condition was caused by being forced to sit for five hours in a small plane seat had his compensation bid rejected.

He appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with doctors reports showing due to his obesity his "penis became retracted into perineal fat folds" during the flight in March 2010.

The man later developed scrotal cellulitis, a life-threatening condition which required hospitalisation and hyper baric treatment, with the man also claiming compensation for partial deafness caused by antibiotics used during treatment.

A doctor found sitting in a cramped plane seat for five hours "would have contributed" to the development of the condition for a man who was obese.

The Tribunal last month dismissed the appeal, finding the flight did not contribute by "a significant degree" to the man's illness.

In August the tribunal also dismissed an appeal by the female public servant who claimed an "anxiety state" after she told colleagues she had been in the bathroom for 20 minutes with diarrhoea in September 2010.

At the time the workers in her department were only allowed to be absent from their desks without explanation for ten minutes and the woman said her anxiety disorder commenced from her feeling "embarrassed" by a colleague.

After that and a later incident in which her work was questioned, she said she "felt stressed, emotionally drained, angry, (had) difficulty sleeping and increasing headache."

A man who was compensated for his adjustment disorder which was suffered at work in 2007 was offered a free $750 gym membership and $480 worth of personal training support by Comcare.

He appealed to the Tribunal seeking almost $16,000 to refund what he had spent on personal trainers which he claimed helped his psychological injury.

Comcare told the tribunal the man had "exaggerated his sense of isolation and his need for a personal trainer."

The Tribunal agreed Comcare should cover six personal training sessions to introduce the man to the gym, which it agreed Comcare should pay for, but rejected the man's claim for compensation for his entire personal fitness bill.

"We find that it was not medical treatment for the purposes of the Act," the Tribunal said.


Hypocrisy cry as Barnaby Joyce switches on foreign investment

BARNABY Joyce, who has built his political career opposing foreign investment, is under fire for hypocrisy after giving his blessing to the sale of two of the Northern Territory's best known cattle stations to Indonesia's biggest live cattle importer.

The Agriculture Minister, who two weeks ago asked Australians to "make a big noise" and oppose the Indonesian government's plan to purchase a million hectares of cattle country, said he supported the latest sale after talking to the Northern Territory cattle industry.

The Santori company - a subsidiary of the Indonesian agribusiness Japfa group - is purchasing two large Northern Territory cattle properties, Riveren and Inverway stations.

Mr Joyce said last night he made the decision to support the sale after talking to northern Australian cattlemen. "They wanted the sale to go forward," he said.

The Deputy Nationals Leader said the purchase of the two cattle stations was a joint venture on lease-hold land, that would kick-start the live cattle trade to Indonesia.

He dismissed the charge of hypocrisy, declaring the Greens wanted to "shut down the trade all together" and Labor had created the slump in cattle exports in the first place. "We are just trying to sweep up the dishes they dropped," he said.

Former agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon said it had taken Mr Joyce "all of five minutes to fall into line behind the Liberals".

"This deal is in the national interest and we can be thankful the Nationals are so ineffectual," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Mr Fitzgibbon expressed doubt about whether the Coalition government would persist with its plan to lower the threshold for foreign purchases of land to be scrutinised by the Foreign Investment Review Board to $15 million, a policy he derided as "silly".

Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Joyce's decision to back the sale of 5500sq km of prime farmland to the Santori company showed he was willing to talk tough in opposition but "sell the farm" on behalf of his Liberal Coalition partners in government.

"I never thought of Barnaby Joyce as a gymnast, but this stunning backflip has sold out his constituents with a perfect 10," Senator Milne said.

"The Nationals have now adopted the open-slather approach of Labor and Liberal."

Mr Joyce's decision to support the sale is a stark departure from his public call - about two weeks ago, before being appointed to the ministry - for Australians to "make a big noise" and oppose a similar plan from the Indonesian government to buy farmland and raise cattle for the domestic market.

"I cannot possibly see how it is in the national interest, what benefit is it to Australian farmers, to Australian taxpayers, if another entity buys our land to breed their cattle, exports them to their own facilities and pays tax in another country," Mr Joyce said at the time.

The Nationals deputy leader's about-face received a mixed reception from his party colleagues yesterday. Some of them have flagged a tough fight on the potential sale of Australia's largest listed agribusiness, GrainCorp, to US firm Archer Daniels Midland if it is approved by Joe Hockey.

NSW Nationals senator John Williams said Australia should own its own farmland, with the profits going back into regional and rural towns.

"Have the owners of those stations had them on the market for a long time?" Senator Williams said. "Are they desperate to get out? If they can't get a local buyer, then I wouldn't blame them for selling to a foreign buyer. But I like to see Australians own our farmland. I want to see the profits of those farms spent locally in our regional towns."

Queensland LNP MP George Christensen said Mr Joyce was only meeting the demands of industry.

"You have to talk to the local industry, and my understanding is that they are all behind it.

"In that case, as Australia's Agriculture Minister, he is (fulfilling) the wishes of the Australian agricultural industry," he said.

Labor senator Doug Cameron said Mr Joyce's comments were part of a pattern of Coalition MPs retreating from their former positions on a range of issues.

"I think this just demonstrates the flippant approach that has been taken by the Coalition on a whole range of areas," Senator Cameron said. "It's not just Barnaby Joyce. "You see this on issues such as the asylum-seekers. "And you now see it on foreign investment."


CSG limits to 'cost jobs, lift gas prices'

BUSINESS has warned that the NSW government's move to protect a further one million hectares of prime agricultural land from coal-seam gas extraction risks jobs, plant closures and imposing higher energy costs on households and manufacturers.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox warned there was a "real risk" of industrial closures sparked by steeply rising gas prices within a couple of years as he criticised the NSW government for proceeding with "the most restrictive elements of its revamp of coal-seam gas regulation, regardless of the looming and intense gas-supply issues facing NSW".

NSW Resources Minister Brad Hazzard announced that hundreds of horse studs and vineyards would be "off limits" to coal-seam gas extraction activities as he increased to 2.8 million hectares the amount of valuable agricultural land that has been deemed "strategic".

The move increased by one million hectares the amount of land for which CSG companies will be required to have their plans reviewed by a "gateway panel" consisting of six state-appointed groundwater, agricultural and mining experts.

While business and the CSG industry attacked the move as economically damaging, farmers argued prime agricultural land remained under threat.

Premier Barry O'Farrell seized on the dissatisfaction from both sides as evidence that the government had got its regulation right.

"Today we have both farmers and miners criticising the government's moves," Mr O'Farrell said. "It sounds as though we have achieved the balance we want."

Peter Stackhouse's 50ha cattle and vegetable farm on Iron Pot Creek near Kyogle in northern NSW has been included in the dark green section of the new government maps released yesterday, that affords added protections to the most important farming land.

But Mr Stackhouse is not convinced by the new measures and thinks they may be a political smokescreen.

The staunch opponent of CSG extraction questions why the NSW government has earmarked 464 vineyards and 297 horse studs in the Upper Hunter Valley as "off-limits" to all CSG mining, declaring them a "critical industry cluster", but has not gone so far with other farmland.

"It should make no difference if your farm has grapes or horses or cows; it's an injustice to protect some farms and not others," Mr Stackhouse said.

"If these plans are as good as it gets to protect farm land, then this government is falling very short of the mark."

The state's peak business organisation, the NSW Business Chamber, said it had serious concerns that the NSW government's decision would risk the livelihoods of businesses and their employees by ignoring the need for NSW to rapidly develop its own gas industry.

The chamber's chief executive, Stephen Cartwright, said he did not see a plan to secure increased gas supplies for industry and domestic users, which was "absolutely essential" to help moderate price spikes expected in 2016.

"The decision to completely exclude parts of NSW - including 2km zones around residential areas and around critical industry clusters - from gas exploration has put the future of NSW gas-dependent industries such as manufacturing at risk."

Mr Willox said all eastern states faced tight gas supply and steeply rising prices thanks to the imminent start of liquefied natural gas exports, but NSW had the worst problem.

"Shortages and industrial closures are a real risk in the next few years if local and Victorian supply cannot fill the gap left by South Australian gas diverted to export," he said.

Mr Willox said firm regulation of gas production was wise.

The NSW Chief Scientist's recent report highlighted that, while many fears were unfounded, there were genuine environmental issues concerning water that must be managed safely.

The NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Policy went well beyond what was needed by excluding large tracts of the state's best energy resources from development.

The NSW Farmers Association raised concerns over the ability of the government's proposed "gateway process" to protect prime agricultural land from mining.

NSWFA Association president Fiona Simson claimed the panel lacked teeth.

Energy giant AGL backed the assessment of the Ai Group and NSW Business Chamber.

"AGL has consistently raised concerns about the impact of the government's policies on the cost of energy to NSW families and businesses. On face value, the government's announcement will only add upward pressure on gas prices in NSW and exacerbate the gas supply issues facing the state," said AGL managing director Michael Fraser.

Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane said the Coalition was proceeding with plans to work with the NSW government to convene a group of farmers, gas explorers, producers, consumers and relevant stakeholders to address issues relating to the long-term gas supply in NSW.

"An important part of that will be focused on the development of the coal-seam gas industry in a way that will benefit landholders and local communities," he said.

"The regulations for the coal-seam gas industry are a matter for state governments, and the group will work within the rules and regulations that are put in place by the NSW government."

Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association chief executive David Byers said the policy announced by the NSW government did not do enough to "proactively support development of the natural gas industry in NSW and does too little to address the state's growing gas needs".

The east coast gas market is undergoing significant transformation, with demand set to triple once three large interstate export projects enter production from late next year.

NSW produces 5 per cent of its own gas supply, with the rest coming from interstate.

Santos east coast chief James Baulderstone said the extended moratorium on NSW CSG exploration would drive up prices.

Mr Baulderstone said Santos would not be affected by the NSW legislation and was happy the state government had agreed to support its Pilliga project and AGL's Gloucester project.

BG Group Australia chairman Catherine Tanna said the decision to extend the NSW ban on CSG exploration increased the perception of risk for the nation.

"If you picked up the newspaper this morning you would have seen enormous risk and it's become more elaborate," Ms Tanna said.

She denied there was a looming shortage of gas in NSW or any other east coast state and accused gas consumers of waging a scare campaign.

"There is gas there if people are willing to pay for it," Ms Tanna said.


5 October, 2013

Senators line up with Tony Abbott to axe taxes

Great news! I don't normally blog on Saturday but I could not resist putting this up. Gillard will be shirty to see her major "achievement" flushed down the toilet. With more compromise Gillard might have achieved bipartisanship for her policies. And that would have produced something more lasting. But Leftists don't like compromise. They want it all. And that generates no compromise from the other side too

Note the addled and hate-filled response of the Greens

TONY Abbott will have the numbers to scrap the carbon and mining taxes from July next year after the Palmer United Party and three crossbench senators confirmed they would back his mandate, eliminating the threat of a double-dissolution election.

As the Prime Minister won support to repeal Labor's carbon pricing regime, he said the Greens' loss of the balance of power in the upper house was a "great political achievement for the Coalition".

The Coalition will have 33 votes in the 76-seat chamber when the make-up of the new Senate begins on July 1. It means Mr Abbott, who has a substantial majority in the House of the Representatives, will need the support of six of the eight crossbench senators to pass his agenda.

The PUP, which has three senators subject to the outcome of an appeal by the Greens in Western Australia, along with the Liberal Democratic Party, Democratic Labour Party and Family First senators confirmed to The Weekend Australian that they would vote to abolish the carbon and mining taxes.

The LDP's incoming senator David Leyonhjelm said: "I guarantee I'll vote in favour of repealing both of those. I'll vote for any reduction in taxes."

Family First's senator-elect Bob Day said: "If the Labor Party has got any sense, it will recognise just what's happened in the last three years on both the mining tax and the carbon tax and vote for the repeal of both. If they don't and Abbott has to wait until July 1, I certainly will be voting for their repeal."

The PUP's West Australian senator-elect, Zhenya Wang, reaffirmed the formal position of Clive Palmer's party to scrap the taxes, saying "the carbon tax is punishing ordinary Australian people".

DLP senator John Madigan said: "Basically, I'm not in favour of the carbon tax."

With the Coalition able to pass its two key election commitments next year, Mr Abbott avoids the prospect of forcing Australians back to the polls for a double-dissolution election.

However, the Coalition is expected to bring on an early vote to repeal the carbon tax, thereby forcing Labor to take a formal position in parliament. Environment Minister Greg Hunt said: "Our focus is on Labor and whether it will listen to the Australian people or ignore the strong message sent by the electorate at the election. No matter who leads Labor, every day they support the carbon tax is another day they support higher electricity prices."

Legislation to axe the carbon tax will be introduced in the first parliamentary sitting, expected in mid-November.

Labor leadership contenders Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese have said they will not support unwinding the carbon and mining taxes.

Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Abbott would need to engage in serious negotiations with the crossbench senators.

"I wonder what the rest of Australia thinks about Prime Minister Abbott taking credit for the bizarre make-up of the new Senate," Senator Milne said. "He wants the Senate to wave through his cruel, ideological and secretive agenda, but it simply won't."

Mr Abbott yesterday told 2GB radio that managing the Senate had been a challenge for previous prime ministers.

"While it's not going to be easy and I'm going to have to treat every member of parliament, including every member of the Senate, with respect and courtesy ... I think we will be able to form an effective government in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives," he said.

He conceded he expected "a few management issues" in negotiating with the new Senate and cautioned Mr Palmer to learn from former NSW independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

"Hopefully people like Clive will have learnt the lesson of the last parliament which is: if you get elected as a conservative and then act like a socialist, well you get punished by the electors and that's as it should be," he said.

A PUP spokesman confirmed it was party policy to scrap both taxes.

Mr Wang told the ABC: "I believe in climate change but I don't believe (the) carbon tax is the right solution. Essentially, the carbon tax is punishing ordinary Australian people. The mining tax is an ill-designed tax. It doesn't work to its original purpose. The big miners do not really pay much at all and I would like to see it gone."

Mr Wang is likely to take up the WA Senate spot after the West Australian Electoral Officer denied Greens senator Scott Ludlam a recount.

The Greens have appealed to Australian Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn for a recount but a decision is yet to be made.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he would have a constructive relationship with Mr Abbott and indicated he was open to supporting both the carbon and mining tax repeals.

"I voted against the carbon tax when the government tried to put it in," Senator Xenophon said. "I think it's important that we replace it with something that's effective

"I supported the mining tax, but clearly the model that was in place didn't work. I want to make sure that any replacement encourages small and emerging miners because they provide growth in the industry, in terms of jobs growth."

Mr Abbott faces a more difficult task to introduce his direct action policy, with senators-elect Day and Leyonhjelm ruling out supporting the policy, and senators Madigan and Xenophon expressing significant reservations about the plan.

Mr Day said it was important Labor changed its position to support Mr Abbott's repeal of the carbon tax because the overwhelming evidence showed that taxing carbon dioxide was a futile endeavour.

"It is pointless taxing CO2 to try and reduce emissions, even if you wanted to reduce emissions. Taxing CO2 doesn't do that. Introducing an emission trading scheme doesn't do that," he said.

"The whole thing is just a futile exercise ... the IPCC's predictions have failed spectacularly."

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said the opposition would be "unwavering" in its scrutiny of all of the Abbott government's policies.


4 October, 2013

Labor must suck it up and relent on carbon pricing

By Tim Dunlop, a moderate Leftist, who realizes that if Abbott does not have a mandate, no-one does. So by blocking Abbott, the ALP could kill off all future claims of a mandate for themselves. Leftists are not good at thinking ahead, however, so Abbott quite likely will have to go to a double dissolution -- JR

Most talk of a "mandate" in Australian politics is pure nonsense. It is a rhetorical move deployed by parties to justify the concentration of power in their own hands. A party that claims "we won the election therefore we get to do whatever we want" is not citing any sort of constitutional truism: it is strategically deploying a rhetorical trope in order to get its own way.

The concept of a mandate is doubly difficult when the newly elected government has been vague about what exactly they are planning to do on any number of issues. You cannot claim consent - let alone a mandate - for an agenda that you did not make explicit.

Having said that, there is also no doubt that an election victory does give to the winning party or parties the right to govern. As imperfect as the whole system is, a democracy works on the assumption that the winning party has the support of a majority of the population.

But there are complicating factors, and it is worth reminding ourselves of them.

A government must rule for the entire nation. In other words, they must rule for those who didn't vote for them as well as those who did. Yes, democracy is based on the idea of majority rule, but only on the understanding that the interests of the minority are not trampled in the process.

In other words, the system asks that both winners and losers of the democratic competition accept some level of humility. Compromise is built into the fabric of democratic governance and no-one gets all of what they want.

Given this, Labor has to think very seriously about opposing the new government's legislation to repeal a price on carbon (the so-called carbon tax). No matter how short sighted it is to remove this mechanism for controlling our carbon output, no matter how much it hurts to reward the dishonesty of the campaign run by Mr Abbott and sections of the media and the business community in discrediting it and misrepresenting it, there is no doubt that the new PM went to the election promising to repeal it and in winning the election he has the right, in this matter at least, to govern as he sees fit.

Democratic governance is tough, not because it constantly asks us to choose between good and bad options, but because it asks us to choose between competing good options.

In this case, the good options Labor are being asked to choose between are, on the one hand, foiling Mr Abbott's desire to repeal the price on carbon, and on the other, the principle that says the winning party ought to be able to govern as it said it would.

Given this choice, I'm inclined to say that protecting the norms of democratic governance is ultimately more important than taking some sort of symbolic stand against repeal.

I'm sure some will disagree and say that the environment trumps everything, that addressing climate change is the most compelling issue we face, and that you can't practice politics on a dead planet. Fair enough.

But I would say in response that politics is the only way we have of implementing planet-saving policies in the first-place. Every move we make that undermines the legitimacy of the process itself damages the main tool we have to bring about the change we want.

This is a hard and bitter paradox, but it is one I think Labor needs to get its heads around.

Arguing, as Bill Shorten did on Q&A on Monday night, that Labor can oppose repealing the legislation because they have, by virtue of the votes they received, a mandate to do so, is nonsense. Losing an election doesn't give you a "mandate" for anything.

For three long years, Tony Abbott, the power bases in our society that support him, and significant sections of the media sought to delegitimise the Labor government, and in the process they did great damage to our democracy. You only have to look at the poor turnout for the election and the general level of contempt directed at our governing institutions to know this is true.

Once regular democratic governance is discredited like this, it gives legitimacy to those who seek to influence governments outside of our shared institutions, and that is almost invariably a free kick to those already steeped in power and influence.

So this process of denigration is not something Labor should be party to: when conservatives are trashing our democratic institutions, the genuinely progressive position is to advance the conservative case for the preservation and integrity of those institutions.

I realise that this argument will be dismissed as naive by some, as one that amounts to bringing a cucumber to a knife fight, that it simply rewards bad behaviour, and I am sympathetic to those concerns.

But if you want to see what happens to a nation when a beaten minority refuses to bend in the face of all the norms of democratic governance, look no further than the United States. There, a rump of the Republican Party, in the form of its so-called Tea Party members, is currently destroying not just Congress itself but the nation's faith in its ability to effectively govern itself.

The ramifications of that are huge, and we shouldn't let it happen here.

Notice I am not saying Labor should abandon climate mitigation policies - far from it. I am just saying that they have to start from scratch and rebuild support for their plans in the community. That's tough to do, but that's what happens when you waste your time in power fighting stupid leadership battles and lose elections because of it. You have to start again.

Trying to block Mr Abbott's attempt to repeal the carbon price is simply not justified, and Labor should suck it up and let him have his victory.


Credit controls won’t fix housing

And recent price rises are just catch-up anyway

News that capital city dwelling prices rose to new record highs in September has been accompanied by the usual hand-wringing and warnings of a housing "bubble”.

In fact, recent price increases are far from exceptional from a long-run perspective. The bigger danger is not a house price "bubble”, but that policy makers resort to crude attempts at suppressing demand rather than stimulating housing supply.

Capital city dwelling prices rose 5.5 per cent in the year to September or about 3 per cent in real terms, RP Data-Rismark says. The strongest gains were seen in Sydney, where dwelling prices rose 8 per cent over the same period or about 5.6 per cent in real terms.

While these gains may sound impressive, it is important to put them in longer-run context. Over the past decade, Sydney house prices have risen only 2.5 per cent a year, slightly less than the average rate of inflation.

The decade average conceals considerable shorter-term cyclical variation, but it highlights the fact that we should not read too much into short-term price movements. Annualising monthly or quarterly rates of dwelling price inflation makes for good headlines, but may be misleading about longer-run trends.

Dwelling prices have benefited from recent reductions in official interest rates by the Reserve Bank. Asset prices, including house prices, are one of the key mechanisms through which changes in monetary policy are transmitted to the rest of the economy. Far from being a problem, the responsiveness of dwelling prices to changes in official interest rates provides the central bank with useful leverage over the economy.

US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke would give his right arm for a housing market as responsive to monetary policy as Australia’s. It is ironic that gains in house prices are seen by many commentators as a constraint on RBA policy rather than evidence that monetary policy is actually working.

The RBA should not conduct monetary policy on the basis of house prices any more than share prices. The historical record of central banks taking an activist approach to asset price cycles is nothing short of disastrous.

It has been suggested that Australia might borrow from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and resort to macro-prudential regulation to curb highly leveraged lending for housing. This would be a return to the bad old days of quantitative controls on lending that resulted in non-price credit rationing and was particularly harmful to low-income borrowers looking to enter the housing market for the first time.

Housing credit growth in Australia has been on a moderating trend over the past decade and the household debt has stabilised relative to disposable income since the global financial crisis.

Many commentators have singled out the role of investors as a factor driving house prices, including those who may be negatively gearing, foreign investors and, more recently, self-managed super funds.

Investors play a particularly important role in supplying the rental market. The dwelling stock, including rental housing, must ultimately be owned by someone. Reducing incentives for investment in housing will do more to harm housing supply than limit demand. While saving via owner-occupied housing is tax free, this does not mean that housing as such is untaxed. The Centre for International Economics has estimated that 44 per cent of the price of a new home in Sydney reflects the combined effects of explicit and implicit taxes.

The Henry review made clear that reducing incentives for investment in rental housing would lead to severe dislocations.

The National Housing Supply Council said Australia had a national shortage of 228,000 dwellings in 2011 and the demand-supply gap is expected to widen to 663,000 dwellings by 2031. Increases in house prices are being driven by long-run fundamentals, not excessive leverage or "speculation”.

Rather than adopting crude macro-prudential controls, the focus of public policy should be on reducing the tax burden on new housing and freeing up the supply side of the housing market so it can accommodate rising demand without putting upward pressure on prices.


$400 a year: NSW households set to save on electricity

All remaining controls over electricity and gas prices in NSW should be removed, the state government has been told.

This is because households could be as much as $400 better off a year if they turn to market-based contracts, the Australian Energy Markets Commission said in a report released Thursday.

Like the banking and telecom markets, a handful of players dominate the market. In electricity in NSW, it is just three.

Origin Energy has a dominant 42 per cent, EnergyAustralia 34 per cent and AGL 19 per cent. This leaves independents with just 5 per cent, unlike Victoria where independents now have a 30 per cent share, after it removed all price controls several years ago.

"Around 60 per cent of small NSW electricity consumers and 70 per cent of small natural gas consumers have chosen a competitive offer, and 21 per cent of electricity consumers and 14 per cent of natural gas consumers switched their retailer in 2012 in pursuit of a better deal," the Commission's chairman, Mr John Pierce said.

"In these competitive retail markets, the regulated price is not the best price."

Over the past few years, electricity prices in particular have risen sharply in NSW, largely to fund network upgrades, with the pace of rises expected to slow over the next few years. Victoria removed all price controls some years ago, with South Australia following suit earlier this year after reaching agreement with its main electricity supplier to cut prices by 9 per cent until the end of 2014.

All states have committed to removing all price controls, which leave gas and electricity prices paid by small households beholden to the volatility of energy markets. Despite saying that all price controls could be removed in NSW, the Commission called for ongoing "market monitoring" coupled with the state government retaining the powers to reintroduce price controls if future conditions warrant it.

Like in the banking and telecom sectors, a handful of companies dominate the market, putting them in a position to control the market. In electricity and gas, the three dominant companies are Origin Energy, AGL and EnergyAustralia.

The call to open up the energy market in NSW comes in the wake of aggressive competition between the three majors which has driven down prices in NSW for the time being, amid caution that prices will rise steadily over the next few years as the major's seek to recover margins.

In recent reports, both Origin and AGL complained the level of discounting in the market is not sustainable as they look to raise prices as competitive pressures ease.

Despite claims Victoria is one of the most competitive energy markets globally, earlier this year, its Essential Services Commission warned over the lack of competition in that market.

"Either competition is not effective or retailers are extracting economic rent," the Commissioner, Mr Ron Ben-David said in a little noticed speech, referring to the possibility the retailers are using their market position to distort prices.

"Victoria may have the most competitive market ... but is it efficient?"

Recently, the Queensland government committed to removing electricity price regulation in south-east Queensland by July, 2015 along with the introduction of price monitoring.

"The current role of the Queensland Competition Authority in setting prices will be retained for the Ergon area (of the state’s south-east) while the Government finalises a strategy for introducing competition into regional Queensland,” Queensland Energy Minister Mark McArdle said recently.


Paid like surgeons: 240k a year Rio Tinto train drivers to be replaced by robots

Train drivers employed by Rio Tinto to haul iron ore across Australia's outback make about the same money as surgeons in the US. It's little wonder the mining company will replace them with robot locomotives.

The 400-plus workers in the remote Pilbara region who earn about $240,000 a year probably are the highest-paid train drivers in the world, according to UK-based transport historian Christian Wolmar. Australia's decade-long mining boom has sucked up skilled workers, raising wages for engineers to drivers at Rio, the second-largest exporter of the mineral, and its closest competitors, Vale and BHP Billiton.

The three companies that control about 59 per cent of the $145 billion-a-year ($155 billion) global iron ore trade are automating to bolster margins and squeeze out extra capacity as they boost supply to a record to feed steel mills in China, the biggest buyer. The push by Rio, which aims to move about 290 million metric tonnes on its rail network by next year, is expected to be the biggest driver for cost cuts in its iron ore unit after currency swings, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

Advanced technology:Rio is aiming to have the first fully-automated long-distance railway in place by 2015.
Rio is aiming to have the first fully-automated long-distance railway in place by 2015. Photo: Erin Jonasson
"All producers are chasing better margins and stronger returns," said Chris Drew, an analyst in Sydney with Royal Bank of Canada. "Rio is ahead of the competition in terms of automation of trucks and trains," Drew said in an interview after touring its ore operations in the mostly arid Pilbara, home to Western Australia's biggest deposits for export.


The pace of automation is picking up as the seaborne market is poised for at least four years of gluts. The price of ore, which rose as much as eightfold in the past decade as China added $6.8 trillion to its gross domestic product, will drop to $US80 a tonne in 2015 from about $US130 this week, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. forecast.

Rio, which last year approved spending of $US7.2 billion to expand the iron ore operations, is aiming to have the world's first, fully automated, long-distance and heavy-haul rail system operating in 2015. Its automated rail will have 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) of track, 10,000 wagons and individual train sets 2.3 kilometres long, according to Credit Suisse Group AG. The company is spending $US518 million on the program that was announced last year.

"You need to have quite a significant amount of scale" in fleet and volumes to benefit from automation technology, said Evy Hambro, manager of BlackRock Inc.'s $US7.7 billion World Mining Fund.

Regulators in Canada and the US are reviewing rules for transporting hazardous materials after a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded on July 6 in Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and incinerating 30 buildings. The train was operated by a single engineer, who parked the train for the night and left it unattended.


Rio's rail, port and truck movements are all watched over from a control center in Perth, that has about 250 controllers working three shifts a day. The rail automation is part of the company's push to use technology to improve productivity and safety and wring out extra capacity from existing assets, Simon Prebble, general manager for Rio's automated trains project, said in an interview yesterday.

The trains have on-board systems that check speed, signals and operate the brake, Prebble said. Rio has installed a new radio-based network to communicate with the trains as well as close-circuit television at every public level crossing, he said. "We also have an obstruction detection system which uses laser scanners to continually look for any obstructions."


The competitiveness of some iron ore mines in the Pilbara as well as some future projects is set to improve with the adoption of the new technologies on trucks and trains, Australia's Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics said yesterday in a report.

Iron ore will remain the dominant earnings driver for BHP and Rio as rising production offsets falling prices, Citigroup said in a September 13 report. The mineral accounted for 78 per cent of Rio's earnings before interest, depreciation and amortisation last year, and 92 per cent for Vale, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. BHP had 43 per cent Ebitda from iron ore in fiscal 2013, the data show.

"It's going to provide a healthy return on investment for Rio," Adrian Wood, a Sydney-based analyst with Macquarie Group said by phone. "They're trying to squeeze out those extra few tonnes a year by automating it."

Rio's Ebitda margin per ton of ore is forecast to drop 43 per cent to $US43.99 in 2015 from $US70.01 in 2013, with BHP's set to fall 42 per cent to $US40.68 and Vale by 61 per cent to $US23.11, according to Goldman.


3 October, 2013

Clive Palmer's United Party wins WA Senate spot, Greens devastated

CLIVE Palmer has knocked off a Greens senator to nab a third Senate spot in Western Australia. The Palmer United Party's candidate Zhenya Wang secured a seat in the upper house after preferences were formally distributed today. He beat current serving Greens Senator Scott Ludlam to secure the spot.

Mr Palmer's party took the fifth spot in WA, ahead of Labor's Louise Pratt who nabbed the last spot.

Senator Pratt, who had looked like losing her place, said: "The closeness of the result has only strengthened my resolve to help put Labor on track to win the next election."

Senator Ludlam suggested he would call for a recount in the WA results. "Thanks to everyone who went through this wait with us. checking for recount possibility; meantime your support means a lot," he posted on his Twitter account.

Greens Leader Christine Milne said her colleague was "a terrific senator".

The Greens confirmed they have requested a recount and Senator Milne said WA stood to lose an intelligent and passionate environmental and social justice advocate if the current Senate result stands.

The Coalition's Arthur Sinodinos has held on to his Senate seat, taking the last spot in NSW.

The AEC this morning formalised preferences for the Senate spots in NSW and QLD with former foreign minister Bob Carr also keeping his position.

But it is unclear if Senator Carr will stick around with speculation he will abdicate for either Deb O'Neill or Mike Kelly - who both lost their lower house seats on September 7.

The Liberal Democratic Party's David Leyonhjelm secured the number 5 NSW spot ahead of Senator Sinodinos, in what he himself admits was a fluke because voters associated him with the Liberal party of Tony Abbott.

Senator Sinodinos was widely thought to have been promoted to cabinet in Mr Abbott's government but speculation over whether he would keep his spot saw him overlooked.

In Queensland, as widely anticipated, Clive Palmer's star candidate Glenn Lazarus secured the number 5 Senate position.

Former chief of staff for the National's Barnaby Joyce, Matthew Canavan, took out the last spot.

Mr Palmer said he was on holidays when contacted by News Corp Australia today and said he had "no comment" on his success in the upper house.

Tony Abbott will now face a tedious task of having to negotiate with a slew of minor parties who now have secured spots in the Senate.

Victoria's results were yesterday formerly published by the AEC, with "Kangaroo poo" candidate Ricky Muir confirmed in the number 6 spot. Mr Muir was a candidate for the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party and footage emerged last month of him throwing around what appeared to be Kangaroo poo with his family and laughing.

In South Australia, which was also declared yesterday, Bob Day from the Family First party was elected into the fifth Senate spot. Nick Xenophon also returned as a Senator for the state along with the Greens Sarah Hanson-Young who was seen as under siege.


Fairfax axes jobs, shuts magazines

FAIRFAX Media has announced more job cuts and magazine closures amid what it calls "challenged" times for the print media.

Forty-five jobs will be axed and Fairfax's glossy monthly inserts, the(sydney)magazine and the(melbourne)magazine, are to close.

As mooted in The Australian's Media Diary yesterday, Allen Williams, the managing director of Fairfax's Australian publishing, has outlined in an email to staff the further "work being done to transform the Australian Publishing Media (APM) division”.

Of the 45 jobs to go, 25 staff are in the business media division, while the axing of a further 20 jobs across the news media and life media divisions is being blamed on "current revenue challenges”.

The major move is the merging of business teams across Fairfax Media titles - a move that has already caused angst given the different "cultures” of the reporting teams at Fairfax's daily metros and the Australian Financial Review.

The first major example of this was seen yesterday as the Sydney Morning Herald splashed with a story that was also on the front page of the AFR, written by the AFR's Joe Aston.

The integration of business staff across titles accounts for 25 of the redundancies.

Mr Williams said the company had already been consulting "extensively” with business media staff about producing new "efficiencies” in that division.

The closure of the two high-profile monthly insert magazines, the(sydney)magazine and the(melbourne)magazine, finishing with the November 2013 issues, is a surprise given they have attracted lucrative advertising.

But the magazines have thinned and Mr Williams noted in his email: "It's no secret to anyone in the media business that magazines have been an increasingly challenged platform. The sydney/melbourne titles have been great magazines, but it makes commercial sense to make these changes.”

Mr Williams said while the magazine closures would impact 10 employees, these staff would not necessarily be made redundant, with the company to explore "redeployment” opportunities.

Mr Williams said the AFR's quarterly Capital magazine would now become a "run of book quarterly newspaper section”.

He said the company was consulting the journalism union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance about the cuts.

But he appeared to foreshadow more moves ahead. "We anticipate being in a position to communicate our decision about the next steps by October 14,” he said.


Hawke sets example- dumps political correctness

FORMER Prime Minister Bob Hawke broke up the audience when he cracked a politically incorrect joke at a luncheon commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Australia II’s historic America’s Cup win Thursday.

That, serendipitously, the crowd was gathered just hours after an American boat sailed by Australian skipper James Spithill, from Sydney’s Pittwater, and manned by predominantly by Australians, had defeated a Kiwi yacht in the latest America’s Cup series, doubtless added to the overall success of the Sydney event.

Hawke, wearing a replica of the eye-hammering Australia jacket he had worn at the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s celebrations in 1983 when he famously declared that "any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum” let her rip with a story that would have had the prudes in today’s ALP wincing with feigned offence.

A Frenchman an Englishman and an Australian were slogging their way across the Andes, he said. "It’s about 45 bloody degrees,” he began, after describing how the trio had traversed an scorched alpine desert, "they look down. There’s this most beautiful, pristine lagoon. They go scrambling down ... and dive in ... The natives come and grab ‘em. Take ‘em to the chief. The chief says (and here Hawke slipped into broken English): ‘You have broken the sacred law. This our most sacred site. For this you die. When we kill you we take off skin. Out of skin make canoe. Put canoe on lake. Permanent reminder to all peoples. Never infringe on our most sacred site.’”

Naturally, the chief offers them a last request, and Hawke assumed a Pepe Le Pew accent and an upper class English drawl in which the Frenchman and Englishman asked for knives with which they killed themselves rather than die slowly and painfully.

"Then they go to the Aussie,” Hawke continued. "He says, ‘I want a fork.’ He proceeds to stab himself all over.

"‘There goes your f . . king canoe!’”

Former PM Bob Hawke declares ‘any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum’ after Australia won the America’s Cup thirty years ago. Courtesy: Channel Nine
The former prime minister brought the house down but the various commissions appointed to defend the rights and protect Australians from offence, from the Press Council to the Anti-Discrimination bodies could no doubt list the tedious rules he had broken.

He had mocked Africans (though what an African chief was doing near an Andean lake is a mystery), he had ridiculed the French and the British and he had sworn in a public place.

Yet no-one present seemed to think he was a silly old bugger.

Hawke reminded the guests of the enormous boost in national pride the capture of the elusive America’s Cup had triggered, and the shared glow that he had basked in even though Labor had been returned just six months earlier with the greatest number of seats (75) since John Curtin’s 1943 election.

Nothing lifted the nation as much as wresting the Cup after 132 years of US domination, and as Hawke said, most Australians were keener on cricket and various codes of football than sailing.

Hawke’s anecdotes (not the one about the canoe) pointedly reminded the guests what Australia has lost to political correctness over the past thirty years.

The nightmarish web of regulation imposed by the recent Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments and the attempts to muzzle the media and silence critics with harsh recourse to the "thought” courts, let alone the threats of recrimination made to business figures stifled debate.

Attacking from the Left, the taxpayer-funded ABC, the largest media organisation in Australia, has largely stifled conservative voices and permitted fringe activist groups to assume grossly overblown profiles totally at odds with their minuscule memberships.

The Labor Party itself, which has been captured by extremist activists and branch-stacking factional bosses, is only now making a half-hearted attempt to undergo some long overdue reform and pay lip-service to its shrunken rank-and-file membership.

The robust figures of Hawke’s day, people like former shearer Mick Young for example, have been replaced by pallid backroom assassins who work the numbers like stilettos.

Had any figure from the other side of politics told the same joke as Hawke it would have made front page news and whoever told it would have been publicly castigated with furious demands for apology being made by various self-declared guardians of public morality as well as those who are now paid to protect Australians from themselves.

And that’s before anyone had mentioned his use of the F-word, or the "F” bomb, as some writers described it.

The larrikin spirit, embodied in Hawke and the inspiration for such Aussie classics as Crocodile Dundee, doesn’t burn as brightly today as it did thirty years ago.

To his credit, Hawke insisted his remarks were non-partisan, and they were.

But the killjoys in the modern Labor Party are very political, and I suspect Hawke knows it and is concerned about the effect their political correctness is having on the spirit of the land he loves.


How animal extremists and officious bureaucrats devastated a family business

Animal activists, with the help of gullible reporters, help to destroy a family business - and those depending on it - with dodgy allegations. The ABC’s Landline explains:

PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: In November 2011, allegations of animal cruelty were levelled at an abattoir in regional Victoria…

Authorities quickly shut down the abattoir, sending a ripple effect through the local community, leading to job losses and business closures. But the most serious charges were dropped before the matter ever went to court, raising questions about the tactics of the animal right groups, Animals Australia, and the behaviour of the Victorian Government body responsible for the prosecution, PrimeSafe…

COLIN GILES, ABATTOIR OWNER:… We’ve been through two years of hell.

Monday November 21, 2011, dawned like most at LE Giles & Sons Abattoir.

The abattoir, small by modern standards, processed cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. On that day, it was killing pigs and 60 of them quietly awaited slaughter in the holding pen. Mid-morning a visitor arrived. She gave her name as Kate and was led up to the killing floor.

JAMES RODEWELL, FORMER ABATTOIR SUPERVISOR: On the way up I had a discussion with her and asked her what she was doing and she said, ‘I’m just taking a few photos for a university project I’m doing.’…

COLIN GILES: She came in under the guise of being a photography student.

BRUCE GILES, FORMER ABBATTOIR WORKER: She lied who her proper name and everything. And we had let schools in before.... So we’ve never, ever been shy of showing the place off…

TIM LEE: This time the Giles family’s open approach to the public proved disastrous. Kate was in fact Sarah Lynch, a well-known animal rights activist… [As] the last few pens of 60 pigs were stunned electronically prior to slaughter, she got the footage she was seeking… Sarah Lynch raced the footage back to Melbourne to Animals Australia, which contacted PrimeSafe… Animals Australia claimed to have evidence of widespread cruelty at Giles Abattoir.

PrimeSafe then contacted LE Giles & Sons and ordered an immediate halt to all work…

TIM LEE: Colin Giles alleges they were told by PrimeSafe that unless they complied they faced the possibility of jail… For Terry and Sandra McPhee the closure spelt catastrophe. At Neerim South in the Eastern Ranges they’d built a fledgling, but thriving, enterprise raising prime quality meat goats. ..

SANDRA MCPHEE: Devastating.... It was coming up to Christmas and we had a lot of Christmas orders ready to go, but we had no abattoir to slaughter the animals for us…

TIM LEE: The abattoir’s closure had an immediate impact on stock markets the length of Gippsland and beyond… It took a terrible toll on Ray Giles.

MORRIS GILES: He withdrew into himself. We had trouble getting him out of the house. He just was… just was traumatic, absolutely traumatic to see what it’s done to him. You know he’s, at the moment he’s at the Warringal Hospital undergoing therapy. We don’t know whether he will ever be the man he was.

Dad had a stroke Christmas Eve, Christmas Day…

TIM LEE: By now Colin Giles, quality assurance manager James Rodwell and three of the abattoir slaughtermen had been charged with a number of offences under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act…

In September 2012 the three slaughtermen pleaded guilty to charges that they failed to ensure pigs did not endure: ‘unreasonable pain and suffering’, during slaughter. The judge found that any cruelty was not deliberate and noted the: ‘significant penalties’, the trio had already endured, including the loss of their jobs.

All three escaped conviction and were each given a twelve-month good behaviour bond.

NEVILLE GILPIN, FORMER SLAUGHTERMAN: It come down to a financial thing, where my solicitor said it could cost me a fair bit of money to fight this charge and not having a job and a daughter to put through uni I just took the easy way out, yes.

TIM LEE: However, Colin Giles and James Rodwell were determined to have their day in court.

But that day never came. The case was due to be heard here at the Morwell Magistrates’ Court on Monday, April 15. But on the Friday the Giles family was told all charges against them had been dropped because the DPI’s lawyers believed there was little chance of a successful prosecution…

TIM LEE: Funding their legal defence had cost the Giles family more than $150,000 ... and it was pitted against the bottomless resources of the State Solicitor’s Office acting for the Department of Primary Industries.The cost of justice appeared prohibitive, so the family reluctantly accepted the legal truce. But the sudden abandonment of such a high-profile case has only fuelled speculation of gross injustice…

Sarah Lynch took footage of one pig which escaped from the killing pen and got onto the abattoir floor.

COLIN GILES: There was four or five blokes along here with knives and pouches and things on, and they’d left a sledgehammer up against the hide puller because they were doing a job and it had jammed or something, and the blokes just grabbed it and - which it says in the regs that, you know, in those sort of circumstances, as a safety thing, blunt trauma can be used… There was no cruelty in it. And that was the first charge that the DPI dropped, was the blunt trauma one…

TIM LEE: Neville Gilpin alleges that Sarah Lynch caused that pig to escape. He claimed she’d stressed them by being far too close… Animals Australia is unwilling to discuss the case.


2 October, 2013

The burning issue of inequity in the Solar Bonus Scheme

The comments below refer to Queensland but the situation is similar in other States

BEWARE of governments bearing subsidies because if you're not getting any of what's on offer, then you're definitely paying for someone else who is.

That's how it works of course. Governments, like Robin Hood, are always redistributing the wealth, collecting taxes and fees here and building schools and roads there.

But sometimes the government's cash grab is so blatant and unfair you wonder why people aren't marching in the streets.

Take the former state Labor government's Solar Bonus Scheme to encourage homeowners to install domestic solar power systems.

The government's carrot was it would let households sell all their excess power back to the grid at 44¢ per kilowatt hour, which was about 10 times more than the cost of coal-fired electricity.

The scheme was so wildly successful Energex has had to spend $167 million buying solar power from homeowners in the 2012-13 financial year, even though it had budgeted for only $7 million.

It's the same story for Ergon, which credited solar-powered households $76 million during the year, compared with just $28 million the year before.

And what's wrong with that you might say? Isn't solar good? Right up there with motherhood? And don't we want more of it for the day we can finally say goodbye to coal-fired power?

Well, yes to all that. But there are some principles of equity here that are being trampled in our rush to go green.

The problem is that the money being paid to all those virtuous households with solar power is coming straight out of the pockets of the state's other, non-solar-power users by way of higher electricity bills.

The huge take-up of home solar system is also creating further expense for the power distribution companies, which have to upgrade their networks to take electricity flows in both directions - another cost that gets passed on to all power users.

All up, the scheme will add about $32 to the average power bill this year, climbing to $67 next year and $276 by 2015-16.

The Newman Government has been trying to reduce this growing imbalance between the solar haves and have-nots by slashing the feed-in tariff from 44¢/kWh to 8¢/kWh as of mid-last year.

But anyone already on the old rate can keep reaping their profits at the higher level until the 20-year scheme runs out in 2028.

The LNP says that even with the new lower rate, the eventual cost to taxpayers will be about $900 million.

No matter how you look at it, this was a remarkably badly conceived idea, which reinforces two points. One is that governments are terrible at thinking much past the three-year political cycle.

When the Bligh government launched the Solar Bonus Scheme in 2008, all the rhetoric was about addressing climate change and helping the local renewable energy industry. There was no discussion about how much it might all one day cost.

As late as September 2011, less than six months before Labor lost office, then energy minister Stephen Robertson was insisting the program "doesn't place upward pressure on electricity prices".

This particular policy also highlights the dangers inherent in governments trying to influence the way markets operate. In this case it encouraged consumers to buy solar systems by offering them a price for their excess energy hundreds of per cent above the going rate.

Not a bad deal for those who could afford the initial cost and it certainly worked. Queensland now has the highest solar take-up rate in the country, with 290,000 households installing panels so far.

Proof indeed, you might argue, that government intervention in the marketplace can work. But at what cost? And even if you think $900 million or so is fair value, why should householders who couldn't afford or weren't able to install solar systems have to foot the bill?

In any event, if solar is such a good idea, householders, in response to ever-increasing power prices, will twig eventually, with or without a government subsidy.

When the Labor government introduced the Solar Bonus Scheme everyone thought it was a good idea, even LNP MPs, then in opposition, who argued the feed-in rate being offered should have been even higher.

But in the end, this really was just a cynical vote-buying scheme that bought the Labor government some green credibility. Not that anyone who managed to climb aboard this particular solar-powered gravy train before it left the station would agree with that proposition.

Let's hope though that they've got the good grace to occasionally say thanks to their non-solar-powered neighbours.


Tony Abbott's Indonesia visit seals deal over live-cattle trade

TONY Abbott's Jakarta visit has been rewarded with a breakthrough in restoring the live cattle trade, with a special quota for 53,000 additional animals and in-principle resolution of a dispute that was threatening the introduction of a new Indonesian import quota system.

The cattle trade breakthrough was managed by negotiators from the two agriculture ministries on the eve of the Prime Minister's arrival, but his impending visit gave impetus to the resolution.

They agreed to compromise on Indonesia's demand for animal health tracking information, something the Australians had rejected as unacceptable.

That in turn cleared the way for Indonesia to issue a special quota for 53,000 "slaughter-ready" cattle, in addition to the December quarter quota of 46,000 head for fattening in Indonesian feedlots.

The only problem is that Top End pastoralists are unlikely to be in a position to muster the necessary numbers, or the larger sizes wanted by the Indonesians, before the end of the year.

Elders chief executive Malcolm Jackman said numbers of available cattle were well down because of destocking, in response to a poor wet season and adverse trade conditions in Indonesia, and the opening of markets in Vietnam and The Philippines.

"I suspect that 53,000 in three months will be a bit of a struggle but I think that people will get after it pretty rapidly," he said.

However, Australian producers would want to reassure Indonesians they were the first-ranking market.

"It's by far the most natural market -- the market's well-established, the relationships are well-established and because it's so close, it works really well," said Mr Jackman, who was a member of Mr Abbott's heavyweight business mission.

In another step towards stabilising the troubled industry, Mr Abbott yesterday flagged a positive response to Indonesia's plan to invest in 1.5 million hectares of northern cattle land, though the purchases will likely be subject to Foreign Investment Review Board scrutiny.

Mr Abbott was claiming no premature victories on the live trade, which has been reduced by 60 per cent since 2010.

Instead, he was intent on contrasting the Coalition's "open for business/no surprises" approach against the Gillard government's mid-2011 suspension of the live trade, in response to an animal cruelty scandal.

"We can work together -- but it will take some effort, especially after the shock of the former Australian government cancelling the live-cattle export trade in panic at a TV program," he told a business breakfast. "Nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again."

However, the Prime Minister provoked anger from animal rights activists with his following observation. "Last year, I visited abattoirs in Indonesia which were quite comparable to those in Australia and reject any notion that Indonesian standards are lower than Australia's."

Former agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon claimed the government was considering winding back the Export Supply Chain Assurance System safeguards put in place after the scandal. "That would be a disaster for the industry and a complete misread of the mood of the broader Australian community, which expects the highest animal welfare standards," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

The new biosecurity standard is within a broader agreement, still to be finalised, to replace Indonesian cattle import quotas, which had gradually choked the trade, with a market price-based "trigger" system.

Indonesian importers and Australian exporters hope the new system will let Indonesian shipments next year reach 500,000 head and build from there towards the 2009-10 peak of 718,074 head.


A huge Labor Party boondoggle

The Labour Party didn't start this but they had 6 years to get it right

A MEDICAL scheme that was meant to boost the rural workforce has delivered just one new doctor to the bush after nine years.

And doctors receiving a $16,000 taxpayer funded medical school scholarships under another rural workforce scheme are opting to work overseas to avoid their bush practice obligation.

A Grattan Institute paper on rural doctor shortages says its proof that current solutions to the crisis aren’t working. The Grattan Institute is a Melbourne-based non-aligned public policy think tank.

A government review of health workforce programs says the $13 million a year Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship Scheme that supplies doctors with $16,000 a year scholarships if they work in the bush should be phased out.

Students who get the scholarship are meant to work for up to six years in a rural or remote area when they graduate. There are over 1200 participants in the scheme but to date fewer than 50 recipients have commenced their return of service period.

"The Department has suggested it is common for participants to make representations seeking a way out of their obligations, which for some may include pursuing employment overseas,” the report said.

The report’s author says the older Bonded Medical Scheme should also be closely monitored.

This scheme, set up by the Howard Government in 2004, allocated 25 per cent of first year university medical places to solving the rural workforce shortage.

Those who accepted the places had to work in the bush once they graduated.

The scheme has over 4500 participants but a recent survey found only one graduate had so far started a return of service obligation in the bush while three others had bought their way of their obligation.

At least one in four participants planned to withdraw from the scheme once they graduated, a recent survey found.

This will mean they have to pay back 75 per cent of the cost of their education but the review says this works out cheaper than paying full fees for a medical degree.

"The unintended consequence of the scheme could be that for a substantial minority of participants it becomes an alternative to a full-fee-paying medical course,” the report said.

"Since the cost of ‘buying out’ represents approximately 75 per cent of the total cost of the medical school placement, it may be perceived by participants as a low cost or interest free loan that can relatively easily be repaid once fully qualified,” the report said.

The Grattan Institute Report says at current rates of improvement it will be 65 years before remote areas of Australia get the same level of GP services those in big cities get today.

A Rural Doctors Association of Australia survey shows some rural residents are waiting six months to see a GP and two in three had to leave their local area to get health treatment.

The Grattan Institute says the solution to the crisis is to allow pharmacists in these areas to write repeat prescriptions for a drug the doctor has already prescribed and deliver vaccinations.

It also suggests producing an army of three-year trained physician assistants who, working under a GP, could order blood tests, X-rays and write prescriptions to ease the rural workforce shortage.


Flexibility needed to prune public staff costs

Commonwealth bureaucrats must be cheaper, more mobile and easier to sack if the federal government is to achieve its ambitious savings targets, a public sector labour expert says.

Meyer Vandenberg lawyer Jennifer Wyborn says next year's civil service-wide enterprise bargaining round is a chance for the Abbott government to keep a lid on wages growth, achieve productivity gains and curb the bureaucracy's generous redundancy payouts.

Enterprise agreements for the country's 170,000 federal public servants expire on June 30, next year and Ms Wyborn, writing in Fairfax Media's Public Sector Informant, says the talks are a test of resolve for the government.

Unions are likely to demand a move towards ending the pay gaps - of tens of thousands of dollars, in some cases - between public servants working at the same level in different departments.

However, Ms Wyborn says looking at raw wage numbers is a simplistic approach to an increasingly complex internal jobs market in the public service because it "ignores the variety of work performed across the APS [Australian public service]," she writes.

"No two jobs are the same; different work is performed and different skills are needed, even though the positions may be at the same level.

"The system isn't perfect, but it allows agencies to offer wages that are attractive to skilled workers and which, arguably, reflect the market value of their labour."

Ms Wyborn says an "economically responsible" government should "resist populist calls to artificially inflate wages." She writes: "Any increases should be linked to productivity gains and reflect the value of the work performed."

However, after several years of "efficiency dividends" those productivity gains could be hard to come by. "Given that the APS has already been through several efficiency dividend increases in recent years, agencies will need to engage in some serious reflection and analysis to identify productivity gains or efficiencies that could be achieved to justify wage increases, " she says.

It is also time the government critically examined redundancy and flexibility provisions in the public service and it may need to get tough on generous payouts to retrenched public servants, Ms Wyborn says.

"The cost of potential redundancies will not be far from the minds of the government," she says. "The current APS standard provides for up to 48 weeks' pay, depending on age and length of service.

"This is significantly more than the maximum entitlement of 12 weeks in the Fair Work Act, making redundancies in the APS a costly exercise."

The lawyer argues that the controversial "spill and fill" redundancy procedure, whereby a number of workers are asked to apply for a lesser number of jobs, should be formalised.

"The advantage of this is it allows an employer to use a merit-based process for filling a reduced number of positions, and can avoid allegations of discrimination or inequality associated with the 'last on, first off' procedure," she writes.

Ms Wyborn also says departments should have the power to send workers to regional Australia, "where it would be more efficient for those roles to be performed than in metropolitan areas".

Agency bosses should also have the flexibility to allow their staff to move to part-time arrangements.


1 October, 2013

Former PM Julia Gillard admits to "murderous rage"

A typically Leftist emotion, though not often admitted publicly. All politicians get a hard time from opponents but that was "sexism" in her case, she alleges. She seriously says that she was entitled to "a right to an environment that treats you with respect". Maybe she should have joined the clergy. Or does she want to bring back traditional "paternalist" kid-glove treatment for women? Not very feminist. She's suffering from a severe case of wanting to have her cake and eat it too, I suspect. Probably a spoilt little girl

JULIA Gillard has revealed the disbelief, anger and "murderous rage" she felt over the "violent, ugly sexism" that plagued her prime ministership.

And she says it is infantile to say a woman who stands up for herself is starting a gender war.

In her first public appearance since losing the prime ministership to Kevin Rudd in June, Ms Gillard told a public forum in Sydney she was surprised at the depth of abuse levelled at her as Australia's first female prime minister.

"It just amazes me that we can be having this infantile conversation about gender wars, and ... you just feel like saying: 'Well, if it was your daughter and she was putting up with sexist abuse at work, what would you advise her to do?'," Ms Gillard said.

"Because apparently if she complains, she is playing the victim, and playing gender wars, and if she doesn't complain, then she really is a victim."

She said women and girls had "a right to an environment that treats you with respect, treats you as an equal and raising your voice about that isn't starting a war, it isn't playing the victim, it's just asking for what simply is right".

As a guest of author Anne Summers at a public forum at the Sydney Opera House, with former deputy Wayne Swan watching from the crowd, Ms Gillard said she had thought Australia was beyond that kind of thinking.

"And it's kind of depressing that we're not, but at least we know exactly where the balance of it is now and what more remains to be done for women to be truly equal," she told the crowd, adding it would be easier for the country's second woman PM.

Asked how she felt seeing the kinds of sexist cartoons and comments online about her, she said "murderous rage" best described it.

"And so for my personal liberty, it's probably a good thing that I didn't focus on them," she said.

Recent incorrect reporting that she and long-term partner Tim Mathieson had split showed another case point in the "foibles" of the media, she said.

Ms Gillard will soon take up an honorary professorship at Adelaide University and revealed she will also work on global education as a senior fellow at Washington think tank Brookings.

After keeping a low profile since losing her job, apart from writing a column in which she described the gut-wrenching feeling of losing power, she said she and Mr Swan knew she would lose the vote against Kevin Rudd on going into the Caucus vote.

"When I was getting myself together to go out and give my final speech as PM, I certainly did say to myself that I wouldn't give those ... people ... the satisfaction of seeing me shed a tear, I wouldn't do that," she said.

In a subtle dig at Mr Rudd, she said the difference between the two was that she had always worked for Labor.

"So I quickly concluded after the meeting that the best thing I could do is accept that that was the judgment that had been made and to give a gift of silence to the Labor Party during the course of the campaign, to do absolutely nothing," she said.

Ms Gillard, who will front a second Conversations forum in Melbourne on Tuesday, also had some advice for Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"It is a big step from criticising what you think is wrong to working out and implementing what you think is right," she said.

"On current indications, PM Abbott is intending to take that step slowly."


Jakarta agrees to talks on boats: Both sides give ground

Indonesian President Yudhoyono says bilateral talks on asylum seekers are now possible, while Tony Abbott says Australia will consult Indonesia over his government's 'tow-back' policy.

The Indonesian President has made a significant concession to Tony Abbott's demands on asylum seekers in talks in Jakarta, agreeing that Indonesia will need to make direct deals with Australia to solve the people-smuggling problem.

Until now, Indonesia's position has been that any potential policies should be dealt with at the multilateral forum, the Bali Process. Many of Mr Abbott's policies - from boat tow-backs to establishing transit ports for asylum seekers on Indonesian soil - have been considered a threat to Indonesian sovereignty.

But after meeting Mr Abbott late on Monday on his first overseas trip as Prime Minister, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed the countries also needed to work one-on-one. "Indonesia has striven to overcome this issue, but it would be much better if the co-operation was at the bilateral level," he said.

The statement opens the door to Indonesia making more concessions to Australian demands, though Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono left tricky details for later.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his Indonesian counterpart, Djoko Suyanto, will meet to thrash out the details in coming weeks.

The concession comes as a senior adviser to the Indonesian Vice-President says her country does not have the legal rights to stop asylum seeker boats leaving their coast for Australia.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, adviser to Vice President Boediono, told ABC TV on Monday there was nothing her country could do to stop boats leaving Indonesia if there were no clear violations of the law. "Indonesia does not really have the legal right to stop boats leaving Indonesia towards Australia," Dr Anwar said.

"In the same way that the Australian government was not able to stop the so-called freedom flotilla from leaving Australian shores with the clear intention of trying to show their support for a separatist movement in Papua."

Dr Anwar added her country did not regard it as a violation of their law when refugees paid people smugglers to take them overseas. "It depends on the perspective. These people probably don't see themselves as smugglers," she said. "The fishermen were paid openly by those who wished to go to Australia, and they are pretty open about it."

Dr Anwar also criticised two of the Abbott government's plans to combat the people smuggling trade, one of which is to pay Indonesians to spy on people smugglers, the other to buy boats off Indonesian fisherman. "I doubt very much that Indonesia would approve any other country spying on Indonesia, regardless what the purpose would be," she said.

"If you buy those leaky boats then the fisherman will have money to buy more boats. "I'm not sure that will solve the problem."

Mr Abbott also said in the presence of Dr Yudhoyono: "People smuggling is an issue of sovereignty, especially for Australia."

However, he emphasised Australia's "total respect for Indonesia's sovereignty, a total respect for Indonesia's territorial integrity".

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who has made much of the sovereignty issue, later drew attention to these comments, saying he was "reassured".

To sweeten the people-smuggling issue, Mr Abbott announced a $15 million commitment to a new Australian Centre for Indonesia Studies, based at Melbourne's Monash University, to "build trust and understanding" between the two countries.

He also pleased Indonesia by taking an unusually tough line on protesters in Australia agitating for independence for the Indonesian province of West Papua. "The government of Australia takes a very dim view . . . of anyone seeking to use our country as a platform for grandstanding against Indonesia. We will do everything that we possibly can to discourage this and prevent this," he said.

Being overseas made no difference to Mr Abbott's strong political campaigning against Labor. He apologised in a dinner speech for Australian "aberrations" in "putting sugar on the table for people smugglers" and for cancelling the live-cattle trade. "Never again should this country take action that jeopardises the food supply of such a friend and partner as Indonesia," he said.

The high-level talks come as a key part of the Abbott government's asylum seeker policy - transfers within 48 hours to offshore detention - has been called into question by medical experts concerned that vital health checks will be sacrificed for political expediency.

At his weekly boats briefing, Mr Morrison was forced to defend the government's policy of removing people to offshore detention within 48 hours.

The meeting between Mr Abbott and Dr Yudhoyono also comes in the shadow of the latest asylum boat tragedy off Java, with 36 people so far confirmed drowned, and the arrival of another vessel at Christmas Island carrying 78 people.


Friends through ups and downs

The Israeli-Australian relationship thrived despite the fake passport affair and death of Ben Zygier

WHEN Israel's ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, returns home this week he will take a small part of this country with him. Golden retriever Bailey, probably the most heavily guarded dog in Canberra but far from a guard dog, will still travel with the family. "It will be her first time in the Holy Land," Rotem says.

Rotem, a career diplomat, finishes his six-year Australian posting on Thursday and has never been short on guards.

The fourth-longest serving head of mission in Canberra, a position he will give up when he leaves, has constantly had an Australian Federal Police car parked outside his home and, like all Israeli ambassadors, has his own bodyguards.

While his colleagues were targeted by botched terrorist attacks across the world, his term here was not punctuated by violence towards him.

When Rotem arrived here, he became the first Israeli ambassador to Australia to bring his children into the Yarralumla compound that has both an embassy and residence. At the time, he was the only ambassador in Yarralumla with children. "They've developed Aussie accents and they're using slang now," he says.

Children soon moved into the US, Irish, Belgian and Polish embassies as well as the European Commission to Australia.

"I think it's a very important sign for this country [Australia]," Rotem says. "The age of ambassadors is an indication of a bigger role Australia plays.

"When a country becomes a place for diplomats before they retire, it shows the place has little to offer but the moment you see a wave of young diplomats - with energy and motivation - you know it has a role to play."

Rotem says Australia's rising importance as a diplomatic destination is because of increased business links between the two countries and not solely because of our place on the G20 or the United Nations Security Council.

He points to Israeli company Elbit Systems, which won a contract worth well over $100 million to modernise the Australian Federal Police's information management system.

Rotem leaves Australia on a high. He came to this country as Labor took power and, while supportive of Israel, Labor was not as good for Israel as the Coalition will be, if first impressions are any indication.

In the words of one writer for The Jerusalem Post, Australia's federal election was a battle of the good friends of Israel versus the very good friends of Israel.

"And, with the victory of Tony Abbott's Liberal-National Coalition over Kevin Rudd's Labor Party, the very good friends won this time around," wrote the Post's Herb Keinon.

According to reports, Abbott plans to make it easier for Israelis to get Australian visas and the new government already went on the record leading up to the election saying it would make it harder for organisations running boycott, divestments and sanctions campaigns against Israel to receive government funding.

In particular, this could mean funding for the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies - which has reportedly received more than $150,000 in federal government funds in recent years - is reduced or withdrawn.

Centre director Jake Lynch is concerned he might miss out on funding because of his views. "I would expect my applications for research grants, on unrelated topics, to be considered on the same basis as those from any other academic," Lynch says.

"I should not be penalised or damaged in my profession simply because my opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict do not coincide with those of members of the government … I fully understand that I can expect no government funding to publicise the academic boycott of Israel and I have never received, nor spent any."

He says Israel's military checkpoints violate Palestinian human rights and labels Israel's attacks on Gaza as war crimes. The centre he oversees refused Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon's proposed fellowship with the university under an academic exchange program.

Rotem insists stripping organisations, such as the one run by Lynch, of government funding is about the correct use of public money and not about censorship.

"I also have a problem intellectually with BDS, which creates an unusual marriage between extreme left-wingers and the most extreme muslims who are anti-gay, anti-women and non-inclusive," he says.

The Abbott government's stronger stance in favour of Israel comes after rocky decisions late in Labor's reign.

Almost a year ago, then prime minister Julia Gillard was forced to back down from her personal position to vote against a resolution at the UN giving Palestine observer status. Australia eventually abstained from the vote even though Gillard apparently wanted to side with Israel and the US.

Later, then foreign affairs minister Bob Carr came under fire for saying all Israeli settlements on Palestinian land were illegal.

Not to be forgotten from Rotem's time here are the occasions Israel came under fire, such as the time a Mossad kill squad was found using fake Australian passports to do their dirty work.

Then there was the case of Ben Zygier, an Australian-Israeli citizen known as Prisoner X linked to spy activities who died in custody in Israel in 2010, a tragedy Rotem says "we all need to draw lessons from".

Despite the controversies, there have been highlights, such as when Gillard made Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews in World War II, an honorary Australian citizen.

But Rotem's most memorable moment was in 2008 when Rudd moved a motion to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary, a moment watched by Holocaust survivors.

Rotem, who will not rule out a political career, will be replaced by Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, who arrives in mid-October.

Ben-Shmuel has served as deputy consul general of the Israeli consulate in New York and has also been head of the World Jewish Affairs and Inter-Religious Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

He served in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the Lebanese War and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1981.


NSW prisoners to be banned from smoking

Smoking in all NSW prisons is set to be banned within 18 months after the state's prison boss expressed his concern about the health effects lighting up in jails is having on staff and inmates.

But the prison officers union said NSW risks becoming the last state to outlaw cigarettes in jails and has written to the government for funding to help inmates and staff shake the habit.

Britain's Justice Ministry announced plans last week for a pilot scheme to monitor how inmates react to a similar move there. If the trial is successful, the ban would be rolled out across all prisons.

Two NSW prisons, at Lithgow and Cessnock, have run trials banning smoking within cells and other buildings, but inmates and staff can still smoke outdoors.

Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said those trials have worked "but it's only getting us halfway there". He wants the grounds of all NSW jails to be smoke-free environments. "We are very clearly working on it," Mr Severin said.

"It is clearly a workplace health and safety issue but it is complex. It will be a significant shift: 80 per cent of inmates are smokers and it will be equally as challenging for staff as it is for inmates."

For the first time he has publicly stated a timeframe for such a ban.

"I know that there are issues raised about civil liberties, but for me it's a health issue," he said. "It's about preventing passive smoking for staff and other inmates.

The NSW Cancer Council says the prisoner smoking rate of 80 per cent makes it the highest of any distinct population group in NSW. Currently prisoners are allowed to smoke in their cells or in a designated smoking area outside.

A survey in 2009 however found that a large majority of prisoners who smoke wanted to quit.

In New Zealand it has been a "smooth transition" from 67 per cent of the prison population previously smoking to it being a smoke-free environment.

South Australia and Tasmania have pledged to have smoke-free jails by 2015.

Prison Officers Vocational Branch senior industrial officer Stewart Little said with no fixed date announced by the state government it was likely NSW would become the last jurisdiction to ban smoking in jails.

He said any ban would need a 12-month lead-in period where prisoners were given access to patches and medical treatments.

He wrote to NSW Justice Minister Greg Smith asking for funding for that treatment. "It's a health problem and it should be treated as such and it requires adequate funding and resources," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Smith said making all prisons smoke-free is a major step, requiring careful planning.

"Corrective Services are working with staff, unions, Justice Health and other stakeholders," she said.


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