Saturday, September 30, 2006

Greenie politician disses sport, praises arty-farties

The arty-farties are overwhelmingly Leftist anyway so it is little wonder that conservative politicians give them little heed

The Howard Government MPs are philistines obsessed with sport at the expense of the nation's art and culture, says Labor MP Peter Garrett. He singled out PM John Howard, Treasurer Peter Costello and Health Minister Tony Abbott as the worst offenders. Ministers regularly turned down invitations to attend art and cultural events, he said, preferring instead to bask in the reflected glory of football and cricket stars.

The PM was a cricket tragic, but the Government did not have an equivalent theatre tragic, Mr Garrett said at Monash University. "Can you remember the last time the Prime Minister or the Treasurer offered up their view on the value of creativity, of encouraging expression, of the importance of telling our own stories," he said. "It is no secret that the number of unmet invitations to senior government ministers to arts events continues to pile up to the roof. "Yet attendance at the various football codes is de rigeur for pollies of all persuasions."

A spokeswoman for Mr Costello, an avid Bombers fan, rejected the former Midnight Oil singer's critique. "The Treasurer is a man for all seasons -- the cricket season, the football season, the racing season, and the literary season," she said.

Mr Abbott came in for special mention over his comment several years ago that parliament house's art collection was avant-garde crap. Mr Garrett said it was "as good an expression of philistinism as you'd ever see". The recent Picasso exhibition in Melbourne drew enormous crowds and showed up Mr Abbott's ignorance. A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said he visited galleries from time to time. Although Mr Abbott was not a ballet goer he did recently attend a live performance of Dancing on Ice.

Mr Garrett, Labor's spokesman for the arts, said many artists earned as little as $17,000 a year and had to live hand-to-mouth, week by week.


"Pommy" Still Allowable -- Just

It's OK to call a Pom a Pom at the cricket this summer - as long as it is in good humour. Cricket Australia has given the green light to Aussies chastising the enemy during the Ashes series, but not if it's nasty. According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the word Pom or Pommy itself is not offensive -- it depends on how it is used. The origin of the word Pom is unclear, with theories ranging from a short form of pomegranate to an acronym for Prisoner of her Majesty.

Cricket Australia anti-racism officer Peter Young said he did not expect Test fans to be kicked out of the MCG for calling the English Poms. "But if it was used to denigrate, demean, disparage or be offensive to another person on the basis of their race or culture, then it is a problem," he said. "People will use the word Pommy, players will use the word Pommy. But our view is, and has always been, that we take a zero-tolerance approach to racism in cricket, whether it is on the field or off the field, whether it is at an elite level or whether it is in the local school yard. "There is no place for racism in cricket."

A Barmy Army [English fans] spokesman said they didn't feel there were any problems with being called Poms. "As long as being called a Pom isn't accompanied by anything abusive then the Barmy Army has no problem whatsoever," he said. "We have been called it on the last three tours and we see it as a bit of harmless banter. "The Barmy Army likens it to calling Australians convicts, it is just a bit of fun and humour."

Under the International Cricket Council anti-racism code adopted this week, fans found guilty of racial abuse at matches could face lifetime bans.


Destructive drug

The head of the nation's biggest police service has warned that Australia risks losing a generation of young people to the drug ice. New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney believes ice, an amphetamine in crystal form, is a bigger problem than heroin and the greatest scourge faced by the community that he has seen in his 41-year career.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Australian, Mr Moroney spelt out his priorities for his final 12 months as head of the world's fifth-biggest police force. He blamed Sydney's outbreaks of anti-social behaviour such as the Cronulla riots on a lack of manners and values among the young. And while terrorism was a priority for him, Mr Moroney believed ordinary people were more worried about mundane crimes such as assault and robbery.

Mr Moroney will retire at the end of August next year after five years in the job. He believes his last year will be his busiest as he attempts to establish a new state-of-the-art command college modelled on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's elite training facility, Quantico.

Mr Moroney also wants to do more to reduce crimes that create fear in the community, which he does not believe mean terrorism. "I don't think those things are at a higher order than, say, those ordinary things that worry the public, and that's where I've got to concentrate," he says. "The things the mums and dads want me to concentrate on, the safety of their homes, their vehicle and the safety and security of their immediate family."

Despite race issues being highlighted in the aftermath of rioting in Sydney in recent years, particularly at Redfern and Cronulla, Mr Moroney says alcohol abuse and a lack of manners among young people were to blame. "What I see is an absence of common courtesies," he says. "There's been an enormous shift in the Australian values of respect for each other." With summer approaching, Mr Moroney says there would be another increase in anti-social behaviour through to March. He says he is focusing on reducing the fear of crime, particularly for the elderly and young.

However, Mr Moroney says the greatest challenge facing NSW police is the ice epidemic. "I don't know, in all of the time I've been a policeman, which is 41 years, of a greater scourge on the community," he says. "The physical and mental manifestations of this drug are absolutely horrific. It has the potential to destroy generations." He says he believes one could draw a link to ice in a majority of personal violence and robbery offences.

His comments follow a joint parliamentary inquiry into amphetamines and other drugs which warned in June that Australia would continue to lose the war on drugs while policies kept targeting users instead of suppliers. The inquiry heard that ecstasy use had almost tripled in the past 13 years, with 3.4 per cent of Australians having used the drug in the previous year, while users of amphetamines increased from 2 per cent to 3.2 per cent. The Australian Federal Police said most amphetamines were made domestically, but agencies were seeing increased imports of concentrated forms of the drug, such as ice.

As Commissioner, Mr Moroney says he likes to go out in public as much as he can. He says he has walked down to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney where there is a special ward for drug-affected patients having ice-induced psychotic episodes. "It's just frightening, it's just absolutely frightening," he says.

As he goes into his last year in the job, Mr Moroney says his greatest disappointment is the recent scandal at the NSW Police College involving lecturers fraternising with students. "I've never been so personally disappointed in my life," he says


Drawing the line on cross-border rivalry

Despite occasional banter about banana-benders and cockroaches, members of a joint NSW-Queensland team are getting on famously in their historic survey of the border between the two states. The modern survey is a far cry from the original expedition more than 120 years ago when the team leaders from each state were at each other's throats, and the Queenslander quit in disgust.

When the 21st-century expedition began its trek on Monday through the scrubland at the Queensland border town of Hebel, 550km southwest of Brisbane, one of the NSW surveyors turned up in a blue State of Origin rugby league jersey. "He copped a lot of flak from the Queensland fellas," said Bob Jenkins, the senior Queensland surveyor with the expedition. "But it was all just friendly banter," his NSW counterpart, Graeme Stewart, added quickly.

The survey team is using a mix of traditional methods and satellite technology to redefine the original border set by NSW surveyor John Cameron and his Queensland counterpart, George Watson, between 1879 and 1891.

The relaxed camaraderie shown by the team leaders when The Weekend Australian caught up with the expedition this week was a vast improvement on the poisonous relationship between the 19th-century surveyors. "The Queensland Officer and I don't hit it very well," Cameron wrote shortly after the joint team set off from the NSW town of Barringun, 200km west of Hebel. Things got so bad that Watson withdrew his team 160km into the 450km journey to the South Australian border. In a letter to the Queensland surveyor-general before he pulled out, Watson wrote that Cameron had "a supreme regard for his own reputation". Cameron and his NSW team pushed on, battling drought, floods and scurvy until they reached the South Australian border at the spot now known as Camerons Corner. They then returned to Barringun and headed east, surveying the 320km stretch to Mungindi.

The modern team is now on its fourth two-week survey since 2001, when they set out from Barringun. They hope to reach Mungindi by the end of next week, and will start surveying the Barringun-Camerons Corner stretch next year. Mr Jenkins said the modern survey was necessary because many of the border posts erected by the 19th-century surveyors had rotted away or been lost in bushfires and land-clearing. "In some areas there's uncertainty about where the border actually is," he said. Mr Stewart said the survey's main benefit would be to give landholders on both sides of the border greater security of tenure. "It's also important for the two state governments to know the exact boundaries of Crown land and national parks on both sides of the border," he said. "With modern technology, we can fix the border for all time."

Asked why there were six NSW surveyors and three Queenslanders on the team, Mr Jenkins couldn't resist a dig. "It only takes one Queenslander to do the work of two New South Welshmen," he said. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has entered the fray, claiming NSW has stolen land that his surveyors will reclaim for the Sunshine State. But while Mr Beattie often boasts how 1500 people a week move to Queensland, he was not expecting the border changes to involve residents shifting states.


Friday, September 29, 2006

No-one who knows the Queensland police well will be surprised by the report below

Drunken Aborigines can be hard to take but the police are supposed to be professionals, not goons. The black must have copped a hell of a hit to rupture his liver. Two official Commissions of Inquiry into Queensland police misbehaviour -- the Lucas Inquiry and the Fitzgerald Inquiry -- did not lead to any permanent change that one can see. As ever, almost all complaints against police are investigated -- cursorily -- by the police

A senior Queensland police officer lost his temper and repeatedly punched a drunk Aboriginal man before putting him in a police cell where he was left to die from his injuries, a coroner has ruled. After two years of investigation into what killed 36-year-old Palm Island man Mulrunji, Acting State Coroner Christine Clements yesterday found the island's top police officer Snr Sgt Christopher Hurley was responsible for the death. She also ruled Hurley was "callous and deficient" in not properly checking on Mulrunji's welfare in the island's watchhouse, where he died from internal bleeding due to a ruptured liver and portal vein at about 11am on November 19, 2004.

Attorney-General Linda Lavarch has referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether anyone should face charges. The State Government also has announced a "high-level response team" to advise Cabinet on the 40 recommendations of the report.

In delivering her findings, Ms Clements was scathing of the Queensland Police Service's initial investigation into the death, which she described as "lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence". She said the integrity of the investigation had been compromised by the involvement of local officers, some of whom knew Hurley personally and who dined at his home during the investigation.

The death sparked a violent community backlash and riots on the island during which the police station burnt to the ground. Hurley - a decorated officer credited with reducing crime on the island and helping locals - has vehemently and repeatedly denied he assaulted Mulrunji, who he met for the first time that day. But Ms Clements said she was not convinced Snr Sgt Hurley was telling the truth about events inside the station and accepted a witness account that Snr Sgt Hurley said "Do you want more, Mr Doomadgee, Do you want more?" during the incident.

Mulrunji, who had a blood alcohol content of 0.292 at the time of his death, was arrested for public nuisance after mouthing off at a police liaison officer who was helping Snr Sgt Hurley arrest another man. He resisted arrest and punched Snr Sgt Hurley in the jaw as he was being led from the police van to the watchhouse and the pair fell as they were walking through a doorway.

Ms Clements urged mandatory first aid training for watchhouse staff following evidence that Snr Sgt Hurley was not qualified in first aid and no officer attempted to resuscitate Mulrunji after it was discovered he may have died.

Multiple recommendations were also made to beef up training for officers in the area of watchhouse safety and arrest procedures. Ms Clements also found that Mulrunji's initial arrest by Snr Sgt Hurley was "not an appropriate exercise of police discretion" as he could have been dealt with by a caution or summons to appear in court. It is reprehensible that the detailed recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody should have to be referred to, so many years after the Royal Commission. The evidence is clear however that these recommendations are still apt and still ignored," she said.

Despite the damning findings, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said there were no grounds to suspend any of the officers named in the report. [Extraordinary!!]


Aborigines: need for INtolerance

In the Cape York town of Hopevale, where Noel Pearson grew up, there is every kind of gambling except one - cards. There is a social taboo against card gambling that lingers from the days when the Lutherans ran Hopevale mission, back when Aboriginal children like Pearson's father and grandfather were taught to read the Bible back to front and to write beautifully. "They never do card gambling at Hopevale," Pearson said on Friday. "They gamble on pokies, drink, fornicate, everything else, but there is a remnant social norm about card gambling."

Pearson, 41, the director of the Cape York Institute, likes the card gambling example because it "just illustrates the strength of social norms", the often invisible glue that creates social order and civility and protects the vulnerable. "That's why advantaged middle-class people don't have to worry about things like school attendance and school readiness," he says. By school "readiness", Pearson does not mean whether a child can recite the alphabet, tie shoelaces and cut along a straight line. He means the basic daily readiness of being fed, washed and well slept before coming to school.

Pearson aims to rebuild social norms that have disappeared over the past two generations from Cape communities. It is part of his plan to dramatically reform the way welfare is delivered, and tie it to behavioural benchmarks such as school attendance and responsible parenting. The Federal Government has contributed $3 million for a pilot project and he has just returned from a trip around Cape York to ensure the voluntary participation of the four communities of Aurukun, Hopevale, Coen and Mossman Gorge.

Pearson laments the situation in which the sacred bond of love between mother and child has been broken by substance abuse and the collapse of social norms. He openly declares he wants to reintroduce "intolerance" into his communities: intolerance of drugs, intolerance of alcohol, intolerance of sexual abuse, intolerance of domestic violence, intolerance of not sending your children to school every day.

Pearson's critics - mostly middle-class, progressive-left and social-justice romantics - say his plans to tie welfare payments to behavioural benchmarks are draconian. But they don't understand what it is like to live in a community without social norms, he says. He is determined that his welfare reform project will address the horrific abuse of indigenous children which has been reported this year with sickening regularity.

If parents are drug users, for instance, he asks why authorities hand back a child into such a known dangerous environment. He wants instead to take control of welfare payments as the tool to force irresponsible parents to clean up their act, to say: "If you don't agree to regular drug testing for two years and satisfy other benchmarks [such as school attendance] you will be on income management and you will not have the freedom of spending your money as you want." Instead, welfare payments will be managed for the parent and used to pay for rent, food, school supplies and other necessities. "It is a carrot and stick approach," Pearson says.

The welfare reform project complements the institute's work on education. Pearson outlined some of those achievements at an advisory group meeting on Friday in Cairns for the Every Child is Special project. It includes a successful pilot project at Coen primary school, in which the 15 least proficient readers were given intensive, systematic instruction in phonics for a year by specialist teachers from Macquarie University's MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time In Literacy) program. The results, unveiled on Friday, were encouraging; the children, whose reading ability was three to four years behind the Australian average, gained an average 21.4 months in reading accuracy. The Higher Expectations program identifies the brightest primary school children and "works aggressively" to send them to elite boarding schools, Pearson says. The first candidate is at Brisbane Grammar this year, "and he's survived and done well". Another program supports indigenous students at university. This year there were 10 candidates, and next year another dozen. Pearson is proud that both programs are "completely privately funded".

Ann Creek, a Coen elder and mother of five who has been a driving force in improving literacy at Coen school, said at the meeting on Friday: "Kids absorb knowledge; they want to be part of it, they want to learn more. If given the chance they'll grasp it . We all want our kids to achieve so they can go on to further education. They want to make a name for their family, for their clan group and for their community."

Pearson's "Cape York Agenda" of economic and social development aims to build the "capabilities" of indigenous people, freeing them from the yoke of welfare passivity, empowering them with proper education so they have at least the same knowledge of Western culture and proficiency in English as their peers in the rest of Australia. He says he hopes to transform communities within a generation. But first he must re-establish social order, and that requires a "hard bottom line". "Enforcement of the Education Act, [taking control of the] family benefit payment is the draconian bottom line we think is part of the process. We have an escalation in place that means we hopefully never have to get to the bottom line. But without the bottom line there is not much hope of re-establishing social norms." And as Bernadette Denigan, the director of the Every Child is Special project, reminded the group: "The ultimate draconian bottom line is the removal of children by government and that does happen."


"Healthy" food turns out to be pretty ordinary

Children would be better off sitting down to a big fry-up for breakfast than eating some commercially produced muesli bars, so loaded are they with fats and sugars. A test found seven were so laden with kilojoules that a Mars Bar presented a healthier breakfast alternative.

The analysis of more than 150 different cereal bars by Choice magazine found that seven - including three types of Kellogg's K-time muffin bars - contained more kilojoules than the much-maligned Mars Bar. Two varieties of muesli slices produced by Sunibrite contained more saturated fat than a breakfast of two bacon rashers. Many others, including a range of Uncle Toby's muesli bars and a collection of cereal bars with the words healthy, fit or natural featuring prominently in their names, were at least 20 per cent sugar.

Of the bars tested, only 13 met all the analysts' healthy nutrition requirements, based on kilojoules, sugar, saturated fat, dietary fibre and wholegrain content. On the other end of the scale, the Nice & Natural yoghurt natural nut bar met none of the requirements.

While the healthy connotations associated with the words cereal and muesli were dubious in many of the bars, the definition of fruit in others was also suspect. "The fruit often found in some bars was more likely to have come from a laboratory than an orchard," said Choice's media spokeswoman, Indira Naidoo. She said parents should think again if they thought their children were getting part of their daily serving of fruit by unwrapping a bar containing what appeared to be dried strawberries, apples, pears or plums. The chances are that they are snacking instead on maltodextrin, glucose, fructose, humectant, vegetable fat, modified maize starch, flavours, colours, vegetable gum, food acid, firming agent and emulsifier.

The findings led Choice's analysts to conclude that despite often being labelled with "healthy" names, many of the bars really belonged in the supermarket confectionery aisle. Ms Naidoo said that rather than snacking on cereal bars, children would be better off eating an apple, which gave plenty of fibre, less sugar, and no fat.


Greenie propaganda unpopular in the schools

School geography aint what it used to be. Now it is mainly Greenie indoctrination

Teaching geography as part of social studies courses alongside subjects such as history, economics and citizenship has overseen a halving in the past decade of the number of students selecting the discipline in their senior years. Figures gathered by the Australian Geography Teachers Association show the extent of disenchantment with the subject among year 11 and 12 students brought up on a diet of Studies of Society and Environment. Even in NSW, the only state to have maintained geography as a stand-alone and mandatory subject from years 7 to 10, students are eschewing the subject.

Teachers and professional geographers fear high school geography curriculums are failing to attract students, particularly in years 9 and 10. Australian Geography Teachers Association president Nick Hutchinson and Sydney University lecturer Bill Pritchard argue for a re-energising of geography curriculums based on the principles of the International Charter for Geographic Education. Under the charter, students should study among other things locations and places, to enable them to set national and international events in a geographical framework, and the major biophysical systems, such as landforms, soils and climate.

The plethora of subjects from which students can choose and the rise in vocational education are cited by geography teachers as major reasons for the discipline's fall in favour. The proportion of HSC students sitting geography has fallen from 14 per cent in 1997 to 7.5 per cent last year. Victoria is reintroducing geography as a separate subject under its humanities umbrella this year after watching the number of students studying the subject fall from more than 4000 in 1992 to just over 2500 in 2004. In South Australia, the decline - from about 2200 in 1996 to 1500 in 2004 - coincided with a rise in the number studying tourism (837 to 1856).

Mr Hutchinson said some of the fundamentals of geographic learning had been lost, with school curriculums instead focused on solving problems. What should return to the classroom was the basics of physical geography, such things as how soils, glaciers, rivers and coasts were formed and their effects on humanity. "We're no longer teaching a fundamental understanding of people and place and how things work, how cities work, the basis of our post-industrial society," he said.

Queensland University of Technology associate professor John Lidstone believes students should be taught the "awe and wonder" of the natural environment, not just its problems. Dr Lidstone, the former secretary of the International Geographical Union's commission on education, said schools should teach geographic thinking by teaching the subject as patterns, such as patterns of happiness, or of wealth and poverty. Also key were enthusiastic and skilled geography teachers who would incite excitement in students about the subject.

The Institute of Australian Geographers has written to federal Education Minister Julie Bishop calling for a national review of the geography curriculum along the lines of the recent history summit. Ms Bishop yesterday said the push by geography teachers and professional geographers revealed the failure of state governments to develop appropriate curriculums.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

PM defends the Brethren

The Brethren have rightly identified and publicized the Green Party as anti-Christian far-Leftists and the Greens hate them for it

The beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren Christian sect, which includes a refusal to vote, should be respected, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The sect has been criticised, particularly by the Greens, in recent times for its alleged activities in elections but Mr Howard says he has seen more fanatical groups in his time.

"The Exclusive Brethren as an organisation within the law, a Christian sect, is entitled to put its view," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "I did make the observation that I've met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren. "They have a different, a more disciplined, perhaps some would say a more narrow interpretation of the Christian religion than others, but I respect their right to have (this interpretation)."

Mr Howard, who yesterday said he had met with the group, said the more unorthodox views of the sect, such as not voting, did not means its members should be vilified. "I have to say that strikes me as what you might call an unorthodox Christian ... it strikes me as a little unusual, but that is their right and it should be respected," he said. "It shouldn't be the subject of some vilification campaign against them."


Obese suffer 'discrimination, depression'

And constant government condemnation of them does not exactly help. Why are fatties the only ones you are allowed to condemn these days? What about Muslims? Let us hear more governments condemning them. They certainly do more harm to others than fatties do

Depression, discrimination and humiliation, not just excess weight, are burdens for people who are obese, a Melbourne professor said today. Monash University Professor Paul Komesaroff is leading a study into the emotional burdens of being overweight. He said the physical risks of obesity were well known, but little had been done on how overweight people felt about themselves and society's attitudes to them. "Overweight people are often reviled and humiliated their whole lives," Professor Komesaroff said. "Public debates and comments often don't help ... they project an image of overweight people as lazy, fat slobs who, if they used some willpower, would not be overweight," he said. "The reality is that obese people often battle with weight their entire lives."

Professor Komesaroff said that overweight people often suffered depression. He said the study would also examine the nature of the relationships that developed between people living with obesity and their health professionals. The outcomes of the study would be used to develop new public health and clinical strategies to combat depression in obese people.

Researcher Dr Samantha Thomas said the study would initially involve interviewing 100 Victorians who were overweight, but may eventually be expanded nationally. "This research will give them the opportunity to tell their stories about what it is like to be overweight in Australia today," Dr Thomas said. Bellberry Ltd, a not-for-profit human research ethics company, has contributed $40,000 to the research.


Political correctness harms abused black kids

Welfare workers are too frightened to take neglected and sexually abused indigenous children into care, carers have said. The Northern Territory News was last night told by people who work with children that NT Family and Community Services feared being accused of creating a new "stolen generation". "Black kids have to be suffering 10 times more than white kids before being taken away from their no-good parents," a source said.

Community Services Minister Delia Lawrie denied the allegation. "We don't take Stolen Generation concerns into account," she said. "And whether a child is indigenous or not doesn't come into play." [Believe that if you want to!] She said the number of Aboriginal Territory children taken into care had doubled in the past few years.

Elliott, a community on the Stuart Highway, 415km south of Katherine, was held up by concerned welfare sources as an illustration of the problem. The sources said several children in the township were believed to have been sexually abused. One girl had told nurses she had been molested by a man who still lives in the community. The girl has developed behavioural problems, nurses claimed. Many community children are also undernourished and are being fed by the school and health clinic.

The Tennant Creek FACS office has been given several notifications of suspected sexual abuse and neglect. Sources said children were being put at even greater risk by the department refusing to remove them quickly enough from bad homes. "The situation has to be extreme before FACS will step in," said the source, adding the problem had been created by the "stolen generation", the alleged removal of part-Aboriginal children from their parents last century.

Ms Lawrie said only a court could order a child being taken into care permanently.


The decline of grammar

Lynne Truss is a professional pedant. Her 2003 book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation sold 3 million copies worldwide. Truss has now followed up with a picture book for kids: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why commas really do make a difference. But should such a book be necessary at all?

Truss is avowedly fed up with poor teaching - or non-teaching - of punctuation, grammar and spelling in English schools. Her message is as relevant here as it is in Britain. Grammar and punctuation need to be taught well. It cannot be absorbed through the act of reading alone. Truss, in an interview in July with The Times Education Supplement, pithily summed up her frustration: "It's similar to music. You don't just pick up how to play the piano. I feel kids are being let down. In a communications age, knowing how to write is a life skill."

Formal grammar is not a usual part of most English courses in Queensland schools. This has been the case since the 1970s when it went out of fashion and creativity at all costs was the preferred approach. The results have been ruinous. Although it is encouraging that Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford indicated in March that state schools would put increased emphasis on reading, grammar and spelling from prep to Year 9, this will take time.

The problem lies with the way teachers are prepared. In one sense, teachers who have gone through training courses since the 1970s are not to blame. They have not been taught grammar during their school days or in teacher training institutions. They enter the classroom not knowing any. It is, however, their unavoidable responsibility to learn how to teach the structure of language.

The consequences of virtually no grammar instruction for three decades are plain to see. In September 2005, a study of 660 Defence Force Academy students - who had achieved a tertiary entrance rank of 80 per cent or better to gain admission - found that students presented with a poor level of expressive technical accuracy. ADFA associate dean of education Stephen Yeomans noted at the time: "What I particularly notice is improper sentence construction, inappropriate or no punctuation, lack of conjunctives, misuse of apostrophes, poor spelling and so on."

In February, 124 businesses polled by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers highlighted poor communication skills in prospective employees. The lack of grammar featured strongly. "The focus is now on the instantaneous. It's all about speed, it's quick responses and short messages and abbreviations and shortcuts. That's leading to people not knowing how to spell a long word, or writing in text message-speak rather than traditional, grammatically correct English," president Bill Reeves observed.

This is mirrored in Queensland. In May, Commerce Queensland president Beatrice Booth drew attention to employer dissatisfaction with the quality of young employees' English skills. "There are no remedial programs for young people at that age, yet we have a plethora of young people who can't spell, comprehend what they're reading or write a proper sentence," Ms Booth said.

Identifying the problem is relatively easy. There is enough research showing that spelling, grammar and punctuation are in decline in Australian children. To attempt to stem this, Premier Peter Beattie recently announced that children who struggled with English skills would be given up to 15 hours, at a cost of $1000 each, of one-on-one instruction. The students concerned are in the bottom 10 per cent of Year 5 and 7 - about 11,200 children.

In February, the Productivity Commission's report into government services found that one in five Queensland Year 5 students was not a competent reader. Knowing about the extent of poor language skills is one thing, knowing how to successfully manage it is more problematical. One thing is clear. Grammar teaching has to undergo a major rethink. Any student who learns a language other than English learns grammar so why is English any different? Because grammar is not a central part of English teaching in a majority of classrooms, children who are not taught it are being disenfranchised in their communicative skills.

Then there is the quality of the graduates who want to become English teachers. This is not uniformly high. The uncomfortable reality is that there are English teachers who are poor spellers, know little grammar and are unclear about punctuation. How can the incompetent teach children well? How did they get there in the first place? Some teachers who are going to enter Queensland classrooms in the next four years are being drawn from the lowest bands of OP scores. Universities are accepting students to become teachers with OP scores as low as 19. When it is remembered that the OP score bottoms at 25, this is cause for concern. The reality is that there is a significant proportion of English teachers who were low-achieving students in the subjects they are now expected to teach.

There is a solution. English teachers without grammar knowledge need to undergo rigorous professional development. This could take place within schools and be led by teachers who are confident in grammar. Experienced English teachers with expertise in technical elements of expression could be redeployed as in-house grammar mentors. It would be their responsibility to pass or fail their colleagues and offer additional support. Teachers nearing retirement could meet this need. This depends on the assumption that grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence construction still matter. It is clear that for too long grammar has lost its glamour and many children do not know how their own language works. It is, clearly, low-skilled English teaching that is failing them


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Howard: Arab world 'must accept' Israel

The Arab world must recognise Israel's right to exist if the world is to ever live in peace, Prime Minister John Howard said today. But he cautioned that Israel must accept the establishment of a Palestinian state if the region and the world is to move forward. In a keynote speech to a security conference in Canberra today, Mr Howard also warned the United Nations must take a firm line with Iran over the country's push to develop a nuclear capability if the international organisation was to reassert its credibility.

Mr Howard said that the aftermath of the war in Lebanon demanded that all nations refocus on lasting peace in the Middle East. "There must be unconditional acceptance throughout the entire Arab world, without exception, of Israel's right to exist in peace and security behind recognised borders," he said. "The entire Arab world - including Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas and in addition Iran - must give up forever the idea that the Israelis can be driven into the sea."

The prime minister said that Iran's nuclear ambitions must be brought to heel by a united international community. "Iran's behaviour - in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 - needs to be met with resolve by the international community," Mr Howard said. "While Australia is committed to finding a diplomatic solution, the UN needs to act quickly and decisively to ensure its credibility."

Mr Howard said that Australia's fight against terrorism would take many years and his government would take the front foot in the war on terror around the world. "The most immediate security threats to Australia in 2006 come from the interlocking networks of terror, arms proliferation and fundamentalist ideology," he said. "The struggle against Islamic terrorism and violent extremism will be a generational one."

Mr Howard said Iraq and Afghanistan were vital battlegrounds for Australia in the war against terrorism, and warned coalition forces had long, hard fights ahead of them.


Citizenship test backed by the people

Australians overwhelmingly support a test for citizenship that includes not only an English language test but also questions about our history and way of life. Despite fears that a proposed citizenship quiz for migrants using English would discriminate against non-English speakers, more than three-quarters of Australians agree there should be such a test. According to a Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, 77 per cent of respondents agreed there should be a test on language, Australia and our way of life. A majority, 53 per cent, supported the idea "strongly" and only 19 per cent were against such a test.

During the past two weeks, when the proposed citizenship test and the issue of "Australian values" have dominated the political debate, the Coalition's support has improved but the ALP still holds a clear margin on two-party preferences. The Coalition's primary vote rose two percentage points to 41per cent and Labor's vote went from 41 to 42 per cent. Although Kim Beazley faced strong criticism from within his own ranks over his support for a citizenship test, the ALP has kept a 53 to 47 per cent lead over the Coalition on second preferences. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader both supported a citizenship test that involved a quiz on Australian values.

The Government has released a discussion paper, which raises the prospect of doubling the citizenship qualifying period to four years and demanding that migrants sit a quiz that tests English language as well as a knowledge of Australian history and institutions. The Government has not put forward a draft test but Mr Howard said it would not be "a tablet from the mountain" and there would be a commonsense approach taken.

Mr Beazley has backed off from his earlier suggestion that visitors to Australia, including tourists, would have to sign a pledge on their visas upholding Australian values. After being criticised within his own party for the suggestion, Mr Beazley said any such test would apply to people intending to be "permanent residents".

The Newspoll survey found clear majority support for a detailed citizenship test in every demographic group, with the highest levels of support among the oldest voters and Coalition supporters. Nine out of 10 Coalition supporters backed the idea of a test and only 7 per cent were against. The lowest levels of support were among those aged 18-34 and Labor voters, both on 70 per cent. Regional areas showed strong support, with 80 per cent backing a citizenship test with an English component, compared with 75per cent in the capital cities.


Education reform: A clarion call for the sake of our kids

There is a sleeping issue at the next election for a political party with intellectual courage-the corruption of the social sciences curriculum in our schools. The article published in The Weekend Australian by Professor Ken Wiltshire from the University of Queensland (In defence of the true values of learning) should become a clarion call for vigorous intervention by the national government on behalf of the interests of parents and children.

There is a golden lesson from the History Summit held in Canberra several weeks ago-once the truth of what is happening in our schools is documented and tabled on the bar of public opinion, the reform is irresistible. There is no substitute for transparency. Most state governments surrendered this responsibility many years ago. In some cases this retreat assumes epic proportions. As Wiltshire says, Western Australia's experiment in outcomes-based education has failed and Queensland has "absolutely no external assessment in the entire preparatory year to Year 12 spectrum". This means they have "no way of knowing what standards their schools are achieving".

The decision from the History Summit was that history should be re-established in schools as a core academic discipline. This is anathema to progressivist education philosophy and the decision will be fought by the progressive lobby. Yet history should be the start not the end of this cultural conflict, pivotal to the way children are taught. Addressing the impact of the critical literacy movement in the English curriculum, Wiltshire says: "Key aspects of their mantra include deconstructing texts; no longer considering texts to be timeless, universal or unbiased; focusing on the beliefs and values of the composer; and working for social equity and change".

In his assessment of what this movement is providing Australian school students, Wiltshire says: "There is not much of a positive nature in this line-up: it is at best negative and at worst nihilistic. School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking, but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes for young people who do not have the intellectual maturity to cope with the somewhat morbid rigour of constant criticism and questioning of motives. If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly".

At heart, critical literacy theory is an ideological construct. It is politics disguised as education. It is rationalised as assisting students to become "active participants in a democratic society". The truth about the critical literacy agenda was exposed 18 months ago when the President of the NSW English Teachers Association, Wayne Sawyer, said the Howard Government's 2004 election win showed that teachers were failing in their mission. The issue here is an ideological disposition that has no place in the schools (nor does any conservative agenda with the same rigidity). The reality is that critical literacy theory survives in the English curriculum only because it is not subject to the transparent analysis valued by a democratic society.

Over the past several years the Federal Government has proposed a series of curriculum changes. It needs to redouble those efforts and propose new mechanisms to review and reform school curriculum. The State Governments are the guilty parties and they know this. The discredited defence mechanisms that this is about Canberra's interference or John Howard trying to impose his own values just won't wash anymore. This is about our kids and it should be treated with urgency and on merit.


A Greenie dictatorship?

Every property in the Waverley local government area in Sydney may be required to install solar roof panels under a plan being considered by the council to make it "a world leader in climate change solutions". The council's sustainability committee "will explore ways to integrate key environmental targets and initiatives throughout the organisation and the Waverley community". The committee will comprise councillors and experts on building sustainability and climate change.

The Mayor of Waverley, Mora Main, put up the idea in a mayoral minute, unanimously supported by councillors, directing the committee to advise on maximising solar energy. "Moving towards a 'solar Waverley' may soon see all our rooftops sporting solar panels," she said. The committee will advise on:

* A brief for a study to assess and characterise the total potential for rooftop solar energy in Waverley.

* The application of solar hot water and space heating, passive solar design and photovoltaics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

* Changes to the council's planning rules to prevent overshadowing of useable solar-capture space on neighbouring structures.

* Regulation to ensure development applications maximise the uptake of solar power.

The council says each municipality has a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. "As developments in solar technology take it ever closer to cost competitiveness with coal, distributed renewal energy becomes a realistic component of Australia's energy supply," it says in a background paper.

Waverley's move will not find favour with everyone. The Productivity Commission recommended in a report on energy efficiency last year that federal, state and territory governments and the Australian Building Codes Board should examine ways to stop local governments creating variations in minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings. The Federal Government has supported this finding. "Determining effective energy efficiency requirements for houses requires specialist knowledge that is more likely to be available to national bodies than to local governments," the commission said. "The effects of such requirements are predominantly experienced outside of the local government area. In addition, the costs associated with local government area-based variations in energy efficiency standards are potentially higher than for state and territory-based ones. This is because they can cause a higher degree of regulatory fragmentation and uncertainty."

In an earlier report on building regulation the commission warned against the erosion of national consistency of building regulation by local governments through their planning approval processes. A feature of an agreement being developed between the federal, state and territory governments on the building code will - "as far as practicable" - restrict any changes to the code to those arising from geographical, geological and climate factors. The agreement provides for state and territory governments to seek similar commitments from local governments. The Federal Government does, however, recognise the role of local government in developing and trialling new approaches to address climate change "in a context of cost-benefit assessment".

Source. For more Greenie nuttiness from Waverley, see here or here

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Incorrect" fez

Racism complaints have forced Transperth to withdraw taxpayer-funded ads showing a gorilla wearing a fez. The Public Transport Authority confirmed that the campaign, which cost about $7000 and depicted an ape wearing what is sometimes considered an Islamic cap, was stopped after three complaints.

"The gorilla first appeared on July 22. We did not receive any feedback from the public until this week, when three complaints were lodged," PTA spokesman David Hynes said. "The complaints said the depiction was culturally insensitive and offensive. We responded to the complaints by removing the posters immediately. "There was a 2m by 4m poster and two smaller bulkhead posters at the Esplanade Busport and three 1.3m by 1.3m posters at our InfoCentres. "We printed 5000 pamphlets . . . they have also been withdrawn." He said Transperth did not intend to offend with the ads.

The WA Ethnic Communities Council said an apology would have been more appropriate. And passers-by said removing the ads was political correctness gone mad. "They are not offensive and I think there's too much of this type of carry-on about what's culturally sensitive," said Donna, 52, a public servant. Perth florist Natasha, 30, said: "I don't think they are offensive to Muslim people because a fez doesn't have to be a Muslim hat."

ECC president Ramdas Sankaran said the fez-wearing gorilla was not the type of image that should be used in a multicultural society. "Given the current Islamaphobia around the place, it's rather unfortunate that thoughtless ads like this are floating around," he said. "(But) an explanation and an apology for the unintended consequences would have been more appropriate."

The fez, which originated in the Moroccan city of Fez and was popularised by the Ottomans in the 1800s, is often seen as Islamic, even though European soldiers have worn them. Mr Hynes said research had indicated that the fez's origins were non- religious. He said the ad graphic was part of a fantasy campaign that also had a giant squid attacking a ferry on the Swan River and a satellite that had fallen in front of a bus. "(They) are intended to highlight a key benefit of TravelEasy . . . getting up-to-the-minute online messages about unexpected changes in public transport," he said. "Putting a fez on the gorilla was intended to suggest it was an escaped circus animal. No offence was intended."


Above is a picture of some Canadian Shriners wearing fezzes -- as Shriners do. I wonder if the Shriners were offended? They are certainly not Muslims because of the fezzes. (Shriners are a colourful offshoot of the Masons devoted to hospital charities). The fez is in fact mostly associated with Egypt (hence the Shriner interest) rather than with Muslims generally. Putting a rag hat on a gorilla would have been a much clearer Muslim allusion. And the man below is no Muslim. He is the famous British comedian, Tommy Cooper, who almost always wore a fez during his shows. He would no doubt be very "incorrect" if he were still alive today

Fundamentalist Christians under attack

Children at taxpayer-funded schools run by the Exclusive Brethren sect are brainwashed and their basic texts are crudely censored, say former teachers. Several teachers have told The Australian they left Brethren schools in disgust at "excessive control" over what children were allowed to read and study. And they said they were paid $10,000 a year less than teachers at comparable non-government schools because the sect did not allow enterprise bargaining.

The claims have prompted calls from teachers, unions and politicians for tighter conditions on taxpayer funding for Brethren schools, which receive $20.7 million a year in federal money.

A fundamentalist Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren has created controversy in Australia and abroad for smear campaigns against liberal-minded politicians. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the sect of hiring a private detective to gather dirt on her and husband Peter Davis, who was pictured in a magazine being kissed by a "mystery man", who turned out to be a family friend.

The sect has 31 schools in Australia - in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania - teaching 3823 children until the end of high school. As the Brethren do not believe in tertiary education, they must hire non-members of the sect to teach in their schools. A teacher who recently left one of the sect's three Oakwood schools in Tasmania said he did so in disgust at the "complete control" over the children and their education imposed by the Brethren. "I didn't want to contribute to a system in which the control over the children was so complete," the teacher said. "The children are told what jobs they will do and who they will marry. They were not being equipped to live in the outside world. The Brethren were cutting off the children's pathways." Most modern novels were banned, pages were removed even from permitted 19th-century works and entire chapters were censored from science books. "One science book had all the chapters on reproduction cut out," one teacher said. "Most modern texts were banned."

Teachers reported positives, such as excellent reading skills among the children and an absence of violent or abusive behaviour, but said pupils could be difficult to discipline because they did not believe they needed to heed the word of outsiders.

John Saunders, chief executive of the Brethren's Hobart campus of Oakwood School, rejected the criticisms. "'Our school community, including non-Brethren staff and teachers, has an understanding, respect and a commitment to abide by the school ethos," he said. "This ethos upholds scriptural principles, including the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Our school is a Christian fundamentalist school with a secular curriculum. Many modern-day novels are rejected on the basis they are contrary to the truth of scripture. The parents have set up the Oakwood school to protect their children from the rapid moral decline in today's society."

Independent Education Union federal secretary Lynne Rolley questioned taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, saying it was unfair to other non-government schools with full market pay rates.


Geography lessons morph into environmentalism

High school geography is being taught as a series of issues presented in a naive and unquestioning way, often by teachers with no relevant qualifications. Associate professor John Lidstone of the Queensland University of Technology said much of what was taught was "naive environmentalism". And amid calls for a government review, Professor Lidstone said high school students were often not presented with the fundamentals of geography, such as the formation of mountains or glaciers, or the science behind issues, such as the rainfall cycle in Australia when examining drought. "There's an unquestioned acceptance of issues like the greenhouse effect; they're not actually engaging in the debate," he said.

Dr Lidstone, secretary of the International Geographical Union's commission on geographical education for 10 years, said the biggest problem was the subject's integration into social studies courses. "Integrated social studies doesn't do history well, it doesn't do geography well, it doesn't do citizenship-type things well. It very quickly becomes a hodgepodge," he said. "The syllabus lacks coherence and tends to become issues-based. You're asking kids to solve problems that adults and politicians can't solve. "Lost is the awe and wonder of the natural environment, glaciers, how mountains are thrown up, volcanoes and natural disasters."

The Institute of Australian Geographers and the Australian Geography Teachers Association argue that the subject has been bruised by a crowded curriculum that squeezes it into social studies until Year 10 in most states and territories. The institute wrote to federal Education Minister Julie Bishop this month calling for a national review of the geography curriculum along the lines of the recent history summit. "Geography teachers have complained that the subject has been distorted and reduced in rigour by the need to relate it to general statements of educational outcomes, and that the geographical knowledge and skills of Australian students has been significantly diminished as a result," the letter says.

Dr Lidstone questioned whether students were being taught the basics of geography before they were expected to solve the earth's problems. Working with a group of high school students looking at coastal degradation, Dr Lidstone said none could confidently answer in which direction sand moved up the Australian coast. "They didn't know the process of longshore drift. If you don't know what causes it, how on earth do you talk about remedial action, which is what they're being asked to do," he said. "There's too much focus on the issues rather than developing the skills of analysis and how to get data and interrogate it. Often students can only work on the data they're given but learning how to evaluate the quality of the data is pretty difficult."

AGTA president Nick Hutchinson said the desired outcomes listed in curriculums were too vague and imprecise, failing to detail what students should be taught. "The outcomes really destroy content in a sense because they just become such wishy-washy motherhood statements," he said. In South Australia, students are not taught "geography" but a subject called "space, place and environment" while in Western Australia and Queensland, students study "place and space".

There is a national shortage of trained geography teachers, with history teachers shouldering the bulk of teaching in social studies. In the senior years of school when geography is offered as an option, it is forced to compete with environmental management, sustainable futures or recreational and environmental studies - all specialised aspects of geography. Mr Hutchinson said that in Victoria, students must "analyse, organise and synthesise geographical information" while the essential learning statements, since revised, in Tasmania wanted geography students to "create purposeful futures".

Professional geographers and teachers believe geography should be taught as a stand-alone subject in years 9 and 10, in line with the proposal for Australian history. In his letter to Ms Bishop, geographers institute president Jim Walmsley, from the University of New England, proposes more specific topics such as the effects of European settlement on the land of Australia and how it is managed


Gracious permission to hire older workers granted

Victoria again

A Victorian company has been given permission to aim for older workers in job advertisements. Elite Customer Services is desperate to tap into the baby boomer talent pool and has been granted exemptions from equal opportunity laws to help attract candidates aged over 45. The ruling is thought to be the first of its type at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The Southbank call centre and financial services firm can now single out over-45s in recruitment pitches for accounting jobs, teams where younger employees dominate, and areas suffering from high turnover. General manager Bev Excell said the best person would always get the job, but the company had struggled to attract older applicants and wanted the chance to choose from a wider age group.

VCAT vice-president Judge Sandra Davis noted discrimination against older job seekers and the benefits gained from experience and skill of older workers in granting an exemption for two years.


Monday, September 25, 2006

"Organic": Nobody can tell the difference

Australia's peak consumer watchdog has called for urgent government action to stop what it claims is a multi-milliondollar organic food rort [racket]. The Australian Consumers' Association has accused the Federal Government of "dragging its feet" while consumers are being misled. The organic food industry is worth an estimated $450 million a year in Australia, and is one of the fastest-growing food sectors worldwide. Association spokeswoman Indira Naidoo said consumers were being ripped off. "There is no government regulation about what defines organic food," she said. "Consumers, in most cases, aren't getting what they pay for."

In many cases, they were paying two or three times as much as the cost of "ordinary" produce. "We are calling for a national government guideline that defines what standards organic food should meet. "Given the amount of organic products being consumed and the number of people being misled by incorrect labelling, we think it's an urgent priority. "We feel the Government has been dragging its feet on this issue. It's very misleading. It's definitely a rort."

Organic food labelling is controlled by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The self-regulatory system has seven private organic certifying groups in Australia plus several overseas groups. They are all accredited by AQIS, but there are variations on what is accepted as organic. There are also products on the market claiming to be organic that aren't associated with any certifying body. But Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu disputed the claim consumers were being misled. "I would challenge the ACA very strongly on that," he said. "The vast majority of organic food is reputable. If there's fraud, it's negligible. "I would say to consumers: If food is not accredited, we cannot guarantee it is produced according to our standard. Stay away from products that don't have certifying logos."

Standards Australia is developing a standard for organic food, but the ACA said this needed to be supported by tougher government guidelines. "While an Australian Standard is a step in the right direction, it isn't necessarily mandatory," Ms Naidoo said. "We would like to see it referenced in the Food Standards Code to give it the force of law. "It's very important people know what they are consuming is legitimately labelled organic."

However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said the Food Standards Code was not the right place to define "organic". "The Food Standards Code is about ensuring food safety and not so much for descriptions," she said. "We are working with Standards Australia to define organic food, and we feel that is being addressed appropriately."


Greenies hit everybody's pocket

The states should be investigated for anti-competitive behaviour over their restrictive land release policies, a leading housing chief declared. Former Housing Industry Association president Bob Day yesterday said the strategies were creating a new era of lifetime renters. He blamed urban planners obsessed with curbing the size of cities for an "artificial" land shortage that was driving up property prices.

Now chair of the Institute of Public Affairs' Great Australian Dream project, launched last month by Treasurer Peter Costello, Mr Day warned of "horrendous" social consequences linked to the affordability crisis. In a speech to the Australian Christian Lobby's conference in Canberra, Mr Day said families were forking out $300,000 more on mortgages than they should. Until the early 1990s, the median house price had consistently been three times that of average household income. Sydney house prices were now more than eight times the average household income, and it was six times the average household income in the other capital cities.

"For those on middle and low incomes, the prospect of ever becoming home owners has now all but evaporated as they face the prospect of being lifetime renters," Mr Day said. Mr Day, a recently endorsed Liberal candidate for the South Australian federal seat of Makin, urged people to drive to the outskirts of major cities to see the "abundant" land suitable for housing. "The so-called land shortage is a matter of political choice, not of fact," he said. "Perhaps we should be asking the ACCC to investigate the anti-competitive behaviour of state and territory government land agencies, and their association with big land developers."

Mr Day challenged the attitude that the spread of suburbia damaged the environment and encouraged car use. He said planners who demonised urban growth had inflicted enormous damage on the economy without any scientific or intellectually sustainable arguments to support their dogma.


Long delays for cancer diagnosis

Women suspected of having breast cancer are waiting longer than seven days to be diagnosed because of a national shortage of pathologists. Instead of the recommended 24-hour diagnosis, the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) reports that some women are waiting more than a week to be diagnosed. The lack of pathologists also means some women wait as long as four months for autopsy results after a miscarriage.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed earlier this month that some families had been forced to wait a year to learn their loved ones' cause of death because the Westmead morgue had been unable to fill vacancies for forensic pathologists. The college has blamed the Commonwealth and state governments for failing to honour commitments to fund additional training positions to address the problem.

RCPA chief executive officer Debra Graves said the situation had reached crisis point, with patient health potentially put at risk. She said some women with breast lumps had to repeat diagnostic procedures because of the pathologists shortage. Dr Graves said it was advisable that a pathologist perform or supervise diagnostic procedures to ensure the correct cells were taken, but the unavailability of pathologists had resulted in cases where incorrect cells had been taken, forcing patients to repeat procedures. "It is best practice to have a woman with a lump diagnosed within 24 hours, but what we are seeing at the moment is women having to wait for anything up to a week because they've had to come back," she said. "That is a terribly stressful time for a woman, but it's happening everywhere and it's getting worse."

According to the RCPA, there are 70 pathologist vacancies nationally, with the shortage affecting hospitals across Australia. Figures from the college show there are 1290 practising pathologists in Australia, 20 per cent of them aged over 60. In 2003, the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee recommended that an extra 100 training positions be created over the next five years. But since that meeting, only 39 new positions have been funded instead of the recommended 300. The college put forward a budget submission to the Commonwealth for an additional $13.75 million to fund an extra 40 positions. The Commonwealth agreed to fund 10. The NSW Government has provided funding for four pathologist positions.

In the most recent RCPA Path Way journal, the college cites a cancer being undiagnosed by an overworked pathologist as a worst-case scenario if the shortage is not immediately addressed. A spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said the training of pathologists was the responsibility of state and territory governments, but added the Commonwealth had a program to train pathologists in the private sector. "In 2004-06, $3.7 million in funding was allocated," she said.


States failing the nation's schools

State Labor governments have ceded control of curriculum to individual schools and have failed to monitor the quality of teaching because they are captives of the teachers' unions. In a vigorous attack on the state of the nation's education system, Australia's representative on the executive of the UN education body UNESCO, Kenneth Wiltshire, said the states had relinquished any effective system of measuring the standard of what is taught in schools and the performance of teachers.

Professor Wiltshire, the architect of the Queensland school curriculum under the Goss government, said school inspectors were abolished long ago but an alternative way of monitoring schools had not been introduced. "Current Labor state governments are usually under the influence of the teachers' unions so it is no wonder that teachers remain one of the very few professions who do not have external reviews," he said. He said Western Australia "with its failed experiment on outcomes-based education, and Queensland, with absolutely no external assessment in the entire P-12 spectrum, have no real way of knowing what standards their schools are achieving".

Professor Wiltshire also supported The Weekend Australian's stance against teaching school students critical literacy in English, saying deconstruction belonged at honours level in university. "If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly," he said. "School is for basics and knowledge." He said Shakespeare was studied by "just about every other Western country and many eastern ones as well, despite the claims of the critical literacy movement that he goes in and out of fashion and is 'censored' by curriculum authorities". "If Shakespeare is too difficult for most students in an English subject, would we perhaps create an alternative subject so students could study the comedies in the 'easier' subject and the tragedies in another," he writes in an article in The Weekend Australian today. "Should the Diaries of Anne Frank be replaced with the Emails of Tom Cruise or the Text Messages of Shane Warne?"

Professor Wiltshire said school curriculums failed to detail the key knowledge students should learn, instead listing competencies called outcomes. This was largely responsible for the exodus of students out of government schools into the independent system. "Our school curriculums have strayed far from being knowledge-based," he said. "Indeed, 'knowledge' has been replaced by 'information'. It is little wonder that the Howard Government's attempted reforms of schooling have gained traction with the Australian public."

While state governments could not agree on a common school leaving certificate - largely because of a squabble "over which minister's signature would appear on the certificate" - the federal Government was talking about greater uniformity, improved accountability and comparing standards.

Professor Wiltshire is the JD Story professor of public administration at the University of Queensland. He recently completed a term as special adviser to the Australian National Training Authority and is a former chairman of the Tertiary Entrance Procedures Authority.

The Weekend Australian's support for neutral, apolitical teaching of English is criticised in the current journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, by high school English teacher David Freesmith. He accuses the newspaper of mounting a "political and ideological" attack on critical literacy and of failing to properly understand it. Mr Freesmith holds a masters in teaching, and has been a teacher for five years, all at Adelaide's Prince Alfred College, where he teaches English in years 8-10, English as a Second Language, French and the International Baccalaureat subject Theory of Knowledge. In his article, Mr Freesmith argues that teaching reading and writing is "inevitably ideological at some level and (has) significant political implications". He refers to writers who argue that "a skills approach to literacy can 'generate failure' among minority and working-class students", can "entrench prejudices" and so is inherently political. He also says formulating a canon of valued literature that includes Shakespeare and Dickens "or any other reading list, is ... an ideological act". "The history of English curricula suggests that the notion of a permanent English canon having been taught across generations is dubious," he says. "For example, Shakespeare, the very centrepiece of the canon, has spent considerable periods of time out of favour, and has even, at times, been heavily censored by curriculum writers. "The notion of the canon is in fact a modern invention, tied to the modern cultural function of defining the nation. Advocacy of the canon in the curriculum may therefore be seen to be tied ... to a nationalistic ideology."

But Professor Wiltshire said the critical literacy movement was "at best negative and at worst nihilistic". "This sort of thinking is a recipe for laziness, indifference and unwillingness to identify standards and common values," he said. "It inevitably leads to a dumbing down of curriculum and therefore the students themselves ... School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes."

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday the states and territories should listen to the experts and develop "more soundly based" curriculums. She said literacy and numeracy tests revealed an alarming number of students completed their schooling without strong skills in these areas. "There's a need for a greater focus on the fundamentals of subjects like English before students can be expected to deal with more advanced concepts," she said.

Professor Wiltshire said it was not only governments but also the community, including parents and industry, that decided curriculum and the challenge ahead was to define the core knowledge all students should learn. "That's the core curriculum, that's what we should agree upon as core curriculum, certainly the basis of knowledge, what a person needs to function in society, to be a citizen," he said.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Federal treasurer: Pope's critics 'stifling free speech'

Peter Costello has said Muslim critics of a recent speech by Pope benedict XVI have "lacked proportion" in their angry response and have tried to stifle free speech. The Treasurer, in a speech to be delivered today to a Christian lobby conference in Canberra, will also dismiss Islamic extremists' efforts to create caliphates bound by religious law, saying instead that the creation of a secular Muslim state in Turkey is a model that should be adopted by the modern Islamic world.

Earlier this month, the Pope triggered condemnation when he discussed Islam's tendency to justify violence. The Pope had quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

Mr Costello says he "will not repeat the sentence because it would thoroughly detract from what I have to say". "But it was said 700 years ago," he says. "Read the speech and wonder at the reaction. In response, we are told, seven churches were set on fire on the West Bank and Gaza, and effigies of the Pope were hung and burned in Pakistan. "No doubt the fire bombers on the West Bank and the demonstrators in Pakistan would claim that their actions were incited by the 'insult' of the Pope's speech. "But one can't help thinking that there are some people who love to find an insult and have no concept of proportionality when they do so. "We are moved to think that there are other agendas here. And one of those agendas is to stifle free speech and legitimate open inquiry."

Mr Costello will tell delegates the Muslim world has an "outstanding example" of a secular state created last century in the nation of Turkey established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who commanded the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. "He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world," Mr Costello will say. Movements such as al Qaeda and its south-east Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiah are engaged in a violent struggle to create Muslim caliphates, often dominated by sharia law. "They have a vision of a caliphate stretching across the Middle East toppling what they see as corrupt nation states and enforcing a more 'pure' version of Islam," Mr Costello says. "In our own region, the ambitions of Jemaah Islamiah is to create a pan-Islamic state stretching down and encompassing the southern Philippines, Malaya and Indonesia."

But Mr Costello argues the separation of church and state is good for society and should be embraced by the Muslim world. "I believe that a secular national state can be adopted by Muslim societies and, what is more, that doing so will lead to greater economic technological progress," he says. Mr Costello says Jesus Christ rejected any opportunity to seize political power, while Mohammed, who was persecuted for his religious teaching, formed an army, defeated those who had forced him out, made peace and instituted a government. The Treasurer has previously sparked controversy by condemning "mushy multiculturalism" and warning Muslim migrants who want sharia law to leave Australia


Australian Foreign minister hits out at Chavez 'rant'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resembled a dictator who lacked class during his "rant" at the UN in which he called George W Bush "the devil", Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said. Mr Downer, who was at the UN General Assembly when Mr Chavez attacked the US President this week, said his comments reflected badly on Venezuela. He said Mr Chavez had dictatorial tendencies and compared him to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

"The United Nations is a place where you can speak freely and America's a place where you can speak freely," Mr Downer said on US news network Fox in New York. "The irony of all of this is that Venezuela isn't. So here you've got a man who has got dictatorial tendencies ranting to the world. "I think the great mainstream of the international community expect better from political leaders than that."

Mr Downer said he was not surprised Mr Chavez received some laughs and cheers at the General Assembly following his comments. "I've seen it before with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, and Dr Mahathir the former prime minister of Malaysia," Mr Downer said. "A lot of these people who get up there and denounce the free world and denounce the United States, they get a bit of applause. They get applause from like-minded people. "He can say what he likes but he has to live with the consequences of his words, and I just think in a country like Australia people look at a man like that ranting and it reflects very poorly on the whole of Venezuela that they've got a leader as classless as that in his political behaviour."

The US came under fire from several countries at the General Assembly. The day after Mr Bush defended his attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East, Mr Chavez said: "Yesterday the devil came here. And it still smells of sulphur today." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the Bush administration's "hegemony". Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, made a colourful anti-US statement by holding up a coca leaf, which is banned in the United States, to back his protest against the US handling of its war on drugs. Mr Mugabe also railed against the United States and Britain.

"It has been one of the most shrill displays of anti-Americanism in recent years," an ambassador on the UN Security Council said of the speeches. Despite calls from critics in the US to set up an alternative to the United Nations, Mr Downer said the body needed to work better. "It's too hard to set up. I think we've got to try to make the United Nations work a bit better," he said. "But I can understand how Americans feel and I feel for them. "It's easy to take a cheap shot at America."


His Eminence calls time on the Islam row

Cardinal George Pell, whose defence of the Pope's comments about Islam created uproar in Australia's Muslim community this week, has declared the debate to be over. "I think, at least in Australia, it is just rumbling quietly to an end," Sydney's Catholic Archbishop said yesterday. "Throughout the world? I suspect good sense will prevail there also. It's not a major challenge in Australia. The Muslim population here is quite a small population and overwhelmingly peaceful. "I think this Pope will continue to speak clearly and charitably. Very early he spoke about the importance of reciprocity."

Cardinal Pell earlier this week said the reaction of Muslims to comments made by Benedict XVI - in which the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor using the words "evil" and "inhuman" in reference to Mohammed - showed the link in Islam between religion and violence. And he called on the nation's Muslim clerics to address that link instead of sweeping it under the carpet. Cardinal Pell said the rights Western countries extended to all citizens should be enjoyed by minorities throughout the world, including Christian communities in Muslim countries. He also said Europe needed to radically rethink its relationship with Islam, if it was not doing so already. What was required was "a genuine dialogue rather than just an exchange of pleasantries, so that we can agree to differ without using weapons. But it's quite different in Australia."

Cardinal Pell said his relationship with the Australian Islamic community was continuing as usual and he would be attending Islamic gatherings to which he had been invited. He also said he would be meeting a lawyer associated with the Bali Nine drug mules sometime in the next week or so.


Hands off our Reef

Queensland's tourism industry will fight an influential British think-tank that wants the Great Barrier Reef virtually closed. The Centre for Future Studies says visitors may have to win the right to visit the Reef by a lottery system by 2020. The same group - which claims Australians are not looking after the Reef for the long-term - also wants a host of the world's most popular destinations declared almost off-limits. The entire Greek capital of Athens and Italy's Amalfi coast are among those it says should be far more exclusive.

But the suggestion, contained in a report paid for by a British insurance company, has infuriated the local tourism industry and been outright rejected by Australian scientists and the Federal Government. About 1.8 million people a year travel to the Reef, generating $5 billion and keeping about 800 companies in business. And local experts say the ecosystem which comprises the world's largest living organism is in good shape.

But CFS director Frank Shaw - a man whose biography boasts of him owning a "bolt hole" in a Canary Islands tax haven - claims "economic goals" mean other problems are being overlooked. "There is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Dr Shaw said. "Rising sea water temperatures are already damaging the Great Barrier Reef." His group's report also names Nepal's Kathmandu; the Florida Everglades, the Taj coral reed in the Maldives and Croatia's Dalmatian coast as places that should limit their tourism numbers. Tourists could be asked to enter a holiday lottery in which they could win or earn the right to holiday in a particular place.

But coral reef expert Terry Hughes, who directs the biggest coral reef institute in the world at Townsville's James Cook University, said the Great Barrier Reef was a big place and the tourism industry had little impact. "I don't believe there is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Professor Hughes said. He said rising sea levels were unlikely to impact on the Reef. "It's already underwater and a few more centimetres, or even half-a-metre over the next few decades is not going to have a huge impact," he said.

Federal Tourism Minister Fran Bailey said tourism operators were ferocious defenders of the Reef's pristine environment. "They rely on the health of the Reef and so have become intimately involved in protecting that environment," she said.

The idea of having to compete for a chance to see one of the great natural wonders of the world - or not see it at all - outraged German tourist Susanne Heiduczek. Ms Heiduczek and her boyfriend Martin, both medical students, said experiencing the Reef was one of the best ways to make people appreciate it. "If people can't see the Reef, what will prompt them to fight for its protection?" she said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said yesterday that tourism operators constantly monitored changes on the Reef in collaboration with groups such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Breaking the Leftist stranglehold on journalism

"Journalism courses run by the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Western Sydney and the private Brisbane college Jschool have been judged the best by their students"

JSchool? It's a private journalism school run by the excellent Professor John Henningham, who you might recall is the man whose famous survey established what your ears and eyes already suspected - that most journalists are far to the Left of the public they are meant to serve.

The question now is why Henningham's private school is held in higher esteem by its students than are many of the expensively maintained (by taxpayers) journalism schools run by universities such as RMIT and the University of Technology, Sydney (of which more in the next post).

Are private colleges forced to be more responsive to their students? Are they more likely through necessity if nothing else to understand the society from which they draw their students and livelihood? Are they less likely to be the rigid ideological factories that so many media employers now suspect university schools have become?

And do we really need so many taxpayer-funded journalism schools that produce far, far more graduates than will ever get media jobs and aren't much respected by the students they purport to teach?

Bravo Professor Henningham for shining another light on production of groupthink in the mainstream media.

(Comment above by Andrew Bolt)

Good old government "security" again

The watchers were all asleep

Craig Verrall did not mean to infiltrate the wharf that leads to the Prime Minister's Sydney residence. He was just trying to get to work. But the 35-year-old made the inadvertent entry on Tuesday morning when he was dropped at the wrong wharf. He spent about five minutes trying to get the attention of security staff before using a CCTV pole to climb a barbed wire fence to freedom.

It is the second breach of security at Kirribilli House this year. But a spokesman for the Australian Federal Police was confident "the layered security arrangement in place at Kirribilli House and its surrounds are appropriate".

Mr Verrall, a filmmaker, said he was not approached by any Protective Service officers. This is despite him disembarking from a grey ex-navy inflatable assault speedboat - the yacht's tender - while wearing arctic camouflage pants. He said he was ignored as he waved at the cameras and yelled for help. Mr Verrall had been staying on a 20-metre yacht he had helped sail from Noumea in New Caledonia. The yacht arrived in Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. When Mr Verrall was called into work on Tuesday morning, the captain of the yacht agreed to take him to a public wharf at Kirribilli using the tender, Mr Verrall said. However, he was dropped at the private Admiralty Wharf rather than one of the nearby public ferry stops.

"I turned around and first off I saw a pile of security cameras," Mr Verrall said. "I saw three tracks and looked to see which one I was able to use to get out and realised they all kind of went nowhere. The only exit was to go for a swim." He said that there were also large signs warning it was government property and not to enter. "There may be some other exit, but I didn't want to go wandering off in camo gear. I was concerned I would have a SWAT team jump me or get a fine for being in the area. Meanwhile, I've tried to call my mate in the boat to come and get me, but he couldn't hear me over the engine."

Mr Verrall then tried to get the attention of the person manning the bank of security cameras. He said he did not continue calling the captain as he knew the craft was low on fuel. "I waved my arms in front of the cameras and sensors hoping that any minute security would come down to help me out off the property and onto a street or public land to then walk to work," he said. The plan failed, so he had a cigarette and decided to jump the barbed wire fence. "The only option I could see was to scale the fence. I climbed up the camera pole using the cameras as steps to get over the barbwire, drop over into the apartments' front yard and walked across their yard."

The Prime Minister was not in residence. Federal police confirmed "a man" was captured on security footage on the wharf on Tuesday at 10.20am. A spokeswoman would not say when the Protective Services officers became aware of the man or how he was able to leave. She questioned the time Mr Verrall said he was on the wharf. He told the Herald it had been at 11am for about 15 minutes, but later said he had arrived at work at 11am. She said security at Kirribilli House would not be reviewed. The yacht's captain declined to speak to the Herald. Customs would not comment on whether it had a record of boarding the yacht on Monday.


New tanks set for battle

The Australian Army's new tanks are likely to see battlefield action, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has warned, as the first arrived in Melbourne. The first 18 of 59 Abrams battle tanks - bought from the United States at a cost of $528 million - were unloaded at Port Melbourne today. Each weighs in at 63 tonnes and at full-throttle can hit almost 70 km/h.

Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy told a delivery ceremony in a container terminal that the Abrams were much superior to the army's 30-year-old Leopard tanks, which are being retired without ever having seen battle.

Dr Nelson said that while he hoped the Abrams would also never be used in anger, he suspected they would be. "The 59 Abrams tanks that we are likely to be using over the next 30 years, I hope and pray that they will never have to be used in anger," he said. "But I fear that those hopes may be dashed. "The reality is that we are living in a world that is changing very quickly - it has changed enormously over the last five years especially."

The army's Abrams tanks have been reconditioned from a model first built in 1989, but Dr Nelson denied suggestions Australia had bought second-hand goods, saying most components were new. "These are brand new tanks. They are as well-developed as they can possibly be," he added.

Lt-Gen Leahy said the Abrams was combat-proven. "It will deliver superior levels of firepower, protection, mobility and communications," Lt-Gen Leahy said. The US ambassador to Australia, Robert McCallum Jr, described the Abrams as one of the most "effective and lethal" weapons. "We are delighted that our oldest and closest ally in the Pacific will be operating the Abrams tank alongside us, increasing our joint operational capabilities," Mr McCallum told the crowd.

The 18 tanks delivered today will be taken to army bases at Puckapunyal and Bandiana in Victoria. The remaining 41 tanks will be delivered to Darwin by mid-2007.


"Equal opportunity" dictates who can enter a bar???

More craziness in Victoria

A swank city bar wants the right to keep an even mix of men and women within its walls if noisy mobs threaten to wreck its atmosphere. Comme's owner this month applied to delay entry for some patrons to stop either sex swamping his serene wine bar. Renowned Melbourne restaurateur Frank van Haandel lost his bid to be exempted from equal opportunity laws at certain times in the Alfred Place hotel's bar areas. But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal left the path open for him to try again.

Mr Van Haandel argued that delaying entry to keep an even split of the sexes would help block big rowdy gatherings of men or women invading the venue and ruining the relaxed vibe. The push follows past rulings on gender balance affecting some other bars and nightclubs that promote the mingling of men and women. But it sparked fears of disruptive queues from local residents' group Melbourne 3000 Inc.

Mr Van Haandel, who also owns the Stokehouse, Circa and Prince of Wales Hotel, said Comme's bar suited professionals and he was keen to retain its ambience. Some patrons had complained of groups of raucous men or women encroaching on the CBD after footy and rugby league matches, the tribunal was told. His company Halifex Pty Ltd's legal bid excluded the venue's private function and dining areas.

VCAT deputy president Cate McKenzie was unconvinced that a gender balance was the best way to prevent excessive noise. But in a written ruling she left the option of re-applying open if extra material was presented. Mr Van Haandel declined to comment. The chief executive officer of Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria, Helen Szoke, said: "Comme can deal very simply with the issue of noise and inappropriate behaviour by asking people to leave." [The stupid bitch should try kicking out drunks herself. She might learn something]


Friday, September 22, 2006

Australian Left supports dam-building

No doubt the Greenies will be fuming but I think they know they have lost this one. They will certainly get no joy from Australia's conservatives

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says a federal Labor government would make water a national responsibility and might put extra money into state projects such as dams and pipelines. Mr Beazley told an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce function in Brisbane yesterday that Labor would release a water blueprint before the next federal election. "We regard all these issues of infrastructure require national leadership and national responsibility," Mr Beazley said. "There is too much finger-pointing that goes on with the states but they don't have the resources. "They are important players and important deliverers but they simply do not have the resources."

Mr Beazley said it was also the Federal Government's role to help the states manage the "political problems" associated with building dams and pipelines. "The states confront, often, so much local pressure they atrophy," he said. "And the commonwealth has to be able to move beyond that and sometimes provide the resources at least to leverage some of the very big projects which need to be put in place." Queensland's state Labor Government recently established water as a separate portfolio.


Howard hits out at wealthy nations over subsidies

The Doha talks remained deadlocked last night in Cairns as Prime Minister John Howard lashed out at wealthy developed countries for protecting farmers while Australia opened itself up to competition. An upbeat World Trade Organisation director-general Pascal Lamy told early sessions of the Cairns Group that Doha could be revived by early next year, using diplomacy and "strong political will". But by late yesterday Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile admitted talks with US Secretary of Trade Susan Schwab had produced little hope of compromise. "The US is still sticking to its position on domestic support," Mr Vaile said. "But the important thing here is that people are still talking."

The central sticking points remain America's refusal to lower its agricultural assistance from an already reduced $22 billion to $17 billion while Europe refused to cut what it says are considerable reductions in tariff protection by a further 5 per cent. The stand-off led to a collapse of Doha in Geneva last July.

Mr Howard, who flew to Cairns yesterday and held meetings with the US, said Australia had a vital national interest in unlocking Doha, including an estimated $20 billion in trade for the 18-member Cairns Group. He pointed the finger at key developed countries who still protected farmers while Australia opened itself up to the realities of global economics. Mr Howard said America had shown good faith initially in offering to cap its agricultural assistance at $22 billion, but that offer had produced no response from Europe.

Mr Lamy told the Cairns group, marking its 20th anniversary, that Doha had required a quantum leap from previous agreements. He suggested there was still a window, specifically between November this year and March next year, to get the talks back on track which would allow US President George W. Bush to push any agreement through Congress. But Mr Lamy warned it was no use returning to the negotiating table without doing the hard yards. "It is at the national level in each WTO member country that a deal needs to be worked out," he said. President of the National Farmers Federation David Crombie also stepped up the pressure to reignite Doha. He said we need not settle for a diluted deal: "Doha Lite won't do."


The socialist happiness experts

Nanny state activists should heed the message of a federation free-marketeer Bruce Smith

Perhaps the most penetrating one-liner in the history of political philosophy is P.J. O'Rourke's observation that government is to life what pantyhose is to sex. Yet, according to recent polls most people have an illogical yearning for pantyhose. They seem to believe that governments should be doing more, not less, to regulate our lives. Even more troubling is the belief that by doing more, governments could be making us more happy.

Last weekend The Sydney Morning Herald splashed with a new survey that found 77 per cent of those polled believed that "a government's prime objective should be achieving the greatest happiness of the people, not the greatest wealth". This segued into a full-scale push for government to get involved in the happiness industry. For analysis of the poll, the Herald drew upon Clive Hamilton's Australia Institute, a body devoted to whingeing about Australia's economic prosperity. Hamilton concluded that Australians are an unhappy lot and "we need a wholesale shift in the orientation of government away from a focus on the economy and towards national wellbeing".

Let's try to work out what these dulcet sounding words - wellbeing and happiness - mean. The Australia Institute points us to the Wellbeing Manifesto which assures us that Australians are unhappy with the values of the market - individualism, selfishness, materialism, competition - and pining for the nicer values of trust, self-restraint, mutual respect and generosity. Ergo, government must regulate a utopian world where we all have fulfilling work, but not for more than 35 hours a week, and live in cities with advertisement-free zones because "advertising makes us more materialistic".

That may make the fellows over at the Australia Institute happy, but the problem with happiness is that it is hard to find a more individual phenomenon. Like beauty, happiness is in the eye of the beholder. Imagining that some government Department of Homeland Happiness can second guess what makes us happy makes little sense. It's even more illogical given that, when people are asked which profession they trust the most, politicians are routinely ranked at the bottom of the list behind lawyers, journalists and psychics.

Those who follow the modern-day push to get happiness on the top of the government agenda will notice that Bhutan always gets a mention. If you haven't heard of Bhutan, you haven't missed much. Except that, as the SMH tells us, Bhutan's Government, presiding over a people where the average income is $3 a day, has created a world first with its Gross National Happiness Index. In its quest for happiness, the Bhutan Government has banned MTV and show wrestling.

Transplanted to Australia, the Australia Institute's preferred government would, perhaps, start by banning McMansions as crass symbols of affluenza and hand out tax breaks for inner-city terrace dwellers. Driving this push for government to get into the happiness business is a basic mistrust of the average punter's aspirations. And a belief that only elites can determine what makes a nation happy. For these happiness bureaucrats, it's nothing more than an old-fashioned grab for power where government gets to play god.

To justify this power grab, the happiness experts are keen to convince us that, despite growing economic prosperity and rising incomes, we are an unhappy bunch. They tell us we are still unhappy in a booming economy because somewhere someone is always better off than we are. "It's a rat race," concluded the Herald, before deferring to an expert who said that east Germans have plummeting levels of happiness (despite soaring living standards) because they now compare themselves to west Germans.

You don't have to be a psychic to see where this is going. The implication is that only an equal distribution of wealth through central planning will ensure eternal happiness and wellbeing. In earlier times, we'd call that socialism or, in its more egregious form, communism. The only problem with that model is history. Whatever you call it, central planning doesn't work. The only equality of outcome it delivers is equality of misery. Everyone is worse off. Test it this way. It's 1988. Where would you rather live? East Germany or West Germany?

More than a decade after Tony Blair convinced the British Labour Party to ditch clause IV of its constitution which encapsulated the old socialist ideal of "common ownership", the left-wing guys at the Fabian Society in Australia are finally catching up. National secretary, Evan Thornley, feels that the Fabian Society's objective to abolish "the economic power and privileges of individuals and classes... through the collective ownership and democratic control of the economic resources of the community", is outdated.

Perhaps Thornley, a Labor candidate in the forthcoming Victorian elections, has been listening to Mitch Fifield. A few weeks ago, the Victorian Liberal senator, did something rare. During the last sitting of federal parliament, he introduced Australians to a chap named Bruce Smith. Most people will say Bruce who? But unlike Bhutan, Smith is worth discovering before we succumb to the alluring, but flawed, happiness movement. As Fifield said: "Bruce Smith is not exactly a household name, nor has he been graced with a parkland statue, but his unassuming name masks his legacy as one of Australia's significant and early liberal thinkers." An Englishman, Smith entered federal parliament in Australia in 1901 and remained there until 1919. During that time he was a strong opponent of immigration restrictions, the White Australia Policy, compulsory arbitration and the more liberal welfare policies advocated by his colleagues.

His political philosophy is set out in his timeless book, Liberty and Liberalism, published in 1887 and republished last year by the Centre for Independent Studies. Fifield summed up Smith's most important political message as being "the reminder that governments have limited capacity to improve the welfare of individuals. Australians are better off when encouraged and nurtured to work on improving themselves rather than turning to the state for answers." As Smith said: "Liberalism does not seek to make all men equal: nothing can do that."

Victorian Labor senator Gavin Marshall rose a week later to admonish Fifield for "taking part in a Government that limits freedoms and personal liberty like some totalitarian state". Pointing, among other things, to the federal Government's anti-terrorism laws as evidence, Marshall summed up the fundamental distinction between the two sides of politics. One believes that government's most fundamental role is to keep people safe. The other is wedded to more government as the way to make people happy. If the latest polls are accurate, Smith's book should be on the curriculum in our high schools if only to educate the next generation away from this hopelessly romantic notion.


Left and Right unite in native title fight

The ruling clashes with a High Court ruling so the case will almost certainly be lost in the High Court

Both the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, have encouraged the West Australian Government to appeal against a decision that granted native title of Perth and its surrounds to the indigenous Noongar people. The Federal Court on Tuesday ruled the Noongar people had proved their claim to an area of land three times the size of Tasmania, the first time native title has been recognised over a metropolitan area.

Mr Howard, whose government earlier this year radically changed the Land Rights Act, said his immediate reaction was "one of some considerable concern". "Many people will regard it as somewhat incongruous [that] there could still be some residual native title claim in a major settled metropolitan area," he said.

Mr Beazley said the Federal Court decision appeared to be different from previous native title rulings made by the High Court. "But people ought to understand completely there is no threat entailed in any of this for anybody's property rights in Western Australia," he said.

The Noongar claim covers 193,956 square kilometres, from Hopetoun to north of Jurien Bay. The Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox was satisfied the Noongar people had shown their society had been maintained since European settlement in 1829. The WA Government has 21 days from the date of the decision to lodge an appeal


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Crooked cops caught red-handed

Graphic video images of detectives beating and kicking a suspect in an interview room have rocked the inquiry into the Victoria Police's disbanded armed offenders squad. One of three detectives accused over the bashing collapsed in the County Court witness box yesterday after being shown the secretly filmed footage. Another officer was warned against perjuring himself as he denied taking part in the bashing on the 11th floor of St Kilda Road police headquarters on May 10.

The video, taken by a hidden camera installed in the interview room for the Office of Police Integrity, includes the voice of an officer threatening to remove the suspect's ear. The video was revealed on the second day of open public hearings into the squad, which was disbanded this month. Three officers who appeared yesterday - Robert Lachlan Dabb, Mark Harrison Butterfield and Matthew Franc - all denied assaulting the suspect, identified only as A100.

The hearing was told that a bungled search for the suspect's sawn-off shotgun and his stash from a jewellery store robbery sparked a two-hour interrogation in which he was beaten with a telephone after asking to make a call, slapped repeatedly about the face and kicked while being held on the ground. At one stage, the suspect is allegedly struck four times in time with the words "F------ . armed . robbery . squad." The video shows detectives telling A100 to decide whether to be "all friendly and co-operative" or whether he will do it the "f------ hard, hard, hard way". When he does not answer, A100 appears to be pushed to the floor and one of the officers says: "Welcome to the armed robbery squad."

The video shows one officer, alleged to be Detective Senior Constable Butterfield, repeatedly hitting A100, whose ear was bleeding, before telling him: "That ear's coming off by the end of the day." The former head of the squad, Detective Inspector Bernie Rankin, also allegedly enters the room and tells A100 it's going to be "a long old day for you, pal" and that "it might be a lot less painful and a lot easier for you" if he listens to advice. Detective Senior Constable Dabb told the hearing he was unaware that a recording device had been placed in the room. He collapsed in the witness box after being shown some footage.

A group of men in the public gallery rushed to assist, lifting him back to his feet. Senior Constable Dabb pulled at his tie and collar as the men led him from the room, and resisted attempts by security staff to usher him back in, telling them: "Get your hands off me." Senior Constable Dabb's lawyer, Rowan Skinner, later said a doctor had issued a certificate saying he was medically unfit to give evidence until Thursday. Earlier, Senior Constable Dabb said accusations by the OPI against the squad, revealed on Monday, were scurrilous.

The other accused officer, Sergeant Matthew Franc, denied kicking A100 while another officer pinned him to the ground. Hartog Berkeley, QC, who is conducting the hearing, told Sergeant Franc to consider his options overnight and to "talk it over with a good friend" before "perjuring" himself further. Mr Berkeley refused applications by media outlets for access to the video images.

Sean Cash, for Sergeant Franc, said the images - which he likened to the notorious police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles - could "overwhelmingly prejudice" any potential trial. Police Association secretary Paul Mullett said the officers were still entitled to a presumption of innocence. He labelled the hearing and the OPI's use of hidden cameras in squad offices as "questionable". The hearing continues this morning at the County Court.

Meanwhile, Premier Steve Bracks has defended the OPI's decision to make the inquiry open to the public. He said a closed hearing would be "an usual circumstance" and the OPI had the discretion to hold open hearings under state legislation.

More here

More on pro-terrorist "Research"

The critics of my opinion piece on terrorism research allege that the status quo is fine. They also defend the ubiquitous "class, sex, race" theoretical template and similar ideological presuppositions that predetermine the outcomes of their research. These defenders of the status quo complacently think their research paradigm is irrefutable and therefore anyone who challenges them must be wrong. They typify the arrogance of the academic elites that dominate the research agenda in Australia. Fortunately, the truly lamentable state of affairs in terrorism studies is becoming clear as other scholars in the field reveal the abuses that are occurring ("Research 'blames West for terror"', The Australian, September 15).

Among the critics defending the status quo are Stuart Koschade and Luke Howie, who are doing PhDs. They claim that "during the next four years the academic community will be inundated with young Australian scholars with a special expertise in studying terrorism".

Apparently Australians are meant to think this is a good thing. On the contrary, we should be very worried about the ideologies that these researchers will be imposing on terrorism studies in the near future. In fact, these ideologies are quite bizarre, as I pointed out in my original article, and as David Martin Jones and Carl Ungerer have also recently revealed ("Delusion reigns in terror studies", The Australian, September 15). Overwhelmingly, these ideologies blame the victim for terrorism and absolve the terrorists.

Koschade and Howie proudly refer to themselves as members of "an ambitious bunch and we all plan to be significant features on the terrorism studies landscape". Let us therefore take them at their word and look at what they have achieved in this field as they have pursued their climb up the academic ladder. Koschade managed a special mention in the Best Paper by an Emerging Researcher prize, Social Change in the 21st Century conference 2005, a conference he promotes in his article. This conference is a one-day affair that appeals to postgraduates and has nothing particularly to do with terrorism. Koschade presented an essay about Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that was active in the early 1990s.

Howie similarly promotes the Safeguarding Australia Summit in Canberra this week, at which he is presenting a paper on Melbourne as a Terrorist Target and the Human Response as part of a session that goes for all of 20 minutes (tomorrow, for those who don't want to miss it). This conference exemplifies the way in which terrorism research has been absorbed into the academic conference industry. Participation in this industry is open to anyone who pays a very high fee: in this case, $1195. In return, participants get the opportunity to present a micro-paper (15-18 minutes) on the subject of their choice, the big pay-off being that they can then include their presentation at an impressive-sounding conference in their CV as they proceed to climb the academic ladder.

A gang of four critics (Alex Bellamy, et al, HES, September 13) also defends the status quo, within which they are apparently doing very well, exploring such areas as the "aesthetics of terrorism", as if there is something sublime about mangled bodies. Fortunately, the ideological bias of their work has been well exposed by others, so I need waste little time on them here, beyond noting their defence of the equally questionable views of Scott Burchill. Unfortunately, they fail to disclose that one of their number, Richard Devetak, is a co-author with Burchill of a textbook on international relations: hardly the basis of an objective defence.

This group also alleges that I have an obligation to disprove Burchill's claims that "Muslim identity in Australia has been increasingly constructed as a problematic Other". Why? If Burchill (or anyone else) says that Muslim identity is constructed by Santa Claus, am I obliged to disprove such a patently absurd claim? Isn't it up to Burchill to prove such assertions in the first place? The group then writes about "the empirical basis" of these arguments about the Other, as if such a basis exists. In fact there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that this "social construction of the Other" model has any basis in reality. This obsession with the Other is simply an item of faith taken up by post-structuralists and postmodernists and inherited from Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida and Edward Said, none of whom proved that it relates to any real aspect of human knowledge. It certainly plays no role in any reputable psychology or epistemology.

Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee (HES, September 13) are explicit: they want me silenced. They also defend the theoretical template, make some observations about the Enlightenment and suggest I take a sabbatical in Kabul, without showing what any of this has to do with terrorism research in Australia. Brett Bowden's article (HES, September 13) is also simplistic and misleading, and he undermines his own credibility by misquoting the title of one of my articles. Bowden refers to What's Wrong with Terrorism? by Robert Goodin of the Australian National University, where Bowden is based. This book is notable for Goodin's claim that "terror is not only the weapon of organisations like al-Qa'ida; it also benefits democratic politicians. Political figures conducting a campaign of fear as part of their war on terrorism may therefore be committing at least one of the same wrongs as terrorists themselves."

This absurd and dangerously irresponsible argument exemplifies the crisis of terrorism studies in Australia. These critics seek to defend the ideological status quo from which they benefit, even if that ideology equates terrorism with the policies of the Australian Government and other democratic governments, and absolves vicious terrorists who have openly declared their intentions of destroying our society.


The usual government approach to "child welfare"

No Australian State is free from such gross official negligence

A baby suffered serious electrical burns, witnessed repeated acts of domestic violence and lived in horrific conditions for 22 months before Victorian welfare authorities finally took her away from her drug-addicted mother. The state's Department of Human Services was first notified of concerns for the girl in March 2001, when the child was three months old. Despite the mother's first child being removed from her care in 1999, the second child was not removed by the department until January 2003.

The full horror of the girl's first two years of life have been detailed in a judgment handed down by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. A non-government child welfare worker, who made repeated visits to the mother's Melbourne home between August 2002 and January 2003, detailed the appalling conditions the child was forced to endure. On her first visit, the worker found the child, then 19 months old, wearing only a sodden nappy that had leaked on a three-seater couch. It left a pool of urine that the mother made no attempt to acknowledge or clean up.

The girl was also eating yoghurt with hands that were covered in urine. Asked by the worker to take away the yoghurt, bath her daughter and change her nappy, the Aboriginal mother, who was 21 years old when she gave birth, said: "I'll do it after I finish my smoke and coffee." Despite the electrical burns suffered eight months earlier, the worker - on the next visit - saw the girl playing with electrical cords plugged into the wall. On September 13, 2002, the worker found the mother and girl lying together on a filthy mattress. A male friend was present and said he and the mother had been drinking the previous night. An open beer bottle was at his feet. It was 9.30am.

The girl, who was unclean and naked, picked up an empty baby bottle that she pushed against her vagina and then placed in her mouth. The worker noticed a large bruise and graze on the girl's knee. Five days later, the worker returned and saw a bump "the size of a walnut" on the girl's head. The mother said her daughter had fallen over. Asked if the girl had seen a doctor, the mother said "she didn't need to because she was OK". The next day the worker returned to find the bump on the girl's head was "still large and now (had) a large dark blue bruise surrounding it". She suggested the mother take her to a doctor as she could have a concussion. The mother said "she could not because she had access today and then had to go shopping".

The mother subsequently took the child to a parenting group. The girl became extremely distressed, screaming and banging her head against the floor. The mother ignored her and only picked her up after urging by a welfare worker. The department was first notified about the child when she was nearly three months old. Seven months later, in October 2001, the department received a second notification. In January 2002, three days after her first birthday, the girl received serious electrical burns to her foot requiring skin grafts.

A supervision order was made in the Children's Court of Victoria in March 2002. But the mother repeatedly breached it, turning up to the department high on drugs and with the girl. On November 14, 2002, the mother said her daughter had been vomiting and had suffered diarrhoea for two days. The welfare worker suggested she take her to a doctor but the mother said the girl was "alright (and) was getting better". "The (worker) noticed piles of cat faeces in the bedroom that appeared to have been there for many days," the VCAT summary said. "(The mother) said her toilet was blocked and that she was using a bucket to urinate in and tipping it out around the back of the flat". The worker returned with a social work student to clean up the flat. "The smell of faeces in the flat was overpowering," she said. "There was six empty methadone bottles on the lounge room floor and on the mantle that were easily accessible."

On January 2003, the mother brought her daughter to a welfare agency, the Caroline Chisolm Society. After smelling the girl's dirty nappy, the worker saw patches of raw skin on her bottom and noticed a rash and thrush halfway down her leg. The mother said she had been drinking vodka and had forgotten to take the girl to the doctor. Evidence from another welfare worker outlined how the girl picked up a used syringe. The mother appeared unconcerned.

The girl was removed from the mother's care after a report to the department from the Royal Children's Hospital in January 2003. The mother was subsequently found to have a history since early childhood of severe domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect and deprivation. When the mother was three, her older sister had been murdered. She was placed in foster care but had suffered repeated sexual abuse there. She lived on the street from the age of 14 and had convictions for theft and robbery from the age of 15. She also took heroin. The mother now sees her child, supervised, for two hours every three weeks. Senior VCAT member Robert Davis rejected her bid for shared guardianship. He said the girl, now five, appeared to be well settled and "thriving" with her foster parents, their two children and her sister.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A realistic Prime Minister defends his troops

Prime Minister John Howard has leapt to the defence of soldiers caught acting offensively and mishandling their weapons in Iraq, saying they were simply letting off steam. But despite his efforts to play down their behaviour, the inquiry into the shooting death of Private Jake Kovco in Baghdad earlier this year asked to view video images of the skylarking soldiers to see if they were relevant to its investigation.

The images, which were posted on the internet, have severely embarrassed an Australian Defence Force already under fire over incidents involving misbehaving troops. Defence chief Angus Houston has blasted the actions of those posing for the videos, which include images of a soldier holding a gun to the head of a man, possibly one of his comrades, wearing Arab robes. He has promised to deal seriously with the antics and Labor has called for a full inquiry.

But Mr Howard said that while he did not condone it, the behaviour was understandable given the stresses the troops were working under. "I think we have to understand that soldiers work, particularly in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, they work in very stressful environments and soldiers through the ages have let off a bit of steam when they are working in stressful environments," Mr Howard said.

Counsel assisting the Kovco inquiry, Colonel Michael Griffin, has asked to see the images, which include several instances of soldiers mishandling their weapons, to see if they would help the inquiry. The inquiry has heard evidence that before he died in his room, Pte Kovco had mishandled the pistol that killed him, waving it around like a cowboy in a western movie. Although the offending videos were shot in 2003 - well before Pte Kovco's detachment arrived in Baghdad - Colonel Griffin believes they may still be relevant.


His Eminence nails the Muslims

Sydney's Catholic Archbishop has hit out at Muslims protesting over comments by the Pope, saying their reaction shows the link in Islam between religion and violence. Cardinal George Pell has also labelled the response of some Australian Muslim leaders to the issue as "unhelpful".

A wave of protest has erupted among Muslims across the globe after comments by Pope Benedict XVI, in which he quoted an obscure medieval text that criticised some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman". The Pope has since said he is "deeply sorry" for the outrage sparked by his remarks and stressed they do not reflect his personal opinion.

But Cardinal Pell today backed Pope Benedict, saying the violent reaction to his comments on Islam and violence illustrated his fears. "The violent reactions in many parts of the Islamic world justified one of Pope Benedict's main fears," Cardinal Pell said in a statement. "They showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence. "Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony within the Australian community, but no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions."

Dr Pell said it was a "sign of hope" that no organised violence had flared in Australia following Pope Benedict's comments. But he said the responses of Australia's mufti, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali, and of Dr Ameer Ali, of the prime minister's Muslim reference group, were "unfortunately typical and unhelpful". "It is always someone else's fault and issues touching on the nature of Islam are ignored. "Sheik Alhilali often responds to criticism by questioning the intelligence and competence of the questioner or critic," Dr Pell said. Later, on ABC Radio, he added of Sheik Alhilali: "I'm tempted to say almost never does he address the criticism of Islam but diverts the question away from it and I think resorts to evasions."

Dr Ali said yesterday Muslims in Australia were disappointed by the Pope's comments. "We expect the Pope to follow (in) the footsteps of his predecessor who had been a great builder among communities for the last so many years and not a pope of the crusades," Dr Ali said.

Dr Pell said Dr Ali had called on Pope Benedict to be more like Pope John Paul II than Pope Urban II, who called the First Crusade. "In fact the Pope's long speech was more about the weaknesses of the Western world, its irreligion and disdain for religion and he explicitly rejected linking religion and violence," Dr Pell said. "He won't be calling any crusade."

Dr Pell sought to draw a distinction between Westerners and Muslims. "Today Westerners often link genuine religious expression with peace and tolerance. "Today most Muslims identify genuine religion with submission (Islam) to the commands of the Koran. "They are proud of the spectacular military expansion across continents, especially in the decades after the Prophet's death. This is seen as a sign of God's blessing."

Dr Pell said while he was grateful for the contributions of moderate Muslims, "evil acts done falsely in the name of Islam around the world need to be addressed, not swept under the carpet". Dr Pell has repeatedly said Islam is more warlike than Christianity. In June this year he told the National Catholic Reporter in the United States: "It's difficult to find periods of tolerance in Islam."


The hate bigots are Muslims, not critics of Muslims

Twelve months ago, the states, territories and Federal Government agreed to prepare a national plan to "help all Australians work together to protect Australia from intolerance and extremism". With the help of the Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group, a $35 million program was developed and, two months ago, approved. It is aimed at coming to grips with extremists and includes a proposal for a world-class institute of Islamic studies, within a faculty of a prominent Australian university, to increase non-Muslim understanding of Islam.

It is to be hoped that some non-Muslim authorities are employed and that some of the self-appointed leaders of our Muslim communities enrol and are obliged to confront the realities of those Koranic texts which Islamofascists use to justify their insane violence. One who might benefit is Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations Inc executive director Kuranda Seyit, who yesterday issued a statement calling for more Muslim migration to Australia to "improve the level of decency in our society and reinforce our treasured Australian values''. "The more Muslims the better this country is off in terms of good old fashioned decency. We should be so lucky,'' he said.

Given the outrageous and bloody responses to the Danish cartoons last February and the lethal and destructive outbreak of hysteria across the Islamic world triggered by the scholarly address on the nature of God delivered by Pope XVI last Tuesday, which has not been condemned by anyone of any significance in the Australian Muslim community, it is hard to imagine what values Seyit could possibly have in mind.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb told a conference of Australian imams in Sydney on Saturday, there is a "world-wide struggle going on for the soul of Islam, a struggle that will be won or lost by Muslims, not non-Muslims.'' Australia's Islamic leaders blame the media (and everyone else) for the bad press Islam receives but Robb said "unfair stigmatisation of most of Australia's 360,000 Muslims is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem. The stigmatisation is one of the consequences intended by the extremists.'' "The extremists want to take the Muslim community back to the 7th Century,'' he said - and at the weekend they did, murdering an elderly Italian nun working in an American-funded SOS hospital in Somalia and through a rash of predictable attacks on Christian churches.

A sterling representative of the "religion of tolerance'' hardline Mogadishu cleric Sheik Abubukar Hassan Malinto urged his followers to hunt down and kill "whoever offends our prophet Mohammed on the spot by the nearest Muslim".

But only the abjectly ignorant could have been offended by the Pope's thoroughly researched address, although intelligent scholarly discourse on religion is apparently as alien to Islam abroad as it appears to be here. As the attacks on the Pope show, anyone who examines Islam and the claim that it does not incite violence is invariably accused of vilifying Mohammed, religious intolerance or ridiculously, Islamophobia.

Despite radical Islam's rabid apologists, and fellow travellers in the civil liberties lobby, and among various groups of anti-Americans, anti-Israelis and anti-Semites, terrorists from organisations such as Islamic Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah, Hamas, Hezbollah and their splinter groups, co-opt the Koran for their use. For example, the Koran invites Muslims to "wage war'' against Christians and Jews and to pray that Allah will fight against them (9:30), Christians and Jews are labelled "infidels'' and "hypocrites'' who live in Hell (66:9), those who claim Jesus is the Son of God are called "liars'' (4:171, 10:66-69), and will have "boiling water poured over the heads, melting whatever is in their bellies and skins'' (22:20). Those who disbelieve are "surely the vilest of animals in the sight of Allah'' (8:55), and polytheists are "the worst of creatures" (98:6). While many in the West encourage multi-faith dialogue, they have to overcome Koranic admonitions such as "do not take the unbelievers for friends'' (4:144). "do not be close friends with any other than your own people'' (3:117) and "when you meet unbelievers, behead them until you have made much slaughter among them'' (47:4).

No doubt some imams will quibble about these translations, but the references are from editions by reputable publishers Penguin and the King Fahd complex for the printing of the Koran in Saudi Arabia. And there are plenty more just as blood-curdling, used by imams like Saudi Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, at the al-Haraam mosque, the most important in Mecca, who preached the annihilation of Jews in his Ramadan address in December, 2002, in which he also branded Jews as "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs''.

It goes without saying that there are many fine Muslims, like the charming Javanese woman I had coffee with last week, who are disgusted by those who use Islam to incite violence. Naturally, no disrespect is meant to such people.

To blindly cave in every time a Muslim, or anyone else, gets excited about something someone has said in the most restrained and decorous manner is to indulge in the same sort of supine, spineless attitude that prevailed at Munich in 1938. And to ignore those who preach hatred, no matter their religion, is to play Russian roulette with civilisation


The good old generous taxpayer again

The Queensland Government will subsidise the travel of public-sector doctors to attend an extravagant medical conference in Beijing later this month, despite running a cash-starved health system that has lurched from crisis to crisis. The annual conference of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, the lobby group that was particularly vocal during the recent election campaign in which health was a key issue, will be held over five days in the Chinese capital. But delegates will have to attend only four morning sessions over the week and will hear from two keynote speakers - both of whom are based in Brisbane. All afternoons are taken up with leisure activities or sightseeing, with the only evening commitment the "conference farewell dinner".

Senior public health professionals who choose to attend can pay for it from the $20,000 they receive each year for professional development, an allowance secured by the AMAQ during salary negotiations held earlier this year. The Australian understands that senior government officials are disappointed by the AMAQ's choice of location, particularly when the enterprise bargaining agreement requires the allowance to be paid without restrictions.

The middle day of the conference, which will be held from September 25 to 29, begins with a breakfast on the Great Wall followed by a visit to the Summer Palace and Lake Kunming. "Comfortable rubber-soled hiking boots are strongly recommended," the conference itinerary states. Lunch is included. On the other four days, delegates will only have to attend programs on medical issues for a few hours each morning. Queensland AMA president Zelle Hodge said while she would not be attending the conference, it was a chance for doctors and other health professionals to network and share information. "This is an opportunity for people to develop some continuing professional development and it's not going to make any difference to the crumbling health system," Dr Hodge said. "It is not uncommon to share speakers across countries and understanding the complexities of healthcare across different countries."

A spokeswoman for Queensland Health said yesterday it was unclear how many public-system officials would attend the conference because it was organised on a "district by district" basis. The AMAQ was also unable to provide information about how many health professionals would be attending. State Health Minister Stephen Robertson could not be reached for comment. The AMAQ held its conference last year in St Petersburg, Russia.

While most health professionals attending the conference would be working in Queensland's private health sector, senior medical officers and superintendents working in the public system receive $20,000 each year to spend on continuing education programs. Dr Hodge said it was a matter of personal choice how public-sector officials chose to spend their salaries. "That money is part of their salary package which they utilise however they see fit and any travel they do for professional development is part of that package," she said. "This is part of their salary package, and it's not as if that money would not come out of that salary package and patients in Queensland are actually going to be adversely affected."


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dirty doctor loophole to be closed

The story below appeared in the Gold Coast Bulletin of 18 Sept. 2006

The [Qld.] State Government will close a legal loophole that allows convicted rapists to work as doctors. Work is already under way on new laws to stop doctors convicted of certain offences from continuing to treat patients in Queensland's health system. A spokesman for Premier Peter Beattie yesterday confirmed processes to create the new legislation were set in motion soon after the Government swept back to power on September 9. "There has already been an exchange of letters and we will be liaising with stakeholders about what needs to be done," he said. "We want to make sure any legislation is effective."

The move comes in the wake of public outrage after the Queensland Medical Board re-registered convicted rapist and known drug addict James Samuel Manwaring in July. After pleading guilty in 2002 to a vicious attack against his then wife, Manwaring was told by District Court judge Brian Hoath that nothing could 'excuse your involvement in these offences'. However, the Health Practitioner's Tribunal last July allowed him to immediately apply for re-registration after he had met a stipulation to submit hair for drug testing. He passed the drug test and was registered to work within days. The tribunal imposed a further 24 conditions on his registration which would be strictly monitored.

The board said its hands were tied by laws which forced them to allow Manwaring to re-register if he met the tribunal's criteria. At the time Mr Beattie vowed to investigate closing the loophole, ordering a report from the Medical Board into the laws and any potential effects.

Manwaring's victim Pat Gillespie, who has agreed to be identified, said there was no way Manwaring should be allowed to treat patients. She welcomed Mr Beattie's announcement, saying it would protect all Queenslanders. "I welcome what the Premier is doing for the patients of Queensland," she said. "This loophole needed to be closed and I am just really pleased and relieved that this is going to happen."

'Fair go' test for migrants

Migrants will need to understand the concept of the "Aussie fair go" before being granted citizenship under beefed-up immigration laws planned by the Howard Government. Newcomers will also need basic English skills and will have to wait at least four years to become citizens. However, while the Government says its proposals are now up for debate it is likely that some knowledge of Australian history, culture, national symbols, and the democratic system will become mandatory.

Parliamentary secretary Andrew Robb launched a discussion paper at a Melbourne citizenship ceremony yesterday, warning that certificates would no longer be handed out "like confetti". Mr Robb said the 100,000 new migrants who sought to become citizens each year would in future need to understand common Australian values, including what he described as the "spirit of the fair go". "These values include our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, support for democracy, our commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women, the spirit of the fair go, of mutual respect and compassion for those in need," he said.

Failing the test would not hurt a person's current visa status and they could repeat, but failures would be denied the privileges of citizenship, including an Australian passport, right to vote and opportunity to work in the public service. Mr Robb said terrorism and globalisation warranted a revised approach to qualifying for citizenship. "There are a whole lot of issues that are making the broader community feel that those that come and join our community should fully understand and have the skills to quickly and effectively become part of our community," he said. "What I think we are looking at is a level of English skill which would allow people to hold down a job, to converse with their workmates, to read a safety sign, to fill out some forms."

Migrants' groups have warned many new Australians will be intimidated by the test. Victorian Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs, John Pandazopoulos, said the discussion paper was creating "second-class citizens". "On the one hand they are saying we want people to become good Aussies, to settle quickly, but now they are saying they want more barriers," he said. "It contradicts campaigns they have been running for a few years now encouraging people to take out citizenship." Canada, Britain, the US and the Netherlands all have a language and citizenship knowledge test. Australia is considering exemptions, including for those under 18 or over 60.


Clerics 'teaching secret jihad'

Islamic clerics in Sydney and Melbourne are using covert tactics to preach martyrdom and jihad to young followers, recruiting them under the guise of classes teaching the Koran. Singapore-based terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told The Australian that despite their denials and stronger terror laws, religious leaders in the two cities continued to preach violence to impressionable followers, though they now did it away from their mainstream teachings. He said the clerics' influence on young believers increased the risk of a terrorist attack in Australia. "We have seen a number of Australian clerics preaching jihad and martyrdom," Dr Gunaratna said. "The most likely form of attack in Australia is a suicide attack for jihad. You will need to make arrests in time."

Clive Williams, who runs a terrorism and counter-terrorism program at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said young Muslims were being recruited for jihad through "Koran classes". "They are doing it differently now," he said. "They are advertising for Koran classes and then selecting a few people for an inner circle." Mr Williams said the clerics were profiling the followers in the Koran classes and selecting impressionable ones to target separately and privately for indoctrination. "It makes it very difficult to penetrate as an outsider," he said.

Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali denounced the claims as having no substance. "None of the qualified imams are preaching martyrdom and there is nothing to suggest that Koran classes are being used to recruit people," he said. "The Koran is very strong in the condemnation of these things."

Sheik Mohammed Omran from Melbourne, who has previously been accused of being one of Australia's most hardline clerics, said he was unaware of any such actions. Sheik Omran said terrorism experts made their living from the counter-terrorism industry and it was in their interests to keep the threat going.

The inaugural Conference of Australian Imams wound up in Sydney yesterday. About 100 Muslim leaders attended the two-day conference hosted by the federal Government's Muslim Reference Group. Parliamentary Secretary on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb told the conference that imams could play a significant role in minimising the opportunities for extremists to influence vulnerable youth, by speaking English. A communique issued at the end of the conference said the imams condemned all forms of terrorism, hatred and extremism in the past and would continue to do so. It was also agreed that religious leaders should have effective communication skills, including tuition in English with the aim of having sermons delivered entirely in English. They called for religious leaders to get a broader knowledge of Australian society, culture, politics and the legal system and for the training of a new generation of Australian-born imams.


A skewed vision from team green

Australian commentator Alan Oxley says Greenpeace is using misleading claims to cut down logging in PNG -- Australia's near Northern neighbour

Greenpeace is running a campaign that is raising eyebrows. It is accusing one large company of rape, enslaving its workers, abusing human rights, employing police brutality and corruption. In the worst criticism Greenpeace heaped on Shell over oil drilling in the North Sea and on Monsanto for developing and selling genetically modified oilseeds, it never resorted to such abuse. So who is the target now?

It is a company called Rimbunan Hijau, one of the largest foreign investors in Papua New Guinea and its largest forestry business. Greenpeace's attack on the company is a proxy attack on commercial forestry in PNG, which it wants to stop. Greenpeace has been joined by the Centre for Environmental Law and Conservation in PNG and the Australian Conservation Foundation. A recently released CELCOR-ACF report claims to present new evidence of the human rights abuses of the forestry industry. But all that is new are claims of five instances of abuse in nine years, all of which are unsubstantiated.

Conveniently, CELCOR and ACF report the complainants need to remain anonymous for their own safety. This means that none of the claims can be tested for truthfulness. Otherwise, the report repeats old claims, some of which have been made for a decade, about corruption, sexual abuse and enslavement in forestry in PNG. It repeats unsubstantiated reports published by Greenpeace in the past four years and unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuse in PNG aired by SBS, which has since removed the transcript of the program from its website.

To freshen the green campaign, the CELCOR-ACF report carries insinuations that Australian military forces and forestry companies are responsible for distribution of arms throughout PNG. This is a calculated distortion of an ugly reality in PNG. Personal safety in the country has never been poorer. Businesses across the country are calling in help from police forces to keep order. For forestry (and other) companies operating in remote environments, this is crucial. These businesses frequently transport citizens, officials and firefighters.

If Greenpeace succeeds in this campaign, it will be bad luck for the poor. Commercial forestry is an important contributor to PNG's economy. Evidently Greenpeace considers it is better to be poor and green than to reduce poverty and educate children. Rimbunan Hijau is a Malaysia-based group whose activities include the biggest forestry business in PNG. Greenpeace says the company is "acting as ruthless robber barons, plundering the rainforest with impunity" and that most of the company's logging (and therefore most logging in PNG) is illegal.

Greenpeace is also trying to orchestrate global pressure against the company. Recently, activists climbed on top of the Cabinet Office in London and called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to stop imports of timber from PNG because Greenpeace has labelled them illegal. In Australia it is lobbying the Government to do the same thing. The organisation also wants a global consumer boycott. It has accused the chief executive of one of the largest timber importers in Britain of complicity in the destruction of PNG's forests by importing PNG timber. The company has buckled and agreed not to buy any more.

The PNG Government vehemently denies that most forestry activity in its country is illegal. Our consultancy has completed an exhaustive analysis of these claims and concluded the PNG Government is right. There have been irregularities in forestry administration, as expected in a low-income developing country, and they have been corrected.

The way Greenpeace decides what is illegal is a set-up. It contends logging is illegal if, at the time it occurs, not all relevant government laws and regulations have been fully applied, not all provisions of all relevant international treaties have been implemented and not all relevant (presumably according to Greenpeace) human rights and labour rights have been provided. Consider what this means. If a government agency doesn't do its job properly, any transaction made by a business operating under regulations administered by that agency is illegal. In our system of law, everybody enjoys the presumption of innocence. The way Greenpeace seems to want it, someone is automatically guilty if a government official is incompetent. This is a ruse. When applied in a poor, developing country where all government administration is rickety, it reflects a callous calculation.

Greenpeace's rhetoric stands in stark contrast to the hollowness of its claims. PNG is lush with forests; they cover 65per cent of the country. Greenpeace claims these forests could be cleared within a decade. That is impossible. Only 31 per cent of PNG forests have been marked for commercial use; that is, forestry and clearance for agriculture. Among the remaining forest, 5 per cent has been reserved to protect biodiversity and 37 per cent remains unallocated. PNG's forests are not endangered, nor is its natural biodiversity.

We also examined every one of Greenpeace's allegations of rape, police brutality and abuse of labour rights and corruption made against the company. We concluded they are baseless or cannot be properly substantiated. Greenpeace says the company practises slavery. The PNG labour department reported that the targeted company pays its work force 2.7 times the PNG minimum wage. Slavers don't do that. The allegation of police brutality is based on claims by one former police officer who has left the country. Forestry companies in PNG work closely with the police. Greenpeace well knows that law enforcement breaks down regularly in parts of PNG. Forestry businesses regularly transport police to remote areas because they have aircraft, while the police don't. They are performing a public service.

Greenpeace wants commercial logging in PNG's native forests replaced with eco-forestry or subsistence forestry. Yet the consequences would be immense. The commercial forestry industry in PNG employs about 10,000 people, generates about 5 per cent of the economy, earns about $250 million year in exports and adds $100 million to tax revenues. In addition, companies such as Rimbunan Hijau provide roads, airfields, air services, wharves and schools and medical clinics in remote areas.

Not only would this all be lost if the industry were closed down, but the PNG Government would have to subsidise the replacement eco-forestry. For 10 years there have been efforts to demonstrate the commercial viability of eco-forestry in PNG and all have failed. Even WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature), Greenpeace's partner in its forestry campaigns, says eco-forestry can succeed only if government pays for it. PNG needs more growth and revenue, not less. Seventy per cent of people in PNG live on less than $US2 ($2.66) a day. Three out of four children in rural areas do not go to school. The Asian Development Bank reported in 2004 that, per capita, gross domestic product in PNG was 10 per cent lower than in 1975. Recently, Patrick Pruaitch, PNG's Minister for Forests, said that if Greenpeace had its way, "the people of PNG would pay the price". He said the Government would resist efforts by international green non-government organisations to weaken PNG's economy.

What is driving Greenpeace to propose such a strategy? It opposes commercial forestry in natural bush, yet there is no environmental science that tells us this is necessary. Native forests can be sustainably logged, as they are in Australia. PNG has plenty of forest to get the environmental balance right. To Greenpeace, PNG is just a pawn in a bigger campaign. For more than 15 years, Greenpeace and WWF have hankered for a global forest convention to implement their goal of replacing commercial forestry with eco-forestry worldwide. Only some European countries support this. Developing countries mistrust their motives and the US does not support it. So the strategy is to whip up concern about illegal logging and goad governments into using trade sanctions to bring developing countries to heel.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Kyoto 'a slogan, not a solution'

Some lip service to global warming from Australia but no action

Environment Minister Ian Campbell today stood firm on Australia's long standing refusal to sign onto the Kyoto protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions, declaring it a slogan not a solution. Senator Campbell, fresh back from the UN framework conference on climate change in Switzerland, backed urgent action on climate change but with better quality practical international action. He said there was a sense of frustration that the whole process was becoming too bureaucratic and that more practical action was needed.

But for Australia, that would not involving signing the Kyoto accord. "I don't think people who make alarmist predictions do us much of a favour because the public will switch off. There are going to be substantial serious consequences of not addressing climate change, urgently and with multiple billion dollar investments. "The problem is too serious to offer up slogans as solution. Signing Kyoto is a slogan. It's not a solution. Investing billions of dollars in the technologies we need to transform the way we produce and use energy is a substantial solution." Senator Campbell said Australia could end all carbon emissions overnight but growth in China alone would replace Australian emissions within 10 months. "We could be the best climate change country in the world - and we are one of the best - but without cooperative effective action internationally we will not save Perth's beaches," he said.

Labor has strongly backed Australia signing the Kyoto Protocol but Senator Campbell said the reality was that protocol was being rewritten. He said Kyoto signatories such as France were nine per cent over its Kyoto target, Norway 22 per cent, Portugal 26 per cent and Spain 36 per cent. "The whole world is moving beyond Kyoto and Labor is saying sign up to something that was really drafted six, seven, eight years ago, which we know is not working," he said. "There is no gain to ratifying. We are part of a process that is designing the post-Kyoto world."

Senator Campbell said the Switzerland meeting aimed to prepare a group of some 30 ministers for the next meeting in Nairobi in a few weeks. He said what he sought to achieve was a new focus on technology transfer so that innovative technology could be speedily disseminated through the world. Unlike many of his coalition colleagues, Senator Campbell backed the thrust of the movie An Inconvenient Truth by former US vice-president Al Gore. He said respected scientists agreed with him that the science in the movie was sound and the consequences of not addressing the problems were very substantial. "We have got to remember there are consequences of global warming. There will be sea level rises. There already have been," he said.


Tradesmen needed

Under threat from East European rivals, Britain's plumbers, plasterers and tilers are being sought by Australia to fill a vast skills gap. Australia is next month to begin recruitment drives in Britain and Ireland. It has added a dozen trades to its "occupations-in-demand list", which gives those in certain sectors the highest number of points as skilled migrants. The trades include carpentry, joinery, plumbing, welding and tiling.

So great is the need for labour that the Government has increased to 100,000 the number of skilled migrants it will allow to settle this year, compared with 20,000 in 2005. The Chinese economy's need for raw materials has fuelled a mining boom, with Western Australia and Queensland in particular desperate for tradesmen. New towns are springing up, generating demand for hairdressers, bakers and chefs.

Tradesmen from the British Isles speak the language and are happy with Australian irreverence. The Australian High Commission is to host "Australia needs skills" conferences in London, Manchester and Dublin, urging skilled workers to apply.


Baby bonus boosts birthrate

The Government's $4000 maternity payment has helped to accelerate the nation's birthrate with more than 10,000 extra babies born in the past year. Centrelink data on the number of parents claiming the $4000 baby bonus, obtained using Freedom of Information laws, reveals that the birthrate is rising at a much faster rate than previously thought. The figures show that 268,667 parents claimed the Federal Government payment for their newborns in 2005-06. While yet to be confirmed in official birth statistics, this number represents an increase of more than 10,000 births on the previous year and more than 16,000 on 2003-04.

Demographers suggest the maternity payment - worth $3000 when it was introduced in July 2004 but increased to $4000 in July this year - combined with low interest rates and low unemployment, may be driving the baby boom. Australia's fertility rate, which reached 1.8 babies per woman last year, is up from 1.72 in 2003 and is well above rates of between 1.2 and 1.4 in many other developed nations.

The figures provide the first comprehensive picture of the number and ages of people who have claimed the baby bonus in the two years since its introduction. According to the Centrelink data, there were 235,299 claims for the bonus - comprising 194,342 couples and 40,957 single parents - in 2004-05. The number of claims jumped by 33,368 in 2005-06 to 268,667, perhaps reflecting the fact that some parents failed to claim the bonus in its first year. The figures dispel suggestions the lucrative payment has encouraged teenagers to have children, with only 186 extra claims by teenagers between 2004-05 and 2005-06. Overall, 4800 teenagers claimed the bonus in 2005-06.

However, older women are increasingly giving birth. The number of claims by parents over the age of 40 increased from 9906 to 15,873. Similarly, the number of claims by parents aged 35-39 increased from 44,783 in 2004-05 to 55,350 in 2005-06.

A spokeswoman for Treasurer Peter Costello - who famously remarked at the 2004 Budget that families should have "one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country" - said the Government's family-friendly policies were responsible for the growing birthrate. "The Government has offered a number of incentives, such as the baby bonus, substantial increases in the rates of family benefits and extra childcare places to help with the hurdles of raising a family. "Having a child can be costly and it is pleasing that this payment is helping thousands of families around Australia with these costs. If it brings about an increase in the fertility rate, that is a good thing." A higher number of births reflected a growing level of confidence in Australia's future and that families had been experiencing a high level of economic security under the Coalition Government, the spokeswoman said.


Stupid water policies

Are the states imposing almost useless drought restrictions on water consumers while failing to build the infrastructure to bring water where it's needed?

As last summer ended, booming southeast Queensland was the only urban sprawl on the mainland without water restrictions. But suddenly, it seems, Queenslanders are also running short of water. On the first day of business after last weekend's Queensland state election, the re-elected Labor Government led by Premier Peter Beattie awarded 180,000 pool owners the toughest and most expensive water-saving requirement in the country: compulsory covers for their swimming pools to reduce evaporation loss. Many can expect to be out of pocket by as much as $2000 as a result. Are such restrictions value for money in terms of the cost of water saved? Not always.

Federal parliamentary secretary for water Malcolm Turnbull says the new Queensland "pool tax" is the latest example of short-term thinking and poor water planning in Australia, resulting from serial abuse of water utilities by state and local governments. "Water-saving measures are good, but you have to look at them with a hard head," Turnbull says. "Water is not the only scarce resource. So is money."

Water infrastructure - dams, desalination and recycling plants - is costly to build, but once in place the operating costs of the business are relatively low. State-owned water utilities are a valuable money pot for cash-strapped governments reluctant to give up some of the revenue stream to expand supply.

As part of new water restrictions beginning in Brisbane and other parts of southeast Queensland in November, gardens can only be watered legally by bucket or can. The taps have really been screwed down on backyard pools, effective as of summer 2007. As well as being required to fit a pool cover by the middle of next year, owners will need to complete two of three indoors retrofits: install a dual flush system in their toilet, fit a water-efficient shower head and buy a new, water-efficient washing machine.

Such is Brisbane's water supply that every drop counts, seemingly no matter what the cost. The Queensland Water Commission is quick to point out that 12 million litres of water is lost every day through evaporation from swimming pools. What it doesn't mention is that the cost of this imposed saving will be more than four times the cost of the water. At about $500 a pool cover, and assuming an ambitious but as yet unspecified regulatory regime to deliver savings of two-thirds of all evaporation, it will cost about $4 for each kilolitre of water saved. Presently Brisbane Water sells the same amount of water for 85c. Pool covers as a demand management strategy come in at five to 10 times more expensive than most of the more broadly accepted demand management options, including water-efficient showers and washing-machine rebates. This cost does not include optional extras including cover rollers and the extra cost to pool owners of replumbing their bathrooms. That it has come to this level of crisis management seems extraordinary in the fastest-growing corner of one of the most developed countries in the 21st century.

Dams take a long time to fill and a long time to empty. Queensland's Wivenhoe Dam is only a quarter full, enough water for two years, but who's taking chances? Being surprised by a water shortage is like having a tortoise sneak up on you. You need to be looking the other way for an awfully long time. And yet all state governments except the one in Tasmania have embraced the symbolism of water restrictions as a public response to shallower water levels, starting with Perth in the spring of 2001. Canberra followed suit a year later, then Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney in 2003.

For Brisbane, the warnings were writ large on the Wivenhoe Dam wall as early as 1991. The South East Queensland Water Resources Strategy of that year found that "existing storages ... have inadequate yields to meet the needs of the future predicted populations at current rates of water use. Even with stringent demand management, the provision of additional water supplies will be necessary in the future."

The Water Services Association of Australia represents the big water authorities providing water to three-quarters of Australians. It asserts population growth in Australia's cities - with the exception of Perth - has been catered for not by providing new water services, but by reducing per capita demand. In a paper on urban water last year, WSAA pointed out the easy measures had been targeted "and further measures are likely to be intrusive and may encounter community resistance".

In 2004-05, despite water restrictions in every mainland capital except Brisbane, city water authorities paid over $658 million in dividends to their respective state governments. That year, city water users saved 220 billion litres, with one exception: Brisbane.

The National Water Commission is reviewing and assessing the existing water restrictions. Chief executive of the Irrigation Association of Australia, Jolyon Burnett, says there is a bewildering array of water restrictions. "In southeast Queensland until this new state Water Commission took over, there were up to 14 different regulations. It is absolute madness, and the public have felt that this was a bit of a joke."

Burnett argues there are three problems with the present water restrictions. The first is the poor process, with a lack of consultation and lack of warning. "Secondly the lack of science, and thirdly the inequity. Outdoor water use is the only one that attracts mandatory attention," Burnett says.....

More here

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Migrant test 'fair dinkum'

For non-Australian readers, the term 'fair dinkum' means something like "genuine" or "serious" or "honest"

A plan to quiz would-be immigrants on Australian history and test their English could not be compared with the White Australia test, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday. The infamous test was administered in European languages until 1958 to keep out Asians who might speak English.

Mr Howard, who proposes to require immigrants to show a reasonable knowledge of English and Australian history, rejected comparisons with the White Australia policy dictation test. "It (English) would have to be a reasonable level but I can't understand how anybody can take exception to that," he said. Mr Howard said anyone ''fair dinkum" about becoming an Australian citizen would not have trouble with the tests. "You'll certainly need to know a good deal more about Australia and about Australian customs and the Australian way of life," he said.

A discussion paper outlining the citizenship test will be released tomorrow, including a requirement that migrants will have to wait four years before becoming Australian citizens. "Certainly we are going to lift the waiting period to four years," Mr Howard said. "There will be a fairly firm English language requirement and the paper itself . . . will contain quite a number of issues."

Attending a Greek community event in Canberra, Mr Howard said Greek immigrants were a "wonderful example" of successful integration. "You integrate fully, you become part of the mainstream, your first loyalty is to Australia, but that doesn't mean you don't have a place in your heart for your home culture," he said. Mr Howard has previously attacked the failure of some Muslim immigrants to Australia to fully integrate.

The citizenship test is part of a wider debate on Australian values, including a proposal by Labor leader Kim Beazley to make all new arrivals in Australia sign a values pledge. But Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said the Government was scaring people for cynical political advantage. "The Immigration Department has spent millions on advertising encouraging permanent residents to become citizens and now the Prime Minister is saying they will have to wait longer. It makes no sense."


Imams urged to correct false use of Koran

More blunt talk to Muslims from the Australian government

Australia's Islamic clerics have been urged to help correct the false use of the Koran by terrorists to justify their evil acts. The Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Robb called on some 100 Australian imams attending a government-sponsored conference to denounce the extremists' misrepresentation of Islam. "We live in a world of global terrorism where vile acts are regularly being perpetrated in the name of your faith," Mr Robb told the two-day conference which started. "Because it is your faith that is being invoked it is your problem. "You cannot wish it away or ignore it just because it has been caused by others."

The taxpayer-funded conference, which was intended for earlier this year, was initially the brainchild of the now divided Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. But organisation of the event was handed to the Muslim Community Reference Group members by Mr Robb after the AFIC failed to get it going. A number of hardcore Islamists have accepted invitations to attend.

Mr Robb urged delegates to preach to young Australian Muslims about the real meaning of the Koran. "I say to you speak up and condemn terrorism," He said. "I know many in your community are doing this .. but too many are silent."

Mr Robb also said it was essential for imams to have effective English language skills. Some 50 per cent of the 360,000 Muslims in Australia are under 25 years of age, and most were born in Australia with English as their first language, he said. "For imams to present Islam in a truly Australian context especially to second and third generations Australian Muslims, it would seem essential that imams be able to speak effective English. "The fact that I needed to have my address translated into several languages very clearly highlights my concern," Mr Robb said. The conference continues for the rest of the weekend.


Pro-terrorist bias denied

Believe it if you like

The Australian Research Council has strongly rejected claims that $24 million of academic research into terrorism is skewed towards the concept that Western policies create terrorists. ARC chief executive officer Peter Hoj said the federally funded council proposed to support research into "the origins, motivations and dynamics of trans-national security threats" in its planned Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security. "The ARC does not give preference to research applications that adopt a particular perspective," Professor Hoj said in a statement prepared for The Weekend Australian. "The ARC seeks to support research that is in the national interest and is of the highest quality."

Professor Hoj was responding to criticism from two Queensland University terrorism researchers, including a former Labor Party foreign policy adviser, that terrorism research in Australia ignored the role of radical Islamism in breeding terrorists. Carl Ungerer, a former foreign affairs and national security adviser to Simon Crean, and David Martin Jones said terrorism research missed the point that "individuals are becoming radicalised into believing that Islam and jihad are a legitimate form of asymmetric warfare". Their comments echo those of James Cook University lecturer in terrorism Merv Bendle, who described terrorism research in Australia as being in crisis.

But Professor Hoj yesterday pointed to five projects funded by the ARC that examined links between terrorism and Islam and the legal responses to terrorist threats. One of the projects identified is on suicide terrorism by Flinders University professor Riaz Hassan, who came under fire from federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock earlier in the week for proposing to interview the heads of terrorist organisations.

Dr Bendle questioned the ARC funding of Professor Hassan's project because he declared in his application that a link between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism was not only spurious, but possibly fostered Western policies that worsened the situation.

Professor Hassan's application for a research grant said most suicide terrorists were not motivated by religious beliefs, such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Professor Hassan cancelled his planned visit to overseas terrorist leaders after being warned by Mr Ruddock that he could be breaking the law.

Other ARC projects include an examination of the theological and ideological bases of al-Qa'ida's political tactics and a project looking at Islam and terrorism in Southeast Asia.

But adding weight to the criticisms is a Melbourne University project, which received almost $200,000 from the ARC in 2003 and claims to be the "first systematic and comprehensive philosophical exploration of contemporary terrorism and responses to it". And Australian National University researchers in 2004 received $120,000 to examine "how reactionary sub-groups and ultimate subversive action can develop from denying people the chance to voice their views to relevant authorities".


Spitfires in Australia too

Many Australians flew in them during WWII

Immortalised in film and Churchillian speeches for its role in winning the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire is still the world's most famous military aircraft. More than 20,000 were manufactured to take on the Messerschmitts of Germany and the Zeros of Japan, but today only a few dozen can still be flown. Remarkably, the northern Riverina town of Temora boasts two of them. Thanks to its benefactor and president David Lowy, son of shopping centre billionaire Frank Lowy, the Temora Aviation Museum recently acquired its second Spitfire from New Zealand. Nobody is revealing the price, but airworthy Spitfires don't come for less than $2 million.

The Mark XVI - which saw service with the RAAF in the closing weeks of World War II - will make its public flying debut at the museum today in the presence of the Prime Minister, John Howard.

Mr Lowy founded the museum in 1999 at the Temora Aerodrome, where more than 2000 pilots were trained during World War II using Tiger Moths. The museum specialises in Australian military aircraft and Mr Lowy bought a Mark VIII Spitfire in 2000. It was the last Spitfire acquired by the RAAF, but never saw active duty. The Mark XVI also "belongs in Australia", Mr Lowy said. "It's part of our history. It's home. "It's a beautiful machine. It's a work of art. If you had a lounge room big enough you would hang it in there." The Mark XVI ended up a prop for the 1955 film about the fighter pilot Douglas Bader, Reach for the Sky.

Sitting on the Temora tarmac in its colours from World War II, the plane looks as menacing as ever. Russell Leith, 84, flew it when he was with the RAAF's 453 Squadron based in Britain and he has travelled from Perth to Temora to see it again today. Mr Leith said his plane was used chiefly to attack German rocket installations. "[The Spitfire] was just everything that a pilot would want," the former flight lieutenant recalled. "We didn't ever have an inferiority complex when we were flying it."


Caught one!

A veteran NSW police officer will face a Sydney court tomorrow charged with a string of violent sex offences. The 57-year-old senior constable was arrested at Green Valley police station, in Sydney's south-west, about 5.20pm (AEST) today, police said. He was later charged with 21 sex-related offences against two females between 1979 and 2004. The charges include aggravated indecent assault, sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, aggravated act of indecency and common assault. The officer is being kept in custody until his appearance tomorrow to face the charges in Parramatta bail court. His arrest follows an extensive investigation by the NSW Police Professional Standards Command, police said.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Muslims given special help to get welfare

A special taxpayer-funded forum was held last night to ensure Lebanese Australians rescued from the war-torn Middle East will get priority access to our welfare system. The event, organised by the Iemma Government, brought together key state and federal agencies including Centrelink, housing and immigration to spell out entitlements - including rushing evacuees to the top of the public housing queue. The extent of the support disproves claims from community leaders including Keysar Trad that Australia's response to the Middle East crisis was "racist".

Centrelink forms in Arabic were distributed at the Rockdale City Town Hall in southern Sydney, showing how the dole, pension and other entitlements could be accessed. As Australian citizens, the 4000 evacuees are entitled to the benefits regardless of how long they have lived overseas. While tens of thousands of people grow frustrated at the critical shortage in public housing, a Department of Housing bureaucrat revealed Lebanese Australians caught up in the Middle East crisis now had priority status. "These people are Australians who have been living in Lebanon or were visiting Lebanon," department spokeswoman Vicki Samonte told the meeting. "With the recent crisis in Lebanon there are some people who have been approved for priority housing because they have met the criteria, so these people have already been housed by the department. "There are others who have been asked to find a rental property on the private market and we will assist them. We know they are in crisis so we assist them with the full bond."

Last night's forum was hosted by the Community Relations Commission, a State Government agency chaired by campaigner Stepan Kerkyasharian. The forum was entitled "Services available for Australian Lebanese affected by the recent conflict in the Middle East". The 100 evacuees and Lebanese community leaders who attended were given tips on how to maximise welfare payments for members of the community. Centrelink officers were on hand to issue leaflets in Arabic explaining how to go about claiming the Newstart allowance and parenting payment.

Immigration Department officer Danuta Szuszkiewicz explained the different types of visas that could be used to bring relatives to Australia. "Children can sponsor their elderly parents provided more of the parents' children live inside Australia rather than outside Australia," she said. Another speaker, Centrelink multicultural services officer Amal Taki, advised Lebanese Australians to tell the agency about their ordeal straight away to avoid payment delays. "We encourage people to call Centrelink and tell us that they have just arrived and intend to claim for a payment," Ms Taki said. "In some cases people have not been saying that."

The generous welfare program discredits claims by some Lebanese community leaders that Australia did nothing to help its citizens trapped in Lebanon. "This Government is initiating racism here. There are signs of the Federal Government breeding racism," Mr Trad said.


Religion back on school syllabus

Religion will return to Australia's state school classrooms, with students expected to study beliefs from the Aboriginal Dreamtime to the Koran. A high-powered team of academics working on a chronology of Australian history are united on threading a religious narrative through history teaching, but as an issue rather than a matter of faith.

Federal Education MInister Julie Bishop has now thrown her support behind the move, saying history cannot be properly taught without examining religion's influence. The Catholic-Protestant divide which defined Australian pre-war society looks set to be one area of inquiry, with the bitter conscription referendum of 1916-17 possibly appearing on the chronology.

Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and their impact on mainstream society (as seen in the Olympics opening ceremony) are also believed to be under consideration. Examinations of the Muslim and Jewish religions, the Christian Bible and the Koran may form part of the curriculum. "Religion has played a key role in many aspects of society including the legal system, many charitable organisations, the education sector, government and much more," Ms Bishop said last night. "It would not be possible to explain fully the development of Australian society without including religion in the history curriculum."

Professor Tom Stannage, who attended last month's Canberra History Summit said delegates were united in their desire for students to examine religion's role in shaping society. But educators also recognised a thirst among young Australians for religious education expressed in an historical rather than spiritual context. "The difficult question is the way we go about it, introducing it into the syllabus. "I think as Julie Bishop herself said, the commonsense middle ground can prevail in these matters."


Good proposal from the Left for partial privatization of public hospital care

Perhaps one day ALL government hospitals wil be seen as a bad idea

Private hospital beds will be bought to slash waiting lists for public hospitals under a new ALP policy designed to shake up the health sector. The federal Opposition also plans to ease pressure on doctors by handing more of their roles to nurses and allied health professionals. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley will reveal his plans today in a speech to the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney. It will offer the first glimpse into a potential Beazley government's approach to health, starting with a strong repudiation of the Howard Government's long-running accusation that Labor is ideologically opposed to private sector involvement.

Mr Beazley will warn that cost-shifting and duplication are crippling the health system at a time of massive increases in demand for services. He will accuse the Government of squandering reform opportunities and promise to use the next commonwealth-state health agreement, which starts in 2008 and will run for five years, as a springboard for change. "We need to tap into the full potential of the private hospital sector," Mr Beazley says, in a speech obtained by The Australian last night. "Private hospitals are an invaluable national health resource and more needs to be done to integrate them with the public system."

Labor will also shake up medical training by paying private hospitals to provide clinical training for medical students and other specialist trainees. The proposal is designed to meet complaints that the Government has dramatically increased the size of university medical and nursing schools without extracting guarantees that state-run public hospitals would be able to provide hands-on training. "Integration and co-operation will define health care in the future," Mr Beazley will say. "All hospitals are in the health business. They have a vested interest in working together."

Mr Beazley will also promise stronger action to deal with medical workforce shortages by realigning roles of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, using a Productivity Commission recommendation as his template. Mr Beazley will frame his health policies in an economic context, arguing better health would lift workforce capacity. Labor sources said Mr Beazley's attempt to link social policy with economic policy would set a trend for his bid for victory in next year's election. They said Labor's defeat in the 2004 poll came because voters were convinced by the Government that Labor was not serious about the economy.


The Windschuttle affair

Comment by William D. Rubinstein - professor of modern history at the University of Wales

Apart from offering cogent evidence of the very small number of Aborigines killed by whites in Tasmania, Keith Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History also made a number of claims of - to put it charitably - very poor research methods by established academic historians whose claims about Aboriginal deaths at the hands of white settlers were apparently unsupported by any real evidence.

Probably the most widely-discussed such claim made by Windschuttle was that concerning Professor Henry Reynolds, who is certainly among the best-known historians of Aboriginal encounters with white Australians. These claims were made previous to the publication of The Fabrication, in 2001 in The New Criterion, the American review. In his book The Other Side of the Frontier, Reynolds estimated that, between 1850 and 1900, about 10,000 Aborigines were killed by whites in the colony (now state) of Queensland. As his footnoted source for this claim, Reynolds cited a limited circulation and little-known 1978 monograph of his, Race Relations in North Queensland.

After a long search, Windschuttle managed to locate this publication. But the passage cited in Race Relations turned out not to be about Aboriginal deaths at all, but about the total number of whites killed by Aborigines.

Nowhere did it mention the figure of 10,000 Aboriginal deaths, let alone provide any evidence for this figure. It did, however, claim that Aborigines may have killed between 800 and 850 whites between 1850 and 1900. The only mention made of Aboriginal deaths at the hands of whites was in one single footnote in which Reynolds claimed that while it was impossible to do anything more than guess at the number of Aborigines killed by whites, their death rate "may have been" ten times more than that of Europeans. No evidence was provided for this claim, which was simply invented out of thin air. Even if somehow true, this does not multiply to 10,000 Aboriginal deaths, but to 8,000 - 8,500, with the extra 1500-2000 dead Aborigines being added, as it were, for good luck. Reynolds' figure quickly gained wide currency among historians of this subject, none of whom questioned the bases of his estimate.

Reynolds' claim, it should be noted, is categorically different from other well-founded estimates of deaths in demographic catastrophes, genocides, mass killings, or other slaughters of the modern world, which are firmly based in valid historical and demographical evidence. There is, for instance, not the slightest doubt that nearly 20,000 British solders died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, or that about 960,000 Jews and 100,000 others perished at the Auschwitz extermination camp, or that, chiefly because of the Famine and emigration, the population of Ireland declined from 8,175,000 in 1841 to 6,552,000 in 1851.

In contrast, Reynolds' figures are simply made up, lacking a shred of real demographic evidence or even reasoned argument to support them. With the apparently misleading footnote reference to his 1978 monograph, they also surely sail very close to the wind in terms of valid historiographical procedure. Any doctoral candidate in history who used this "evidence" in a dissertation would be asked to rewrite this passage, if not failed outright.

Shortly after the publication of Windschuttle's Fabrication, Robert Manne edited a collection of deeply hostile essays on the book, Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Melbourne, 2003). Naturally, Reynolds contributed an essay. One might reasonably have expected Reynolds to have used this venue to refute Windschuttle's charges against his Queensland estimates, which were given wide publicity in the Australian press and which are - presumably - highly damaging to his professional reputation. What does Reynolds have to say about this matter in his essay "Terra Nullius Reborn"? Precisely nothing - not one word. Instead, the essay is an attack on Windschuttle's assertion that Tasmanian Aborigines had no notion of an attachment to the land and - in contrast to the claims of some historians - were not fighting a "guerrilla" campaign against the whites. ("Terra Nullius" is the legal doctrine, accepted in Australian law until recently, that no pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty to Australia existed at the time of white settlement, the continent being, legally, vacant land, whose Stone Age inhabitants had no actual or legal notion of sovereignty.)

Another historian attacked by Windschuttle is Professor Lyndall Ryan formerly of the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, and now of the University of Tasmania. In her The Aboriginal Tasmanians (p. 77) Ryan claimed that:

By 1808 conflict between Aborigines and Europeans over kangaroos had so intensified that twenty Europeans and a hundred Aborigines probably lost their lives.

As with Reynolds, the references cited by Ryan simply do not show this. She cited a contemporary diary, which, on examination, mentioned only the killing of four Aborigines, two white men, and a dog. In her essay in Whitewash, Ryan countered that the real reference was in the next paragraph of her work, to another contemporary account, which claimed, of the twenty to thirty kangaroo hunters, that:

some of them have forced the Native Women, after murdering their Protectors, to live with them and have Families.

From this, Ryan "deduced" that the figure of 100 Aboriginal deaths "is not an unreasonable estimate", although it seems like a highly unreasonable one to me. [See John Dawson, Washout: On the Academic Response to the Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Sydney, 2004) - a pro-Windschuttle work - pp. 117-118.]

Windschuttle cites claim after claim of this kind, made by well-regarded academic historians, often holding senior positions. Again and again, their claims about the killings of Aborigines in Tasmania by white settlers appear either wildly exaggerated or unsupported by evidence.

The fury of the Australian left unleashed by Windschuttle's book was spearheaded by Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, who edited the anti-Windschuttle collection Whitewash and has truly acted the part of Javert to Windschuttle's Jean Valjean, engaging in a long sequence of attacks on him in the press and in well-publicised public debates. A highly intelligent and very cogent writer, and one of the most visible public intellectuals in Australia, Manne is a very strange case indeed. In 1981 he edited a collection of essays entitled The New Conservatism in Australia, and was at the time regarded as probably the leading neo-conservative thinker in Australia.

On the basis of his reputation, in 1989 he was appointed editor of Quadrant, the influential neo-conservative and literary Australian monthly. Once in place, Manne discovered that he was not a conservative after all, but actually a radical, and was forced to resign as editor in 1997 following an internal revolt at the magazine.

Since then, he has produced an endless flow of newspaper articles, essays, and books attacking, from a left-wing viewpoint, the conservative government of John Howard and all of its policies, especially in Aboriginal affairs. Manne was crucially influenced, it seems, by the publicity surrounding the so-called "Stolen Generation" claims about the forcible removal of mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families between the 1900s and 1960s, which in the 1990s became one of the central topics of public debate in Australia.

Manne had shown no interest in Aboriginal affairs before this, and had certainly done no research on Aboriginal history. Windschuttle's book - and his imposing research and intellectual framework and cogency in debate, at least a match for Manne's own - acted as a red rag to a bull for Manne, who has become the leader of the anti-Windschuttle forces on the Australian academic left. It seems to me that, having listened to their televised debate over Aboriginal history and read the exchanges between them, that there is little doubt that Windschuttle has consistently and clearly gotten the better of Manne.

As one might expect, too, the academic left has used any slur or defamation in order to defeat Windschuttle, and the charge that he is the equivalent of a "Holocaust denier" was not long in coming. It was made in Manne's collection by A. Dirk Moses, in his essay "Revisionism and Denial". Any assertion that Windschuttle can be compared to a "Holocaust denier" is, in my opinion, nonsensical and defamatory. For an historian, to reduce the number of victims of mass murder or genocide, based upon new evidence - what Windschuttle has done - is not "genocide denial", but simply an attempt to produce a more accurate interpretation of the past.

Historians actually reduce the number of victims of alleged massacres, based upon new evidence, all the time. For instance, it is now clear, based on post-Glasnost evidence, that the number of victims of Stalin was much lower than the astronomical figures cited by Robert Conquest and others in the 1970s. Critics of David Irving have also completely refuted his claims about the number of alleged German victims of the Allied air raid on Dresden in early 1945. Irving claimed - in order to drum up sympathy for the Germans - that as many as 250,000 Germans perished. Richard Evans and others have shown, with persuasive evidence, that the actual figure was about 19,000. In these cases, historians are seeking accuracy about the past, which is what historians -presumably - aim at doing. This is what Keith Windschuttle is doing.

To those not on the ideological left, Windschuttle's works have already been seen as an important and imposing, but unfortunately rare, attempt to produce a conservative account of Australian history, such as has been attempted in recent years only by a handful of historians like Geoffrey Blainey and John Hirst.

Windschuttle plainly towers above his opponents like a giant among midgets, and will be remembered when they are forgotten. A month ago, he was appointed to the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), a move which - together with the recent appointment of other high-profile conservatives - has turned the Australian left apoplectic. One can only hope that they are able to clean out this particular Augean Stable. Alas, no Tory Prime Minister here has ever had the nerve or intelligence to make similar appointments to the Board of the BBC, which continues to be a free-to-air version of the Guardian.

Source. Prof. Rubinstein also puts Windschuttle's conclusions into a world context here

Friday, September 15, 2006

Speak English 'or go home'

All new Australian citizens would have to pass English tests under a plan to be announced soon by the Howard Government within weeks. Thousands of migrants are refusing to take part in taxpayer-funded English courses each year and those applying for citizenship only need to show they understand the questions they are asked for citizenship to be granted. A decision on mandatory English tests for citizenship is to be announced soon by Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary for immigration and multicultural affairs. "If these people want to reside here and take citizenship, they should have a functional grasp of English, that is why I have been canvassing the idea of a compulsory citizenship test with an English test component," Mr Robb told the Herald Sun.

All new non-English speaking migrants would also be encouraged to have English lessons to help them integrate into Australian society. "We already have a compulsory test for skilled migrants - this year nearly 100,000 skilled workers, around 70 per cent of all migrants - were required to sit such a test," Mr Robb said. "For refugees and the families of skilled migrants, they have an entitlement to English lessons if they haven't got functional English." Although optional for non-skilled arrivals who speak little or no English, as few as 62 per cent of those turn up for study.

Senior ministers, including Alexander Downer, have expressed support for making English skills essential for migrants. The push comes after Prime Minister John Howard called on all Muslims to learn and speak English and make stronger attempts to integrate into Australian society. "Fully integrating means accepting Australian values, it means learning as rapidly as you can the English language if you don't already speak it," he said.

Mr Downer has also pressed for migrants to learn English. "All migrants should speak English. If you come to Australia as a migrant and you can't speak English then you're going to be enormously disadvantaged," the Foreign Affairs Minister said. "Migrants who come here and aren't able to learn the language are going to end up becoming alienated from the mainstream of society." The number of migrants entering the English courses rose last year from 34,000 to 36,000.


Brakes too hard a problem for the Army brass

Imagine how something hi-tech stumps them

A $585 million upgrade of the army's M113 armoured personnel carrier - already one of Defence's most troublesome projects - will be delayed at least a year, with its brake system having to be completely redesigned. After being fitted with new armour and other protective equipment, the redesigned 12-tonne vehicles became too heavy for the existing brake system. The M113, the army's main land battle transport, designed to take up to a dozen soldiers into battle, has been in service since the 1960s. A total of 350 of the tracked vehicles are being completely overhauled and were due to re-enter service from November.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson wrote to the project's prime contractor, Tenix, last week saying he still expected the company to meet a contractual deadline of 2010 for all 350 upgraded M113s. The problems with the M113's brake system are the latest to hit what is regarded as one of Defence's two most troublesome "legacy" projects dating from the early 1990s. The other is the Seasprite helicopter. The M113 is the third major defence project to experience a serious delay this year, following problems with the Seasprites and the 18-month delay in the delivery of the RAAF's $3billion Wedgetail early-warning aircraft.

There is now doubt that the M113s will ever be put in harm's way, because of the changing nature of military conflict. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted the lethal threat to them posed by a new generation of shoulder-fired missiles and roadside bombs. Defence analysts say that even the upgraded M113 will be obsolete in the face of weapons now routinely employed by terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defence Materiel Organisation chief Stephen Gumley confirmed to The Australian that there had been problems with testing and certification of the M113's brake system. "We are expecting of the order of a 12-month delay to the project," he said. "A new brake system has to be designed and a new prototype made and tested." Dr Gumley said the contract with Tenix to upgrade the vehicles was for a fixed price, with the contractor expected to incur the costs of fixing the brake problem. The 2000 defence white paper planned for the vehicles to enter service last year.


More openness coming at black settlements

The permit system giving indigenous elders the right to stop people entering their land is to be abolished by the Howard Government. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough wants the permits scrapped, despite opposition from the Northern Territory Government. "I believe the time has come for the federal Government to look at the legislation we need to remove in the territories and some states where we require people to get a permit to go to these communities," Mr Brough told parliament yesterday.

But Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin supports the permit system. "We invite Mr Brough to sit down with Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to discuss why this is so important to them," Ms Martin said.

There has been growing concerns about the permit system following widespread claims of abuse and violence in closed communities. Darwin-based Coalition MP David Tollner wants the permits abolished, as does Darwin Lord Mayor Peter Adamson. But the Northern Land Council and Central Land Council strongly back the system, with the CLC arguing in June that the permits helped protect sacred sites and allowed Aboriginal people to control who could work on or enter indigenous land. NLC chief executive Norman Fry told the ABC yesterday "every man and his dog" would get access to the land if the permit system were removed. "All people with private property have a right to say who comes on their land," he said.

But Mr Brough said the Government could no longer allow the situation where children were being abused without scrutiny. "It's time the permit system be removed ... I hope the states and territories will support this call." Mr Brough said he believed increased public scrutiny was in the interest of victims and the disadvantaged in closed communities. Depending on the outcome of the federal Government's review of the system, the minister will write to the relevant jurisdictions seeking a uniform approach. Mr Brough has overhauled his department, establishing a strategic intervention taskforce aimed at the troubled communities.

The Australian has been blocked from entering the town of Wadeye, 300km south of Darwin, to report on gang violence and overcrowding there. The Territory's permit system was established under the 1976 Northern Territory Land Rights Act and was originally designed to prevent exploitation. Under commonwealth and Northern Territory law, entry to Aboriginal land requires a written permit. Unauthorised entry to land in the Territory can result in a fine of $1000.

Members of the Howard Government's handpicked indigenous advisory group have questioned the Government's "ad hoc" intervention in indigenous communities in crisis. The National Indigenous Council met yesterday, and members expressed concern that some communities might miss out on getting help because the Government would choose communities it wanted to assist. But council chairwoman Sue Gordon said she thought the new approach would work. "I don't know if it's ad hoc. It's very necessary governments should intervene and that they should be proactive as well as reactive," she said. "Sometimes you just have to be reactive when there's a crisis, and that may well be considered to be ad hoc."


Desalination advance

It's long been an Australian dream: turning the country's unforgiving deserts into lush tracts of green, capable of sustaining communities and crops. However, proposals ranging from diverting rivers into the dry interior, to building canals, to blasting a giant lake in central Australia have never proved feasible. But advances in nanotechnology - engineering materials on a microscopic scale - could finally make creating an enormous oasis in the desert a reality.

South Australian researchers believe a filter they are developing will be able to produce fresh drinking water from salt water with minimal power input and cost. A team working out of Flinders University say the individual components of the system are already in existence and hope to produce a workable filtering device within three years.

The cheap fresh water could be used to irrigate arid areas close to the sea or, if economically feasible, piped inland. ``It could be used in areas like the Great Australian Bight or the mid-west coast of Western Australia where the desert impinges right up to the coast,'' said researcher Professor Jani Matisons.

Nanotechnology involves working with matter on an ultra-small scale. A nanometre is one-millionth of a millimetre. A human hair is around 80,000 nanometres in width. Traditionally desalination has involved a process called reverse osmosis. Salty water is pumped up against a membrane through which water molecules can pass but the constituents of salt cannot. Under high pressure some of the water passes through the membrane, leaving the salt on the other side. The water that does not pass through the membrane becomes briney due to the increased salt content and is discarded. Because of the amount of power involved in pushing the water through the membrane, the process is often regarded as too costly for large scale desalination. The Flinder team will test two types of nanotechnology to see if they can reduce the amount of pressure needed for reverse osmosis and therefore reduce the cost. One involves shaping a matrix of minute carbon nano-tubes into a membrane while the other would see chemical nanotube molecules used as a filtering mechanism. While the team declined to reveal the exact process, their system is expected to create a more porous membrane that would allow water to pass through under far less pressure. Nano engineering will be used to create structures which traps salt molecules and prevent them passing through.

Matisons said it was expected the proposed process would cut the power required for desalination by more than half, greatly reducing costs. Fresh water removed from seawater could be used to irrigate arid areas adjacent to the coast. If transportation costs were low enough, the water could theoretically be piped further inland, helping to green Australia's dry interior.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Leftist leader too patriotic for his party

Kim Beazley's plan to make a pledge to the "Australian values" of freedom, democracy and gender equality a condition of entry to the country has caused outrage within the Labor Party. The Opposition Leader, also under attack for his comments on Muslims, faced strong criticism from Labor colleagues yesterday after proposing a plan forcing visitors to Australia to sign visas endorsing Australian values. Labor MPs told The Australian last night they were deeply concerned about the proposal, which was made without consultation, was not workable and undermined the party's values. Labor sources said respected former immigration minister and party powerbroker Robert Ray was scathing of the idea in Labor caucus, asking: "Will this be dropped this week or next week?"

Staring down the critics, Mr Beazley told Labor MPs he would not give ground to John Howard on the issue and said the plan for the formal list of Australian values would help Islamic leaders deal with Muslims who refused to integrate into Australia. "It would be a bit of help for them, and for all those who have to, if you like, get up there and make sure that all the communities stick with these values, if people coming to this place had a clear understanding of them in the first instance," Mr Beazley said on Canberra radio 2CC. "The truth is in the Islamic community many of those Islamic community leaders are fighting a very serious battle and taking very strong stances in favour of the sorts of values that I'm talking about."

John Howard said yesterday that the Government was looking at setting out Australian values for citizenship ceremonies and for people intending to migrate to Australia, but that it would be useless for tourists. "I think, from a practical point of view, there are differences between people who are coming here on a visit for two or three days and people who are intending to live here," the Prime Minister said. "In principle, I think a full-bodied commitment to Australian values is something I have always supported and very, very strongly support."

Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, who has a high Muslim population in her Melbourne electorate, started debate in the party yesterday because of concerns the ALP's multicultural policies were being undermined. On Monday night, Ms Vamvakinou accused Mr Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello of "trying to outdo each other in making political mileage out of openly targeting Australia's Arab and Muslim communities". She said the Government had been cynically exploiting community tensions by demanding "Muslim Australians openly endorse Australian values, learn English and renounce terrorism". Ms Vamvakinou was surprised to see Mr Beazley's calls yesterday for visa controls, which included signing a form endorsing such values.

Mr Beazley said Australian values were "a commitment to freedom, commitment to democracy, commitment to respect for each other's views, commitment to a sense of tolerance about people having diverse beliefs". "Also, I would add to it, as well as respect for people's different views in religious and political terms ... respect for women," he said.

Nine members of the Labor caucus spoke on the plan, with most criticising the idea, which Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke said he had first raised in a column in Sydney's The Daily Telegraph in February. The policy was not discussed by the front bench or presented to the caucus for consideration.

Mr Beazley told some MPs he would be prepared to listen more to caucus members but would not give ground on the issue to Mr Howard. "You see, the problem with the Prime Minister at the moment is he reads a lecture to the Islamic community on what their responsibilities are, and the lecture, frankly, is a no-brainer," he said earlier yesterday.

Labor MPs told The Australian last night that Mr Beazley had responded poorly to Mr Howard and had fallen into a political misjudgment. A caucus spokeswoman said "a number of caucus members indicated their general concern that, with Howard re-raising issues associated with the Muslim community ... they were concerned that once again Howard was out there playing divisive politics". Former health minister Carmen Lawrence said she was concerned the issue was the wrong strategy for the party, which should be concentrating on the Government's values. "I thought the issue really is about the behaviour of the Government," she said.


Another dreadful encounter with one of Australia's hideous "child welfare" bureaucracies

It violates a child's "human rights" to take her to a doctor when she is ill? Only totally bureaucratized scum would think so

She was three years old, and very sick: sweating all over, with a raging fever, limp and exhausted from crying. Her Aboriginal foster mother, Dilana, tried to soothe the child to sleep. "I was very concerned," she said. "We were in what is known as the transition period of foster care: we had been given permission to foster this little girl, but she hadn't moved in with us. "She was having sleepovers but she was still a few days away from really being ours."

The toddler, who was also Aboriginal, had never been in good health. When first introduced to the family -- who wanted to be identified but cannot for legal reasons, because it would identify the child -- she was extremely weak and thin, and her hair was matted. "But this was different," said Dilana. "I am a mother, I have raised two children, and I could see straight away she was extremely unwell." Then, when she was trying to change the toddler, she saw something that set her parental instincts on fire. She thought the little girl might have been sexually abused.

A frantic Dilana, a successful businesswoman who owns a thriving Aboriginal art gallery with her husband in Sydney, wanted to call a doctor. But under the foster care rules, she first had to seek permission from the NSW Department of Community Services. She tried to contact the DOCS caseworker but she could not be reached. "I tried over several hours," she said. "I left messages. I heard nothing." By morning, the little girl's temperature had soared to dangerous heights and she was limp in Dilana's arms. "I called the DOCS caseworker again," she said. "But there was still just an answering machine."

Dilana then took what most people would regard as a sensible decision: she called her family doctor -- a white woman she had known for almost 30 years -- and asked if she could see the suffering child. "I didn't tell her I believed she might have been abused," said Dilana. "I simply asked her, 'Could you please examine her because I think something is wrong'." The GP immediately agreed. She prescribed antibiotics for the child's fever and also gave Dilana a referral, urging her to see a pediatrician.

The discovery of abuse was shocking, but sadly not uncommon: a report by the NSW Government in June found the abuse of indigenous children is a monstrous problem. Not a single family in the 29 indigenous communities surveyed said they were unaffected by it.

Dilana took the little girl home. She couldn't give her the antibiotics because she couldn't be certain she knew her medical history and was not sure she didn't have allergies. She tried DOCS again. It was hours before she was able to get through -- and, when she did, all hell broke loose. "They said to me: 'You did what?"' said Dilana. "You took her to a doctor?" Dilana said DOCS was more concerned about the fact she had taken the child to a doctor than they were about what the doctor might have found. "They told me I was in big trouble. They said I could be charged with something. They told me -- and I'll never forget this -- I had abused her human rights."

DOCS said it was "inappropriate" for Dilana to ask a doctor to examine the sick girl. Half an hour later, DOCS workers marched into her home, removed the little girl's toys, books and photographs, and carried the distraught child from the house. "It was the most traumatic thing I've ever experienced," said Dilana. "I could never have guessed what was to come." For weeks afterwards, Dilana and her husband tried to find out what happened to the little girl, to see if she was ever treated by a specialist.

DOCS does not comment on specific cases but in a statement to The Australian last night, the department said: "In all instances, DOCS make decisions in line with the best available information. The best interests of the child are always the paramount concern. Critical decisions such as medical examinations are generally made in conjunction with the department, depending on the provisions of the court order in place." [Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit]

Reluctantly, Dilana's family tried to put the disappointment behind them. Then, a year ago, they applied to adopt another Aboriginal girl, a child that had been born to a member of their extended family. To their horror, DOCS tried to block the application, saying Dilana and her husband of more than 20 years were "not suitable parents". "You can imagine their reaction," said their lawyer, Michael Vassili. "They were just destroyed." The charge humiliated the family. They have two adult children, both of whom have completed university. They are also both teachers. "In many ways they are perfect parents," said Mr Vassili. "They had done precisely what any person in those circumstances would have done. "But for some reason, DOCS was concerned they had supposedly broken some rule, and not nearly as concerned about what might have happened to the little girl. In my opinion, it was a vendetta -- a way of avoiding dealing with the real issue."

Dilana was denied permission to take the new baby into her home. She was fostered instead to a Chinese couple. DOCS asked the court to prevent Dilana from even having access. "I was just stunned by the ferociousness, the bullying, of DOCS," Mr Vassili said.

Unlike many other indigenous families, Dilana and her husband had resources -- and they would not give in. They assembled more than 20 references, including two from indigenous MPs -- Aden Ridgeway, then in the Senate, and NSW MP Linda Burney. The couple turned up to court every two or three weeks, with a solicitor. They spent $20,000 on legal fees. And in the end, they won. The Children's Court magistrate found that when Dilana took the sick child to a doctor to be examined, she had done what any adult in that situation would do. The court gave Dilana permission to take the new baby home, and her house now sings with the sounds of a thriving toddler. "But it's still extremely painful," she said. "We had bonded with that little girl. We wanted to help the indigenous children in our community."


Publicity works wonders. Below is a followup to the story above:

The NSW Government has ordered an investigation into the removal of a three-year-old Aboriginal girl from her indigenous foster parents because they allowed a family doctor to examine her for signs of sexual abuse. State Community Services Minister Reba Meagher said yesterday she had asked the director-general of her department to explain why the parents' decision was considered "inappropriate" by the child's caseworker.

Ms Meagher said Neil Shepherd would examine why the Department of Community Services refused the same couple, Gavan and Allana Rose, another Aboriginal foster child the following year because their hopes for the child to attend university or become part of the family's art business were "unrealistic". "Foster carers can and should take their children to the doctor when they require urgent medical attention," Ms Meagher said. "For other treatments, a caseworker needs to approve the procedure. In any event, it is important a caseworker be informed about any treatment to a child so a comprehensive medical history can be kept. "Furthermore, we select foster carers on their ability to provide nurturing and support to vulnerable children, affording them the opportunities they deserve to achieve their potential - including going to university."

The Roses' battles with DOCS to take permanent care of an indigenous foster child, revealed in The Australian this week, attracted widespread concern yesterday. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said that if the reports were accurate, he would be "shocked by the inference that somehow a child's cultural background may be a determining factor in their expectations or ambitions". "Any attempt by bureaucracy to limit the expectations or ambitions of a child or that child's parents is appalling," Mr Brough told The Australian.

The head of the Howard Government's National Indigenous Council, Sue Gordon, said foster parents should teach children how to be successful adults and take a long-term view. Foster parents take on the role of parents, so they should take on a role that encompasses all of those issues: school, higher education etc," she said. "It shouldn't be short-term thinking, it should be long-term thinking and encouraging children. "Their role as a parent is to take on any role that a parent would have, and that includes counselling kids in relation to alcohol and drugs, counselling kids in regard to education, and getting them to start thinking about more than tomorrow."

The Roses, who own the successful Gavala Aboriginal Art Gallery in Sydney's Darling Harbour, first struck trouble when looking to care permanently for a three-year-old Aboriginal girl. In the latter stages of the process, Ms Rose took the girl to the family GP with a rapidly escalating fever, having been unable to get in contact with the caseworker. She also feared the little girl might have been sexually abused, and the doctor advised she should see a pediatrician.

On discovering the child had been to the doctor and examined for possible sexual abuse, DOCS told Ms Rose she had abused the child's "human rights" and came to collect the girl, saying the couple would not be allowed to see her again. About a year later, a member of Ms Rose's extended family could not care for her baby and asked the Roses to take her in. But DOCS intervened. One of the reasons given for not allowing the couple to take over care of the child was that they had "too high" expectations for the child's future. "They gave me the impression that foster children weren't expected to achieve much," Ms Rose told The Australian yesterday. "I was shocked because I believe you can climb up, you can improve a situation."

DOCS insisted it always acted with the best interests of the children in mind. But NSW Community Services spokeswoman Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday she was shocked to learn of the experiences of the Rose family. "It's frightening to think DOCS has such severe cultural problems, which are putting the future of children in foster care at risk," Ms Berejiklian said. "Having positive expectations about a child in your care should be regarded as a good nurturing environment, not a reason for removal of the child. "This example demonstrates what a basket-case DOCS is in relation to foster care."


Black crookedness finally recognized

Aboriginal land councils in NSW will be forced to seek the approval of regulators for all business and investment activities under reforms designed to bring an end to decades of cronyism and corruption. NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos will today announce the biggest overhaul of the NSW land rights system since 1983, when about 79,000ha of Crown land was divested to 121 local Aboriginal land councils. The combined holdings of the LALCs now amount to about 1per cent of NSW and have an estimated value of $1billion.

Mr Orkopoulos said yesterday the changes would "provide greater accountability and stamp out nepotism" by transforming land councils from small-scale community organisations into "the million-dollar corporate structures some have grown into over the past 23 years". He hopes the reforms will realise the intention of the 1983 act to provide local Aboriginal communities with permanent income to fund benefits such as superannuation and education scholarships.

Instead, profits have been squandered on dubious investments, redirected to the mates and families of council board members and staff, or siphoned off by unscrupulous developers. A number of LALCs have become embroiled in financial and bribery scandals and there are currently 12 councils under the control of administrators.

Under the reforms, councils will need the approval of their members, as well as of their regulating body, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, before selling off land or setting up businesses with the proceeds. The NSW council will also, for the first time, have full access to the financial records of related corporate entities set up by LALCs. When such entities fail, the risk will be borne by the directors, not the land council. In addition, the members of the NSW land council will be elected from six regions under a collegiate model designed to short-circuit cronyism and prevent the domination of elections by a few large Aboriginal families. The revised act will also insure that the powers and responsibilities of board members are clearly defined and made distinct from those of staff.

Last year, The Australian revealed a joint venture between the NSW land council and Macquarie Bank to develop Aboriginal land and create income streams for communities. Tim Hornibrook, head of Macquarie Indigenous Financial Services, said yesterday he was confident the reforms "would push the less reputable operators out of the market, on the commercial side". "At the moment the councils are asset rich and cash poor," he said. "You've got to look at improving their ability to transact in an open and transparent manner with commercial entities."

Murray Chapman, administrator of the NSWALC, said he hoped the changes would "drag the council network into the 21st century". "It will put land councils on a more commercial footing and make them better able to deliver services to their members," he said. "Our mob have got their fair share of crooks, like any other part of Australian society. "You'll never get rid of them, but (the reforms) will make things far more difficult for the standover men and the outright crooks," Mr Chapman said.


When is the stupidity of vastly overworked public hospital doctors going to stop?

It is bad for the patients and bad for the young doctors

On Saturday March 11, as the city [Melbourne] preened itself for the Commonwealth Games, a young man, loved for his warmth and generosity, walked for the last time into The Alfred hospital, where he was a trainee surgeon. Chanh Thaow had come a long way since his Hobart childhood. The pride of his parents, leading members of Tasmania's Hmong community, Chanh had clocked up 14 years of training. To achieve his dream of being a surgeon, he needed only to pass one more exam. His teachers believe he would have passed the test, had he lived to take it. But on that day in March, Chanh walked to the registrars' room and closed the door. He then intravenously administered to himself a lethal dose of anaesthetic drugs - enough to end his life. He was 32.

In an interview with The Age, Chanh's father, Vue Thaow, has spoken for the first time of his concerns that his son was overworked and alienated by the surgical culture at The Alfred. Mr Thaow said his son was told to stop recording his level of tiredness during marathon shifts.

Chanh's death, which is being investigated by the State Coroner, is the second suicide of a young doctor in the past nine months. On December 16, Lachlan McIntyre, 29, an intensive care registrar at St Vincent's, died of an injected drug cocktail in his North Melbourne bedroom. He was found with a suicide note nearby.

These young men were struggling with private demons and no one will ever know what tipped them over. Their deaths shocked Melbourne's medical fraternity and sparked a wave of introspection and questioning about support for young doctors and the culture of overworking trainees. A working party of doctors from across the medical colleges, headed by North Carlton GP Raymond Martyres, has requested a meeting with the coroner investigating Chanh's suicide to raise concerns about the treatment and emotional health of young doctors. The coroner's workplace unit is also aware of the details of the death. "These unexpected suicides have focused our attention," the head of the Victorian Doctors Health Program, Dr Naham (Jack) Warhaft, told The Age. "They are particularly tragic because they are usually the really good ones. They are competent clinically, they are high achievers." Dr Warhaft has called on the medical profession to openly discuss and address the problem of "unexpected suicides". The doctors involved asked for no help and felt an "acute hopelessness", but had no outward signs of depression.

The call comes as the Australian Medical Association prepares to release its "safe hours" survey of trainees working in hospitals, nine years after its first campaign to stamp out shabby treatment of young doctors. The results, to be released next month, are still being analysed, but AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal told The Age there had been only minor improvement since the last survey in 2001, which found many young doctors were working long shifts. (Studies have shown the performance of doctors after more than 18 hours awake is the same as having a blood-alcohol reading of more than .05). Dr Haikerwal said the survey had found that long and unsafe shifts were still too common. "If hospitals think they can get away with it, they will try," he said.

There are no official figures on how many trainee doctors commit suicide, although it is estimated to be at least one or two each year in Victoria. Doctors are twice as likely to commit suicide as the rest of the population, and female doctors are five times more likely than the average person.

Mr Thaow said his son's death came "out of the blue", but Chanh had been exhausted. "My son told me it was an environment where you would have to go on a 24 or 36-hour shift and never say that you were tired." Chanh told his father that "snobbish and selfish" senior surgeons pressured young doctors so they felt they could not speak up about their concerns. "No matter how hard he had to work, he would have to bear it and then do the same thing to the people who followed him."

The Alfred hospital refused to allow its senior medical staff to be interviewed for this report and would not say whether it had investigated Chanh's death. Instead, it issued a short statement that declared the health of young doctors a "priority" and detailed a mentoring scheme and career support for trainees. Spokeswoman Tracey Ellis refused to answer questions about average working hours for surgical trainees and the surgical culture. If the coroner decides to hold an inquest on Chanh's death, The Alfred will probably be called on to justify its roster system for young doctors.

Dr Warhaft said some hospitals supported their young doctors, but there was still "a long way to go for all of us". The profession needed to work on its emotional intelligence and provide a more supportive environment - particularly when doctors were under personal stress - where admissions of despair and suicidal thoughts were better accepted. "There are extraordinary pressures on young doctors," Dr Warhaft said. "They are trying to make huge advances in their career, they have their clinical load, their studies, often a new relationship and a few young kids, and they are working perhaps up to a 100-hour week."

Dr Deborah Amott, chairwoman of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' trainees' association, said that although working hours for some young doctors were improving, the culture had to change. "There is this awful culture around medicine which involves the complete bastardisation of junior staff. There is this hyper-masculine, balls-to-the-wall culture in surgery of cure at all costs - both to the patient and doctors. It is quite a struggle to turn that around."

Professor John Collins, the dean of education at the college of surgeons, denied there was a general problem with the culture of senior surgeons, but said some hospitals were more demanding than others. "It is a huge thing for a major international college to lose one of its trainees," he said. "We try to do everything we can to prevent this." As part of the college's accreditation of training hospitals, trainees could reveal confidentially any concerns, he said. The college had recently reprimanded a Victorian hospital for unsafe working practices for young doctors, but he would not say which one.

After Chanh's death, the college is looking to strengthen the criteria around safe and healthy working conditions it requires of hospitals to keep their accreditation as training institutions. "We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of these young people, but at the end of the day we have no power over the hospitals," he said. "All we can ask for is some evidence that the rosters and work schedules take the AMA's code of practice on safe hours into account."

Professor Collins often hosted Chanh and his study group at his Carlton home as they prepared for exams. He remembers him as an old-fashioned gentleman, loyal and considerate of the young doctors behind him, and someone who always arrived at the door with a gift, chocolates or soft drinks in hand. "It was a sombre occasion at the (Alfred) debrief," said Professor Collins, who said he was devastated by Chanh's death. "Watching the young doctors and their reactions to this - I mean, they loved him."


Strangely selective weight loss

Odd that they forgot to mention the $14,050 worth of plastic surgery below

Big Brother bum-dancer Sara-Marie Fedele hopes to inspire overweight young people with her stunning new body. Once tipping the scales at 86kg, the gregarious reality star is now 24kg lighter due to a regime of balance and moderation. The new slimmed-down Fedele will act as a mentor for a group of 16 to 25-year-olds on Channel 9's The Great Weight Debate tonight.

Fedele said she believed young people often battled with their weight because they did not realise how flexible healthy living can be. "Everybody and their body is different," the 2001 Big Brother contestant said. "Don't put pressure on yourself to lose 10kg in 10 weeks. Choose a diet that suits you and your lifestyle. "You don't want to be waking up every day thinking you're on a diet."

Fedele said she dropped the 24kg last year by taking a long-term approach. "I didn't weigh myself, I just took measurements. "And I probably eat more than I ever did before. I just eat healthier food and I make myself eat breakfast, lunch and snacks. "It's all about moderation, which is how I have kept the weight off." Fedele said young people should be wary of thinking weight loss would solve all their body image issues. "I didn't actually change within myself."


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Your regulators will protect you

The abortion doctor Suman Sood, who continued to practise in NSW despite more than 30 complaints against her, was refused registration as a doctor by three other states and territories, the Medical Tribunal has heard. More than 18 months after starting proceedings against the doctor, who was last month convicted of performing an illegal abortion, the tribunal opened its hearing into 11 complaints yesterday. In a statement, the Indian-trained doctor yesterday admitted she was guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and professional misconduct and declined to contest the hearing.

The complaints, by the Health Care Complaints Commission, cover the treatment of five patients, including the woman at the centre of the abortion case. The cases of three other patients, who cannot be named, were highlighted by the Herald under the names Louise, Nadia and Christine early this month. The commission also alleges Sood was not of good character, was dishonest, deliberately misled the NSW Medical Board at an earlier hearing, breached undertakings given in bankruptcy proceedings, made false medical notes and practised while suspended. Anna Katzmann, SC, for the commission, said all the complaints were so severe, the commission sought to prevent her from re-registering as a doctor "for a long period of time". "No other order is appropriate in order to protect the public," she said.

Sood had voluntarily withdrawn her registration at the end of last month, days after she was found guilty of illegally procuring a miscarriage and after the Herald revealed the litany of complaints against her.

The commission also alleges Sood misrepresented her standing before the District Court after being convicted of Medicare fraud, leading Judge Anthony Blackmore to talk of her "previous good record". "She clearly is a skilled practitioner whose services the community can ill afford to be without," Judge Blackmore had said. Sood is awaiting a retrial on these charges. The tribunal also heard Sood had applied for, and been denied, registration by the Medical Boards of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It was unclear last night when or why she was rejected. A spokeswoman for the Queensland Medical Board only said Sood was refused registration "after action taken in NSW". The tribunal also heard Sydney Adventist Hospital contacted the medical board advising of three "incidents" with Sood, when she worked for the hospital in late 2003 and early 2004. The complaints by patients include two patients suffering a ruptured uterus, the illegal abortion, poor post-operative care, and a patient falsely told she had cancer.


Teachers forced back to school

Teachers will be made to undergo rigorous training on issues from bullying to obesity under a Federal Government plan to dramatically lift classroom standards. To be implemented by the states, the plan entails teachers taking time off from the classroom to undertake professional development courses in technology and teaching techniques. States refusing to adopt the plan would risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding, while teachers failing to participate would lose their teaching certificates.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the move was part of a drive to improve standards in the classroom. The courses would cover issues such as dealing with schoolyard bullying, helping gifted and talented students, identifying cases of child abuse and promoting healthy lifestyles to prevent childhood obesity. "What I don't want to see is 20th-century teachers teaching 21st-century students," Ms Bishop told The Sunday Telegraph. "As a result, I am currently considering implementing a compulsory professional development program, which will see teachers undertake a minimum amount of professional development each year in order to retain their teacher registration. "A federally mandated professional development program will also be evidence-based to ensure that all teachers across Australia benefit from a broad and comprehensive professional development program."

About 80,000 students move between jurisdictions each year, and Ms Bishop said the parents of those students needed to be assured that teachers in one state or territory were keeping up with teachers from other jurisdictions. "I want to ensure that teaching is treated just like any other profession and that includes requiring professional development that is of a high standard and uniform across the nation," she said. "If it's OK to make lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants and architects do compulsory professional development then it's only proper that teachers also do compulsory professional development."

Only two states publicly report substantial spending on professional development. Queensland reports $40 million in the past year and NSW $144 million over four years. But the Federal Government is unsure how and where this money is spent.


Nukes the safest for Australia

Ask anyone what they most fear when going for a swim at the beach and they'll invariably say it's the likelihood of being eaten by a shark. Shark attacks are always newsworthy. Films featuring sharks, like Jaws, have a strange attraction. Not widely realised, however, is that more Australians die from box jellyfish stings than from shark attacks. The same quizzical phenomenon of fearing the lesser threat can be seen in the present and ongoing energy controversy, according to Western Australian Liberal MHR, Dr Dennis Jensen, a former CSIRO research scientist.

Delivering a Council of the National Interest special lecture on energy in Perth, he outlined how provision of nuclear-generated electricity was far and away the safest option. He demonstrated this point by focusing upon a huge unit of measure known as the terawatt year. Now, the terawatt is best comprehended by firstly defining the watt - named after the Scottish engineer James Watt (1736-1819) - as a unit of power that equals one joule of energy per second. To get to the terawatt one firstly multiplies a watt by 1,000 which is a kilowatt. Next multiply that kilowatt by another 1,000 and you have a megawatt. Now, if you multiply the megawatt by another 1,000 you have a gigawatt. To attain a terawatt you must multiply this gigawatt by yet another 1,000. What this means is that the terawatt you now have is a trillion - one followed by 12 zeros - watts.

When grappling with all these zeros, keep at the forefront of your mind that a 500-megawatt power station is considered worldwide as a sizeable base-load generating unit. Consequently, a station whose output was one terawatt would be equivalent to 2,000 such 500-megawatt stations, something that does not exist anywhere in the world.

Dr Jensen said that engineers and statisticians used the output of one terawatt of power over a year as a unit to compare the safety levels of different types of power stations - coal-fired, hydro-generation, gas fired, LPG and nuclear. He said: "I'll quote figures in terms of normalised deaths per terawatt year. In other words, if you generate one terawatt of energy for one calendar year, how many deaths can you expect in the industry?"

"For coal-fired power stations, there are 342 fatalities per terawatt year which are predominantly related to coal-workers actually extracting the coal. "However, this number would be far worse if the figures where there were fewer than five fatalities per incident were included. "With oil, it is 418 fatalities per terawatt year. "With natural gas, it is somewhat lower - 85 fatalities per terawatt year, and this refers to workers as well as the public. "Incidentally, LPG-related fatalities are extremely high - 3,280 per terawatt year of electricity generated.

"With hydro-electricity - a method that some opponents of nuclear energy favour while some dislike - there are 883 fatalities per terawatt year which predominantly involves the public due to collapsing dams. "Now we come to nuclear energy, with 31 fatalities per terawatt year. This is the lowest of all electricity-generation methods." Dr Jensen said this low fatality figure included Chernobyl's deaths and fatalities in the mining of uranium.

"I know some people might like to point to Chernobyl," he said. "According to the OECD, there have been 56 fatalities as a result of Chernobyl, due to thyroid cancer and the immediate deaths of the workers at the time - the major medical problem was radiation exposure. "The problem with Chernobyl, apart from anything else, was that it had inadequate containment. "But, as can be seen, nuclear energy is actually a very safe option - and it's inherently safer these days with Generation IV reactors. "Western containment has been far better.

"Regarding safety, nuclear power is demonstrably the safest form of power generation. "Consider the thousands of annual coalmining deaths and the probable millions who have died as a result of respiratory ailments due to coal-fired power," Mr Jensen said. "Consider the fatalities resulting from gas or hydroelectricity production, and it becomes clear that nuclear energy is very safe, even when you look at the history and take into account a sub-standard Soviet RBMK reactor."

He said he believed Australia could use Generation IV reactors, which are inherently safe. "These reactors cannot melt down because of the physics of the design of the reactor, not due to fail-safes appended to provide safety," he continued. "Most Generation IV reactors also don't need enriched uranium, so reserves of uranium would last about 50 times as long as it's assumed they will last for conventional reactors. "It is significant that Generation IV reactors, which will be modular in design, will allow small reactors to power smaller population centres and multiple modules to be joined together at the site of larger power demand.

"The economic side is put by some as a criticism. In fact, when you look at what is being considered, the economic argument is not a strong one. "What Parliament needs to consider is whether to legislate to allow nuclear power generation. "Economics should be left to power utilities which choose whether to use it or not. "Interestingly, the fact that many nuclear opponents push this line so strongly indicates that they are concerned that the economics of nuclear energy do stack up."


Some religions are more equal than others

A Melbourne Catholic schoolteacher has attempted to use Victoria's racial and religious vilification laws to protest against a school history textbook's biased treatment of the Catholic Church. John Morrissey from News Weekly attended the hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

An attempt to use Victorian law to defend the reputation of the Catholic Church from bias and caricature recently came to a dead end at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). A Melbourne Catholic schoolteacher, Bob Mears, recently complained that a Year 8 history textbook Humanities Alive 2 vilified the Catholic religion by misrepresenting the role and actions of the medieval Church. But he was told by VCAT, at a hearing on Monday, August 7, that the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 was not intended to restrict free speech, but to prevent the incitement of violence against people "among us here today" on the basis of their race or religion.

(Last year, VCAT, under the terms of the same Act, found two Christian pastors of Catch the Fires Ministries guilty of supposedly vilifying Islam by quoting from the Koran).

All of Mr Mears's complaints about inaccuracy, omission and selective use of evidence in the textbook were dismissed as of no relevance to the court and its interpretation of the Act. Although the Act mentions "severe ridicule", VCAT made it quite clear that inciting "hatred or contempt" did not - in the intention of the legislation - mean making another feel offended, nor was redress under the Act possible for anyone wishing to ventilate a concern. The complainant's matter for concern was thus consigned to what the public rationale for the Act calls "trivial comment, impolite remarks or legitimate discussion".

Humanities Alive 2 is a colourful and expensive ($51.95) publication prescribed in a great many government, Catholic and independent schools. Its historical content is superficial and the contents of its accompanying CD-Rom disk are both banal and trivial. Sweeping unsupported generalisations about the Church's oppressive behaviour over a period of perhaps 700 years are relieved by scarcely any mention of her role in sponsoring hospitals, welfare and progress, or any mention of great figures like St Francis of Assisi, beloved of all Christians.

As Mr Mears wrote in April this year, in a letter to Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks, the textbook violated the state's religious vilification laws by "seriously lampooning Catholic clergy and, by gross selectivity and calumnies, giving children the false impression that, in the main, medieval Catholic clergy were murderously oppressive, avaricious, licentious, corrupt and that medieval Catholics were non-thinking, uninspired and having a blind religious obedience".

Comments in the national press earlier this year have already publicised this textbook's extraordinary distortions of the Crusades, characterising them as equivalent to modern terrorism. It is also curious that Martin Luther is presented uncritically, while the Catholic Church at the time of the Protestant Reformation is smeared relentlessly. On the CD-Rom accompanying Humanities Alive 2 is a coloured illustration depicting the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc. Featured in the picture is a crucifix; but, with a sweep of a computer mouse, this symbol - sacred to Christians - is transformed into a witch's broom. Thus an officially sanctioned textbook invites Year 8 schoolchildren to desecrate a sacred icon as part of their education.

On educational grounds alone, Humanities Alive 2 fails every criterion of presenting objective history; but especially when prescribed in Catholic schools, it does nothing to strengthen the already fragile faith of young people in the religion both of their baptism and to which their schools ostensibly belong. For the wider community, the textbook regurgitates the old bigoted stereotypes about Catholicism which were common 50 years ago and which have received new impetus in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

The Victorian Government denies that its Act is "law only for racial and religious minorities", but it is reasonable to ask whether Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or any other smaller religious grouping in Australia would have had its history distorted and caricatured with impunity.

The fate of the two Christian pastors of Catch the Fires Ministries, whose audience - unlike children of compulsory school age - attended their function voluntarily, suggests that the Act has been designed to work in just this way. The legal loophole, entirely up to the interpretation of the court, lies in the words "reasonably and in good faith". But, as George Orwell expressed it in Animal Farm, "All ... are equal, but some ... are more equal than others."


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More straight talk to Muslims from John Howard

John Howard has called on moderate Muslims to speak out more often against terrorism and declared it is no good "pussyfooting around" about Islamic terrorists. The Prime Minister believes Australians have a sensible, uncowed view of terrorism and that everyone, including Muslims, knows Islamic extremists are responsible for the threat and the tougher security laws that entails. "People in Australia are in no doubt that extreme Islam is responsible for terrorism," Mr Howard said in an interview with The Australian to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US that killed nearly 3000 people, including 10 Australians.

US President George W.Bush will mark the anniversary by visits to the attack sites - in New York, where the two World Trade Centre towers stood; Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and the Pentagon, just outside Washington DC. He will save his formal remarks for a televised Oval Office speech due to air on Tuesday morning, Australian time. Mr Howard, who has sent a letter of condolence to Mr Bush on behalf of the Australian people, will attend a ceremony at the US embassy in Canberra today.

The al-Qaeda terrorist group taunted the West last week by releasing a video of Osama bin Laden meeting 9/11 hijackers, in a move calculated to maximise fear ahead of the anniversary.

Speaking over the weekend, Mr Bush assured Americans that the US was relentlessly hunting down suspected terrorists in order to avoid a new attack. He said that while the country was safer, "America still faces determined enemies". "We must take the words of these extremists seriously, and we must act decisively to stop them from achieving their evil aims."

Mr Howard said that it was illogical for civil libertarians to attack the Australian Government for changes to its security laws because terrorists - "Osama and his grisly band" - were responsible. "I accept that in a free society you have to justify reductions in people's liberties. I accept that, bearing in mind my starting point is that the most important human right is the right to life," he said. Mr Howard, who was in Washington when the Pentagon was hit by a hijacked plane, said at the time that he knew something enormous had occurred but did not know who was responsible or what the consequences would be. "I knew ... the world was quite never going to be the same again. You couldn't escape the realisation that this was something like nothing else," he recalled. He had met Mr Bush the day before the attacks, and "George Bush and I didn't talk about terrorism on September 10, 2001".

The Prime Minister said Australians had "adjusted in a very sensible way" since then. "They understand things have changed, they accept the need for new laws, they support those laws but they are getting on with their lives and doing the things we want to do while having in the back of our minds there may be one day a terrorist attack which (will) inflict mass casualties on this country," Mr Howard said. "That's the mood of the people, that's how they think. You can't down tools and stay at home and stop going to the football or the cricket or stop travelling on trains or aircraft. "It doesn't alter what I do and shouldn't alter what I do."

Mr Howard was criticised two weeks ago for suggesting a small minority of Muslim immigrants refused to learn English or integrate into Australian society. But he told The Australian that despite the criticism, people, including moderate Muslims, knew extremists were the common thread of terrorism. "We shouldn't pussyfoot around. No decent, genuine Muslim would support terrorism," he said. "We are not attacking Muslims generally but you have to call terrorism for what it is - it is a movement that invokes in a totally blasphemous and illegitimate way the sanction of Islam to justify what it does."

Mr Howard also said he thought it would help more if "on occasions they (moderate Muslims) should come out and be more critical of terrorism". "We are confronting people who would deny our human rights," he said. When people were subjected to searches or reduced liberty, he said, "the people who should be blamed are the terrorists, not the Government. The terrorists have made it necessary". "I find it amazing civil libertarians run around and attack me, or (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair or attack the police," Mr Howard said. "We haven't done it. We are the instruments of the changed circumstances in people's lives, but the cause is the terrorist threat."

Mr Howard said the September 11 attacks had fundamentally changed politics in Australia. "It is a new dimension, a new element, and when I was elected I never dreamt the biggest thing I would confront would be the terrorist threat. It wasn't there," he said. "We have invested $8.3 billion in enhanced security and I wish we could have spent it on something else. But who has made it necessary? Osama and his grisly band. "I don't talk up the terrorist threat; I just call it as it is."

Kim Beazley accused the Government yesterday of not doing enough for national security. "When you look at the fact we've spent $8 billion, we still don't have a coast guard; we still don't have closed-circuit TV across all our railway systems; we still don't have proper inspection of crews and ports ... You've got to say there's room for improvement here, big time," he said.


No ban on smacking

Two state premiers have dismissed calls for a national ban on smacking, insisting parents have the right to discipline their children responsibly. The Australian Childhood Foundation has called for a nationwide ban on smacking after it found 45 per cent of Australians believe it is reasonable to leave a mark on a child by smacking them. In a poll of 750 adults, the child welfare group found 70 per cent of people support smacking, while 10 per cent believe it is appropriate to hit a child with an implement. A report by the Australian Childhood Foundation recommends state governments change their laws allowing parents to physically punish their children.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said a smack on the bum never hurt anybody. "Everything in moderation," he told Macquarie Radio. "You don't use it as an excuse for violence and you don't hurt them. "A smack on the bum never hurt any kid, in my view."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he would not be changing the law because the current NSW laws provide the necessary balance between preventing child abuse and allowing parents to discipline their children. "Our laws provide that appropriate balance," Mr Iemma told reporters, "in the government having strong laws against abuse and harm, and sending a very strong message about protecting kids, and at the same time recognising the responsibility of parents and the role of parents." NSW laws ban the use of implements to discipline children and any form of physical contact to their head.

The Australian Family Association said a ban on smacking would be going too far. "We have some concerns about introducing laws which have the potential of turning parents into criminals," spokesman Damien Tudehope said. "To introduce laws which mean the government has a role to play in deciding who and who isn't a good parent, we think that's going too far."


More evidence of failing schools

Apprentices fall short in maths, science

A large workplace training provider has been forced to teach maths and physics to apprentice electricians. The move by Adelaide-based Peer Tec -- which trains hundreds of apprentices -- follows warnings that universities may need to lengthen courses or drop subjects unless the review of the South Australian Certificate of Education produces more maths and science students.

Peer Tec chief executive Michael Boyce said a shortfall in the maths and physics knowledge of students who had left in years 10 and 11 had forced the company to introduce classes for its first-year apprentices. He said the 40 hours of maths and physics classes were essential for apprentices training to be electricians, refrigerator mechanics and data communications technicians. "We have found that the maths taught at Year 10 and Year 11 level is not relevant to what we require in electrotechnology courses," Mr Boyce said. "The high school maths education does not provide them with the skills to work with formulas. Physics is required to be able to handle the concepts underpinning the trades." Peer Tec's parent, Group Training Australia (South Australia), has also hired senior maths teachers to review the "gaps" between senior school courses and the requirements of an electrical apprenticeship.

The Rann Government's review of SACE is in its early stages and includes input from state schools, universities, TAFE colleges, and Catholic and independent schools. Education Minister Jane Lomax Smith said yesterday the leaving age for students would soon be increased to 17 to ensure they had the academic background to enter apprenticeships. The review of SACE would also include recommendations to increase the flexibility for students who left school at Year 11 to enter the workforce but required extra tuition.

University of South Australia pro-vice-chancellor Peter Lee said last month degrees may have to be increased by a year if the SACE review failed to turn around the shortage of students.

Group Training Australia manager Mal Aubrey said the classes were introduced along with "aptitude tests" in maths and physics, made up of the sorts of problems first-year apprentices should be able to answer. Demand for places in apprenticeships was growing in the face of a national skills shortage in trades and heavy industry. Despite the strong demand for apprentices and a key role in finding jobs for school leavers, Mr Aubrey said Group Training Australia held a "peripheral" position in the review of SACE. But high-school education standards concerned the organisation enough to hire a senior maths teacher to conduct a review of the high school maths and physics curriculums. "There appears to be a couple of areas where there are gaps between what we require and what the school system is delivering," Mr Aubrey said. The maths and physics classes at Peer TEC started in January and the review will report to the Group Training Australia annual general meeting in November.


Going easy on black thugs called into question

The Northern Territory Opposition and police are demanding changes to the rules governing the admissibility of evidence in anattempt to secure more murderconvictions for violent Aborigines. Concerns are growing in the Territory - which has the nation's highest rate of homicide - about sentences for serious crimes and difficulties involved in pursuing murder convictions. Most deaths, especially in central Australia, involve Aborigines, alcohol and domestic violence. But since prosecutors have to prove intent, manslaughter convictions are more frequent than murder.

Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney said that while the rules of evidence existed to protect the accused, more flexibility was needed. "I would like to see some changes made to the admissibility of records of interview," Ms Carney said. "My view is that the pendulum has swung a little too far in favour of the accused."

Since 1996, 12 indigenous people in the Northern Territory have been convicted of murder and 62 for manslaughter. There have been 24 convictions for dangerous acts causing death and 23 for dangerous acts causing death while intoxicated.

Police Association president Vince Kelly said prosecutors sometimes "chucked in the towel too easily". He said it could be difficult to prove Aborigines - and others who did not speak English well - understood legal processes. "At some stage, the community, including the Aboriginal community and the legislature, are going to have to consider whether the rules of evidence in relation to these serious offences need to be changed," Mr Kelly said. "The simplest approach would be to review the whole notion of the right to silence. If you can't display that the person you are interviewing understood that they have that right to silence ... and unless you get every step right, you can well lose your record of interview. That's what creates the problem."

Attorney-General Syd Stirling said the Territory Government was strengthening the Criminal Code to remove "partial defences" to murder. "Being drunk will no longer be a defence to murder, and nor will an offender's cultural or ethnic background in assessing an ordinary person's behaviour," he said. But Mr Stirling denied there were plans to broaden the way evidence is admitted to court. "The Territory Government is not convinced that removing the right to silence would improve the fairness of the justice system," he said. "The current balance between the rights of the accused and the ability to present evidence in court is right."

In February this year, Georgie Swift, an Aboriginal man born in Alice Springs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a non-parole period of seven years, for the manslaughter of his wife at a central Australian outstation. Swift, aged between 32 and 36, was drinking alcohol at his home when the offender began arguing with his sister. He pulled a kitchen knife from his pants, stabbed and slashed his father and sister and then went looking for his wife. After finding her in the bedroom, Swift - already serving a suspended sentence for assaulting his wife with a 30cm bar - fatally stabbed her several times.

In another case, Leeanne Jurrah, 21, was sentenced in October last year to five years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 2 1/2 years, for the manslaughter of her husband.


A sluggish bureaucracy finally takes on crooked cops

A covert police corruption investigation has revealed a culture of criminality, heavy drinking, guns and pornography at a suburban police station. The Age can reveal that the Office of Police Integrity, in a joint operation with the Ethical Standards Department, has charged three detectives from Springvale criminal investigation unit with possessing weapons, theft and handling stolen goods. The investigation also found that heavy drinking sessions and watching pornographic videos were a regular feature for some in the station.

The charges are among the first to be laid against police by the two-year-old Office of Police Integrity. The Age has discovered that the OPI has charged a total of 10 police on summons for various offences. The charges are crucial to the credibility of the OPI, which has been under fire from the Opposition and the Police Association for not charging anyone.

Police sources say that partly as a result of the entrenched problems at Springvale CIU, the unit will be closed and merged with nearby Dandenong. It is believed Detective Senior Constable Ross Colley has been charged with five counts of theft, six of handling stolen goods, and possessing weapons and dangerous goods. Detective Senior Constable Mark Ziemann has been charged with two counts of theft and one of unlawful possession. Detective Senior Constable Kenneth Taylor has been charged with two counts of theft.

But when the cases go to court, the investigation will also reveal details of the blokey culture of a suburban police station. The Age believes that a television in one office in the Springvale station constantly played pornography "as a matter of course" throughout the day. It would be turned off if a female officer entered the office. The investigation is also said to have found that some detectives would, while on duty, go for long, boozy lunches at local pubs and clubs, while one member of the unit would stay sober and remain on call. A source said that after returning to the office late in the afternoon, it was not unusual for officers to drink another slab of beer before going home. There would be two or three alcohol-soaked Friday afternoons each month. Meanwhile, ammunition and firearms were kept lying loose in desk drawers, in contravention of legislation requiring weapons to be safely stowed at all times.

The Age believes that the investigation into the Springvale CIU included "integrity testing", in which temptation is put in the way of officers to see if they resist. Incidents of criminal behaviour were videotaped during the investigation. "It was like an outpost with poor supervision," one source said. Anybody trying to bring about change was ignored.

The charging of the three detectives, who will face Melbourne Magistrates Court for a brief mention next Tuesday, comes as the OPI gears up for the toughest test of its powers yet. The watchdog has ordered a quarter of the armed offenders squad to appear before public hearings in the County Court from next Monday to be questioned about allegations of assault and misconduct. The 35-member squad was disbanded on Friday by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon, who insisted the move was not a reaction to the OPI's investigation, but in line with reforms of the crime department. The public hearings are also likely to delve into questions about poor policing culture.

The hearings will be only the second time the OPI has used its extraordinary coercive powers in a public setting. It is the first time the powers have been used to target detectives from the elite major crime department. Two officers who appeared at the OPI's first hearing in February are to face court in relation to the alleged theft of $40,000 from an abandoned car in June last year. They are Senior Constable Christopher Sean Vincent and an officer identified only as R100.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Leftist propaganda in school textbook

A high school textbook that teaches Victorian VCE students that the United States and Israel have been linked to "state terrorism" has sparked outrage and a demand from the Federal Government that it be immediately withdrawn from classrooms. The book, used by about half of Victoria's 700 politics students, is being criticised for playing down the threat of terrorism and containing flawed thinking and ideology.

A furious federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has called on the Victorian Government to withdraw the book. "It is inconceivable that information is being taught in schools which claims Australia is 'reaping the harvest' of our foreign policies and our 'Western imperialism'," she said. "Of greatest concern is the claim in the textbook that the Howard Government is deliberately using the threat of terrorism to keep Australians fearful and thus supportive of Government policies and actions. "The person who wrote this text should talk to the families of those killed in Bali and explain to them that there is no need to be fearful of terrorism."

But the Bracks Government said the book was not a set text or officially endorsed by the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) or the Education Department. "You can't withdraw a text that is not compulsory to start with, so the Bishop thing is a furphy," said Tim Mitchell, a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky. "The decision about the use of textbooks in classrooms, and the treatment of issues in classrooms, is a matter best left to teachers and school principals, not politicians," he said.

The textbook, Power and National Politics, published by the Victorian Association of Social Studies Teachers, is one of two texts being used in schools for the new national politics subject. The author is Northcote High School teacher Paul Gilby, 35, who says he is "very concerned and distressed" at the furore surrounding his work. He said he had written the book quickly last year for a new course, but that he had tried to present all viewpoints in good faith and felt the book was being subjected to "a very decontextualised attack". He rejected the claim he played down terrorism, but acknowledged that the terrorism section was "problematic" and said it was being revised, along with other parts of the book, for the second edition for next year. Mr Gilby, who is not teaching national politics this year, was a member of the VCAA review panel that developed the international politics course.

The 166-page book contains a one-page sub-section headed "Fear of terrorism" in the section dealing with Australian foreign policy. It adopts as its definition of terrorism: "Any action taken with the aim of achieving a political or military purpose through the use of violence against civilians can be considered terrorism." This definition is challenged by the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council's analyst, Ted Lapkin, who says it crucially lacks the element of "intention" to harm civilians. The book says terrorism is not new "and is not necessarily increasing" and that students need a historical perspective "to gain insight into the current media response to the terrorist situation".

The book asserts that "throughout history, most terrorist acts have been carried out by nation states. "The United States itself was accused of committing acts of state terrorism in Nicaragua in the 1980s. "Other examples of state-run terrorist campaigns have taken place in Russia (in Chechnya most recently), Turkey (in Kurdistan), Israel (in Palestine), Indonesia (in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor most recently)."

Seeking to address the context of terrorism, the book acknowledges there is no simple solution. But it then goes on to elaborate only one theory - that the US and its allies are "reaping the harvest" of their foreign policies and Western imperialism. The book directs students' attention to critics of the Howard Government who accuse it of using anti-terrorism policies to keep people in fear of terrorism and therefore supportive of Government actions and policies.

The executive director of the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, said the section was "rife with partisan bias and errors of fact". "The claim made about the greater danger of 'state terrorism' is the product of ideology, not scholarship," he said. State Opposition shadow education spokesman Martin Dixon backed calls for the book to be withdrawn.


Irwin brings out the Leftist miseries

A good comment by Andrew Bolt on those sad and jealous souls who cannot recognize a better person than they themselves are. Irwin was a brave and brilliant man who had more guts than all of the Leftist miseries put together

Professional harpy Germaine Greer was one of the first to publicly cackle over the death of Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin," the feminista gloated in an article published in Left-wing newspapers such as The Age and The Guardian. And if she meant by "animal world" the slavering pack that has paraded its resentment of Irwin since he was killed she'd be right.

On Jon Faine's ABC radio show, for instance, you could hear a dingo bark: "I'm glad he's no longer an ambassador for Australia." Rodents and peacocks squeaked and squawked that Irwin had been a mere showman, bad for animals and not worth this fuss. A jackass brayed that others did far more for wildlife, but didn't have a PR machine like Irwin's.

Some beasts can also write. At one of their dens, The Age letters page, I found this missive clawed out in the dirt: "Irwin was an outmoded cliche and a truculent clown who regularly harassed wildlife for the amusement of bored tourists." Another snarled that it was "nauseating" that we should so grieve over this "serial animal abuser and relentless self-promoter". And some mouse trembled to note that Irwin "exhibited the unreconstructed nationalism that in men of more malice and arrogance is the wellspring of warfare". Over at the zoo that is the Sydney Morning Herald it was little better. "Steve Irwin spent his life irritating animals . . . karma," hissed a snake in a letter.

I should add that on Faine's show, as well as in The Age and SMH, there were also far warmer tributes to Irwin -- a loving father, marvellous entertainer, great patriot, generous donor, humble achiever, employer of 500 people and creator of a much-loved wildlife park. Elsewhere, the grief was overwhelming and yet there was this loud minority who were not just unmoved by Irwin's death, but felt compelled to write or ring to berate the dead man and call us cretins for crying for him.

You may see this simply as more proof that ideology -- especially a Left-wing one -- has so hardened hearts as to exclude compassion. Greer, for instance, couldn't help but complain of Irwin that he'd called Prime Minister John Howard "the greatest leader Australia has ever had." That alone, for some by the waterhole, would have turned off the tap of tears. But it wasn't just this horde's brand of politics that Irwin seemed to mortify. He also offended our new green believers, who insist man is Nature's slave, unfit to touch even a scale on a dopey lizard's back.

Irwin, though, like most, seemed to believe that man is boss, or had better be. A croc to a man is just a croc, after all. But a man to a croc is lunch. Yet, Irwin's greater fault was that he raised the hackles of a cultural class that feels threatened by blokes in work boots who shout "crikey". "I was embarrassed that such a cringe-worthy and sometimes reckless caricature represented Australia to so much of the world," sighed one Age letter writer. And callers to Faine asked why we couldn't be represented overseas by one of our artists -- once they'd finished their latest work damning us as vicious racists, that is.

Yes, this was a class thing, driven by folk so insecure that they cringe to think cultured foreigners might take them, too, to be just like Irwin, the Australian on TV. It was this same fear that had our new Tourism Australia "bloody hell" commercials condemned. How boorish we were to replace the old ads of artists (which didn't work) with new ones starring beach bunnies and camel drivers, who seemed no-airs friendly, deep-tanned outdoorsy and even drug-free.

Irwin, a huge star overseas thanks to his wildlife documentaries, was just such a happy Australian, too. So, how dare he hog the gaze of a marvelling world that could have feasted instead on such as, well, Greer? Or, to put it another way -- how dare he show that such as he are still the kind of Australians we tend to love best? And the world with us.


Feminist and wowser outrage over mere suggestiveness

A new national advertising campaign portraying childlike young women in sexually explicit poses has outraged childhood and family groups. The Lee Jeans advertisements suggest prostitution, pornography and oral sex and the models involved, although aged in their 20s, appear to be much younger. Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive officer Dr Joe Tucci said the pictures were a "horrific" representation of young people in sexually explicit poses. He called on the Advertising Standards Bureau to ban the billboard and magazine advertisements, shot by American photographer Terry Richardson.

There are plans to publish more of the provocative pictures in niche youth magazines such as Oyster, Rush and Yen.Australian Family Association president Gabrielle Walsh is drafting a letter of complaint to the ASB, calling the images beyond common decency. "I'm horrified by these images. We are concerned about the public portrayal of young women in this manner," she said.

ASB chief executive Fiona Jolly confirmed she had already received a complaint about one of the images posted on the Lee Jeans website. "There is no formal mandatory process of assessing ads prior to publication. Once we get a complaint (about the content of the ad), then we can act," she said.

The Lee website now tells browsers that sexual material has been removed. Richard Bell, the marketing manager for Lee parent company Icon, defended the campaign, saying it reflected the brand's dynamic and innovative image. "It's definitely risque, but I don't think there is anything offensive about the images whatsoever," he said. "Sexuality is part of human nature. "We're showcasing sexuality in its most beautiful light. It's not about being derogatory to women."

But Swinburne University media and communications lecturer Trish Bolton said the images suggested female submissiveness. "I don't see these young girls being empowered at all," she said. "It's concerning that young girls are looking at these images and thinking this is what is attractive about women." Young Media Australia president Jane Roberts said the campaign's designers had "chosen to portray these women as a pubescent Lolita". She was referring to the Vladimir Nobokov novel about a man's obsession with a 12-year-old girl. "When you look at the real story behind Lolita, it is pedophilic and they're using this in a national advertising campaign," she said. "You'll get a whole cohort of young girls who will look at these ads and think this is quite acceptable."


The water shortage problem is political, not technical

Managing water supply is the biggest climate-change adaptation facing Australia. And governments and planners realise the problem is upon us. Faced with the converging threats of population growth, a warming climate and increased environmental flows into the nation's river systems, water policy-makers are pursuing a suite of controversial new technologies to ensure urban Australia does not run out of water. "Australia doesn't have a water problem. It has a water-management problem," says Adelaide University's professor of water economics Mike Young. Three-quarters of Australia's population live in the urban centres, but they consume only 8 per cent of available water. Irrigators account for 67 per cent.

The price paid for water by Australian households varies between cities, but lurks at about $1.30 a kilolitre. This translates into less than a dollar a day for most households. Irrigators pay no more than a few cents per kilolitre. The entire flow of water tapped by Adelaide from the Murray is equivalent to the allocation of just 15 large-scale rice farmers. It's little wonder then that talk of linking urban and regional water markets has some farmers more than a little nervous. Allowing urban water authorities to freely buy irrigators' allocations would be like letting loose a busload of Australian tourists in a Kuta Beach department store. Their buying power would be phenomenal. The scale of the transfers is likely to be small - less than 1per cent of Australia's total water supply - but Young says within that range are many farmers who are only too keen to sell to new urban players. "The thing that many people forget is that a small amount of water in a rural setting goes a very long way in an urban area," he says. "We're not talking about very big transfers of water; there can be some local effects but in terms of the national economy the effect on Australian agriculture is not very big."

Increasing water scarcity around the world is driving a similar evolution. Water has become a valuable resource and governments are forced to find ways of getting it to the highest-value users. As sure as water always runs downhill, this is creating tensions between the historical and the new users. In the Australian context, this means a transfer from farms to cities, and it has already started. Adelaide recently purchased water from former dairy farmers in the lower Murray, while Perth's water authority bought similar entitlements from Harvey Water in return for investment in infrastructure that will result in water savings equivalent to the entitlement purchased.

National Farmers Federation natural resources manager Vanessa Findlay says the farm sector recognises that this water market transition is an evolving reality. While acknowledging that the effects would be felt unevenly across regional Australia, Findlay says the political pain of the transition will be eased if farmers see a genuine effort by urban Australia to similarly improve its water efficiency. "But we acknowledge that with increasing population forecast over the next 30 years, taking the position that we are not going to trade with urban Australia isn't sustainable."

Despite this view from farmers, the new market thinking is casting a more critical eye over the appropriateness of maintaining severe water restrictions on urban households while selling them the water at bargain prices. While recognising the need to use tools such as short-term restrictions to deal with a supply crisis, National Water Commission chairman Ken Matthews is more doubtful about institutionalising such arrangements in the long term. "We often hear people say that after the drought ends, we really should institutionalise these urban water restrictions forever. I wonder whether that's so," he told the Australian Water Summit earlier this year. "We know that there are better and worse urban water restrictions in different cities of Australia, and why would we concrete the worst such restrictions into a fixed regime?"

Young says the existing regime of restrictions has thrown up a number of inequities that are unsustainable. "If someone is prepared to pay the full cost to enjoy a green environment and the water is available, then that is a perfectly acceptable use," he says. "We need to build mechanisms that make people aware of the value of water. But at the moment people who have swimming pools are allowed to keep them full but poorer people who can't afford them are not allowed to let their children play under a sprinkler when doing that would use a lot less water than what a swimming pool would evaporate. "I can see prices generally being twice as high as they are today but even with that, water would still be very cheap."

At the International River Symposium in Brisbane this week, water engineer Mark Hamstead postulated that Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are best placed to tap into these irrigators' markets because of their proximity to river systems, which means they are able to set up inexpensive pipelines to make such trading viable. Sydney has the capacity to establish pipelines to the Hunter, Central Coast or the Murrumbidgee river while Melbourne could tap into the nearby Goulburn system. Adelaide is already plugged into the lower Murray.

By contrast, Perth and Brisbane - which combined are predicted to grow by more than a million people within 15 years - have far more limited opportunities to access farmers' water and will therefore rely more heavily on new water technologies being developed. These include the political hot potatoes of desalinisation and recycling, trapping and reprocessing storm water and tapping into ground water, which are all expected to play an increasing role in securing water for urban Australia for the next century and beyond.

Young says urban water authorities are likely to discover that recycling and stormwater capture would be prohibitively expensive, which would make them look again at desalination, which is becoming increasingly efficient. Despite controversy about its high energy use, new technologies from Israel have driven efficiencies up and costs down to nearly half the price for urban water. Desalination is a serious option for cities such as Perth, with limited alternatives and access to inexpensive, low greenhouse emission energy sources such as gas. "The great thing about desalination is that it is not climate-dependent. So you can actually have the water continuously and have it just in time: you don't have to store it and let it evaporate while you are waiting to use it," Young says.

Tom Hatton, the director of a CSIRO water program, says initial public resistance is almost inevitable when new technologies are proposed. The challenge for policy-makers is to foster public understanding and confidence in the ideas being proposed. "Most of our cities have traditionally had one source of water, or maybe two," Hatton says. "Over the next 10 years people will notice they will start to diversify to three or four." Hatton doesn't express a view as to whether such a free market for water is a good thing. What CSIRO is doing is building a national water stock market, to be known as the water resources observations network.

The network is about 10 years from completion and will allow instant trading of water entitlements, adjustment for seasonal and natural flows, and the creation and trading of derivatives such as water futures, options and hedges. It will be better able to allocate optimal environmental flows, remove uncertainty from the market process, optimise prices, find the most willing buyers and sellers, and signal scarcity. "The solutions are going to be different for Perth than they will be in Sydney. Those choices will not be made on perceptions but on analysis and a lot more technical confidence," Hatton says. "We need to get to the point where those in the market almost have real-time modelling available to them to tell them the state of their water system at any given moment and how vulnerable that is in the near term and medium terms to drought, fire pollution and other environmental threats."


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Victoria's oppressive "vilification" laws

Below is an excerpt from a parliamentary speech delivered 7 September 2006 by Senator Mitch Fifield. He was speaking about Mr Bruce Smith (1851-1937), a committed libertarian. The section in which Senator Fifield criticises Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) has been extracted

What disturbs me even more is the restriction of freedom of speech in Victoria as a result of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. No-one should ever condone racial vilification. It is completely unacceptable in Australian society to vilify anyone on the basis of their racial background. It was a desire to protect members of our community that prompted the bill. Anti-Semitism was particularly in the minds of the proponents and the authors of the bill, but the act has gone too far. It limits freedom of religious expression, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in a way that is totally unacceptable in a liberal, pluralistic democracy. Religious vilification should be condemned, but the difficulties of legislating against religious vilification have become evident.

Two Christian pastors have been found guilty by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of making fun of Muslim beliefs and practices. The crime was to quote the Koran and evoke laughter from the audience. No-one suggested that the pastors were quoting the Koran incorrectly, just that the response to quoting passages from the Koran was laughter. In Victoria today, laughter amounts to religious vilification. The core business of clerics is to advocate why they believe-to advocate their world view and why their truth is the right one. Of necessity, this means saying why you believe that another's belief system is flawed. The battle of ideas, the battle of world views and the battle of beliefs is at the heart of what makes us a pluralistic society. Pluralism is not the housing of beliefs in silos; it is the interaction of those ideas and the tolerance of those ideas. But tolerance does not mean a denial of contestability. All ideas in our society should be contestable.

But there is worse to come. A convicted Wiccan paedophile serving time in jail has used the religious vilification provisions of the legislation to pursue the Salvation Army for allegedly vilifying his Wiccan religious beliefs. The paedophile voluntarily enrolled in an alpha course-a church-run course to explain Christianity. The crime? Those conducting the course did not speak well of witches, astrologers and occultists. TheWiccan was unsuccessful in his action, but the fact that this matter could even go to a directions hearing means that the laws are fundamentally flawed. I again turn to Bob Carr for assistance. He had this to say about such laws:

As they are used in practice, religious vilification laws can undermine the very freedom they seek to protect-freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

This is yet another example of meddling legislation. The solution to the articulation of poor ideas, stupid ideas, offensive ideas, is not to gag those articulating them. The solution is to rebut them with good ideas- the sort of legitimate exchange of ideas that people like Bruce Smith spent their lives engaging in. I fear that I am giving Bob Carr too much credit, but I will give him the final word on this particular piece of legislation. He said, `Leave these matters to the commonsense of the Australian people.'

I congratulate the state Liberal leader, Ted Baillieu, and the shadow Attorney-General, Andrew Macintosh, for their stands on these issues of freedom. The Victorian opposition is committed to repealing the bill of rights and to reviewing the religious vilification provisions of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Bruce Smith would be proud. We need to be vigilant and resolute and reject being told how to live our lives. It is always time to stand up for individual freedoms, liberty and equal opportunity. It is time to stand against these new nanny states. It is time to revive the spirit of Bruce Smith.


Australian falcons are no Greenies

Workers at the Caltex oil refinery have more than petrol production on their minds these days after two of the fastest killers in the skies took up residence in the plant. A pair of peregrine falcons has made the Kurnell refinery home, establishing a nest among the flaming chimneys and kilometres of pipes - on the side of a six-storey high furnace which vaporises oil at 500C.

The male of the pair was dubbed Steve, in honour of the first worker he took a surprise dive at a few weeks ago. Since then a warning sign has been placed on the ladder leading to the ledge where Steve and his lady companion have made their nest - and hopefully are incubating eggs which will soon hatch chicks. "Employees ... had sighted a pair of peregrine falcons over the plant for more than a year but not realised until recently that the pair were nesting in a large heating unit," refinery manager Tip Huizenga said. "An employee working in a section of the unit was startled when the male peregrine swooped at him a few times. "Investigations around the unit eventually revealed a nest in the unit and a female nesting."

Steve is a regular sight soaring above the refinery or keeping watch on his nest from a distant tower with eyes that can pick out prey from 3km away. When he does find prey they stand little chance: peregrine falcons can dive at 300km/h to strike and kill instantly with their powerful talons.


More Bible education coming?

Jesus Christ, Judas, biblical stories and Australia's religious divisions may soon be classroom topics to help students understand our past. Aboriginal history may have caused angst at last month's History Summit in Canberra, but it was the thorny question of religion which had educators most perplexed. Transcripts from the summit obtained last night show delegates struggled with religion in the national curriculum. It was Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Blainey who told delegates much of society could not be explained to students without religion. "Many of the great statements and parliamentary debates, be it about Judas, 13 pieces of silver or touching the hem of government, mean nothing now," he said. "Yet to that (previous) generation they were made powerful because they were metaphors chosen from the Bible." He said he believed the history curriculum needed to include religious knowledge, "irrespective of the vehicle used".

The broad gulf between Australian Catholics and Presbyterians in the first half of this century was a "lively" event which could easily engage youngsters, the summit heard. One unidentified delegate said religion became pivotal to Australian history in 1917 when the nation diverged "spectacularly" over the issue of conscription. "A Catholic archbishop was about to lead the flock against conscription," the delegate said. "Australians broadly of Presbyterian and Anglican background took a different viewpoint. At that point the different belief systems become lively and Australians get engaged. Until that point it is a boring story."

Curtin University of Technology Division of Humanities executive dean Tom Stannage disagreed. Professor Stannage said religion encompassed a far wider issue but was removed from the state curriculum and suppressed for 100 years. He said some students got their religious education from Sunday school and other sources. He said it was "a tough call . . . a major national decision to re-inject, it seems to me, religion back into the state schools in a non-controversial, open, inclusive sort of way." The one-day summit seeking a new path for the national history curriculum has agreed history should be compulsory for Years 9 and 10.


More crooked police

Victoria Police is disbanding its elite Armed Offenders Squad ahead of planned public hearings into its activities by the state's police anti-corruption watchdog. The scrapping of the squad, which had been the subject of an investigation by the Office of Police Integrity, was announced by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon this morning. It will be replaced by a new taskforce called Taskforce 700, which will target serious armed offences.

It is understood the OPI has scheduled public hearings into the activities of the squad, including allegations that suspects were seriously assaulted, from September 18. The hearings, which will involve the examination of a number of squad members, are expected to run for several days. The OPI raided the Armed Offenders Squad at its offices in the Victoria Police complex in St Kilda Rd in July and seized files and other documents, including the diaries of some members. The raids followed a number of complaints to the OPI by people claiming they had been assaulted by squad members. The OPI said at the time it would recommended the squad be disbanded if the results of the investigation justified it.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mark Steyn on John Howard

Steyn says that the Australian government is much less influenced by political correctness than are the U.S. and U.K. governments. He may not be aware that Australians are in general more blunt and less "proper" than most other nationalities

John Howard was quoted approvingly on a US radio show last week. Big deal, you say. He's a prime minister; what does he care if some rinky-dink talk-jockey recycles a couple of sound bites? Well, the radio host in question was Rush Limbaugh, and Rush has more listeners than there are Australians. That's to say, about 25 million or so listeners, which is more than the number of Australians in Australia and Lebanon combined.

Why would gazillions of American radio listeners appreciate a line from Howard? Because he says things that none of their own leaders ever quite say. Last week it was the stuff about Muslim immigrants needing to learn English and making sure they're cool with this equal-rights-for-women business.

The soi-disant arrogant Texas cowboy rarely shoots from the lip like that. Instead, he says things such as: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Look, I'm a supporter of the Bush doctrine to spread liberty throughout the Muslim world, but I support it on hard-headed grounds of national security. You only have to watch a couple of minutes of the lads in Gaza and southern Lebanon on the telly every night to realise freedom comes pretty low down on the list of their hearts' desires. So, when the US President insists on reprising the line week in week out, he begins to sound utopian, if not utterly deluded. American conservatives would appreciate a rationale less hermetically sealed from reality.

By contrast, the Prime Minister's rhetoric meets what the law used to regard as the "reasonable man" test. When Howard refers to blokes "raving on about jihad" and the way that those so inclined are "utterly antagonistic" to a free society, he's merely stating the obvious in a way that other Western leaders can't quite bring themselves to do. His words align with reality, and one can't underestimate the value of that.

The other day, on a flight from Malaga to Manchester, a bunch of holidaying Brits mutinied and demanded the removal of two suspicious "Asian" passengers in "heavy clothes" and "checking their watches". The evicted passengers appear to be blameless, but the other travellers had spent the days since the Heathrow arrests listening to British government ministers trotting out the usual hooey about how the improved security procedures would be impeccably non-discriminatory and they seem to have concluded, reasonably enough, that although the new rules may prevent your toothpaste, Diet Coke and gel-filled bra (to name three now prohibited items) from boarding, they were unlikely to stop the mad bombers getting on. In other words, the more the gulf widens between the Government's multiculti PC pap and the obvious truth, the more the state risks de-legitimising itself in the eyes of the citizenry. Tony Blair has a good pitch when he's surveying the distant horizon and the big picture and doing his Tone of Arabia routine, but he hasn't yet managed to find a line on the homegrown jihad that resonates with his electorate.

If I ran the speechwriting departments in the White House and Downing Street, Howard's bloke's-eye view would be the working template. As someone who's been citing Canberra's finest across the US long before Limbaugh and the other Aussie-come-latelys jumped in, I like to think of myself as a kind of honorary cultural attache, like Dame Edna's friend Sir Les Patterson, but with less stained trousers. I'm aware, after my trip to Australia last month, that various local lefties think I'm as nutty in this respect as Steve Irwin when he hailed Howard as "the greatest leader in the world". Perhaps it takes a croc hunter to appreciate a crock hunter: a politician with a keen eye for fashionable baloney and a willingness to wrestle it to the ground.

Still, I do think it's worth considering why, of the three doughty warriors of the Anglosphere, Howard has managed to avoid the traps that have ensnared George W. Bush and Blair. For example, while Australia has some of the sweetest republicans in the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister's cultural conservatism strikes me as well grounded: in a time of rapid international and economic change, you have to prioritise, you can't put everything up for grabs, unto the flag and the crown.

The day after the London bombings, Blair said that the terrorists would not be allowed to "change our country or our way of life". Of course not. That's his job, from accelerating European integration to his "reform" of the House of Lords. The British Prime Minister has turned the upper chamber into a house of cronies, the Islamists would like to make it a house of imams. But once you accept the idea of tearing up a thousand years of history, the rest is largely a difference of degree. After a decade of modish vandalism, Blair has abandoned a lot of his sillier novelties because he's belatedly understood the dangers that arise when your citizens start to feel unmoored from their past. Howard didn't need to learn that on the job.

One should be cautious about comparisons between any nation and even its closest allies. Australia, it was pointed out to me on my recent foray, has compulsory voting, unlike the US, where turnout is 50 per cent, give or take, and much of the experts' energy is expended in trying to figure out ways to make sure the opposition's voters stay home. In theory, Australia's system, by requiring parties to attract the votes of the allegedly less partisan centre, ought to tend towards a more moderate politics. Yet, among the governments of the main English-speaking nations, the Howard ministry is the least wishy-washily centrist: on jihad, on education, on immigration.

In the US, Republicans are meant to be the daddy party but Bush's riffs on Islam ("religion of peace") and illegal immigration ("family values don't stop at the Rio Grande") are almost all mommy talk and despised as intellectually dishonest by many conservatives.

So how does Howard, with a 100 per cent turnout and all those supposed moderates to woo, get away with the daddy talk? Australians are not ostentatiously right-wing or even terribly conservative. But it seems that when you toss the entire electorate into the voting booth, there's a big market among the not especially partisan for a party that disdains political correctness. Alexander Downer's contempt for "lowest common denominator multilateralism" isn't especially right-wing or left-wing: outside the ABC studios and universities and assorted ethnic grievance-mongers, it's an unexceptional observation.

So Australia has, if not quite publicly, suspended the absurd deference to postmodern sovereignty that characterises the UN era. By comparison with Washington, it's honest about and comfortable with a modest, qualified neo-imperialism throughout the Pacific's "arc of instability". The Americans could learn a lot from the policy as well as from the Aussies' ease with it. Obviously Australia is, in one sense, a small, distant nation and thus has a freer hand on Iraq than the US and on the wider jihad than Britain, which is in danger of turning into Somalia with chip shops. And, if I'm honest, there are certain aspects of Australian life that I find problematic, from gun laws to a still over-regulated economic environment.

But, granted those and a few other caveats, Australia's is the only Western government on top of the three big challenges facing the developed world: not just the jihad but the more basic issue of civilisational confidence (hence the history summit) and the structural weaknesses of ageing Western democracies: Peter Costello's call for "one for mum, one for dad, one for Australia" is better put than any British minister would dare (though the fecund Blair certainly leads by example).

Just as the advantage of federalism is the local experimentation it allows, so on everything from basic post-9/11 temperament to regional military interventions the present Aussie Government is a kind of useful pilot scheme for the rest of the Anglosphere. I only wish the ghastly, intellectually barren British Conservatives would learn a thing or two from it. As for my own nation, I've left Canada out of this discussion but I'm modestly encouraged by small signs of Australianisation. Our new Prime Minister was in London recently and a couple of local Tories told me how impressed they were: "Splendid chap, this new man of yours, Stephen Howard." Close enough. When a Canadian PM gets mistaken for John Howard's cousin, that's higher praise than we've had in decades.


Greenie puritans

To the women of Miss Kitka's it was their regular act - a striptease down to vintage underwear, and a few balloons popped for added spice. But to some of the attendees of the Canberra Climate Change forum it was all too much. Red-faced organisers of the 17th annual forum have apologised for their "inappropriate" choice of entertainment during the forum dinner. But that did not stop two government departments from withdrawing their $8000 sponsorship for the annual event.

The House of Burlesque show involved stripping one woman of red balloons with a pin, but forum organisers said it was intended to be "lighthearted entertainment". Miss Kitka, better known as Australian National University student Rebecca Gale, said you would see more nudity on a beach and that members of the audience had overreacted to the "tongue-in-cheek" act. "It is very unfortunate and upsetting," she said. "We are being portrayed as strippers and while there is an element of striptease, the least anyone stripped down to was vintage underwear."

However, when Miss Kitka came out clad in red balloons and offered pins to anyone who wanted to help her pop them, the temperature increased more rapidly than any predictions for climate change. While that was going on, another troupe member stripped off a coat, hat, gloves and dress.

In a statement delivered this afternoon, the ANU organisers apologised for their "misjudged" choice of entertainment. "The ANZ Climate Forum organising committee apologises for any offence taken at the forum dinner," the organisers said in a statement read out at the close of the forum. "The intent was lighthearted entertainment. "In retrospect the choice of entertainment was inappropriate for the occasion. "We understand if the sponsors wish to withdraw."

An ANU spokeswoman said there was no nudity involved in the event. "The Department of the Environment and Heritage's Australian Greenhouse Office considers the nature of the 'entertainment' at this event to be highly inappropriate," said the department's deputy secretary, Howard Bamsey. "Our representative was among those who walked out ... (and) we are withdrawing our sponsorship of this event." Environment Minister Ian Campbell has withdrawn $3000, saying the Government "could not be associated with such inappropriate activity". The Bureau of Rural Sciences, part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, has withdrawn $5000 in funding.


Public hospital bureaucracy fails mothers

Six years of lazy bureaucrats sitting on their hands

Ten birthing tubs in the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital's main maternity unit that were meant to provide the option of soothing warm water baths for labouring women continue to lie empty and unused after six years. The tubs were installed in the unit's birthing suites during the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of Queensland's flagship medical facility. But a spokeswoman for the hospital said yesterday there were still no plans to trial use of the tubs "until they were deemed safe". "An ergonomic assessment of the tubs has revealed (they) are not safe for use," the spokeswoman said. "RBWH is reviewing various options to improve their safety."

Two years ago, Queensland Health's RBWH district manager, Professor Richard Olley, said the tubs would not be used until a "multi-centre randomised control trial" was held to assess the safety of the tubs being used for immersion during labour. That decision ignored the 2003 findings of an in-house hospital committee which found the use of water in labour and birth in the hospital's separate birth centre - available only to a few women - had achieved "good outcomes for both mothers and babies".

The tubs' on-going closure as a result of workplace health and safety issues or medical safety issues means about 4230 women annually who give birth in the hospital's main maternity unit are denied the option of a warm bath for pain relief during labour. Maternity Coalition Queensland vice-president, Melissa Fox, said access to a bath for labouring mothers was a standard option in many other maternity services around Queensland, Australia and the world. "It should be for Brisbane women too," she said. The lack of access had been an ongoing disappointment to mothers.

"A range of reasons have been proposed for this and it's about time the problems were clarified and dealt with so women can have a access to a reasonable range of choices," Ms Fox said. "Many women, including myself, find a warm bath soothing and relaxing, easing the pain of the contractions so you are less likely to feel the need for pharmacological pain relief."

About 620 women each year apply through a ballot system to give birth in the hospital's birthing centre. In the birthing centre about 50 per cent of the women use that facility's birthing pools for pain relief during labour. Ten women each month in the birthing centre have water births.


Quantum leap for physics grads

Physics students will be in high demand "for the foreseeable future" because of an employee shortfall, according to a leader in the field. Australian Institute of Physics president David Jamieson said prospects were excellent for good graduates and starting salaries reflected this. "The rise of technology shows no sign of ending," said Professor Jamieson, director of the Microanalytical Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. "The number of very big science projects, including the Australian Synchrotron and the new nuclear reactor in Sydney, means that trend will keep on escalating."

Professor Jamieson said demand from universities, industry and government meant there was also a shortage of physics-qualified high school teachers. Starting salaries ranged from about $35,000 in teaching to about $60,000 in research. "But most people aren't in it for the money," he said. "Secondary teaching can be a very rewarding career that has a flexibility that you may not have in research."

Physics graduates commonly completed a BSc, followed by an honours year and a PhD, a process that took 7 1/2 years. s it worth it in the end? "Absolutely," Professor Jamieson said, citing "the excitement of looking at nature at its most fundamental". Physics specialisations came in "different flavours", including nanotechnology, physical chemistry, climate modelling, quantum physics, electromagnetism, thermal physics and astrophysics. "An important point is the diversity of fields where graduates end up," he said.

This year, demand for science professionals increased by 10,139, according to the Department of Education, Science and Training. The department predicts a total demand growth of 55,198 to 2013. AIP Victorian branch secretary Dan O'Keeffe said about 12per cent of Victorian 18-year-olds studied physics in 2005. Participation in the subject peaked in 1992 at about 16per cent, but had fallen steadily since then. In that year, about 22 per cent of male senior secondary students studied physics. Figures for NSW showed a similar profile.


Crooked judge in trouble

Fraud squad police have seized a computer belonging to beleaguered former judge Marcus Einfeld, after raiding his Sydney home early this morning. The Daily Telegraph can reveal a search warrant was executed in a bid to gather evidence for their perjury investigation. Four detectives and a uniformed officer emerged from his Woollahra home shortly after 11am carrying a computer hard drive. Another three undercover police officers left the house earlier in the morning carrying two black backpacks.

Strike Force Chanter was set up last month to investigate Mr Einfeld's evidence to the Downing Centre Local Court that a visiting US professor was driving his silver Lexus on January 8 this year when it was clocked speeding in Mosman. He said she had since died and the case was dismissed by the magistrate because it could not be proven. But The Daily Telegraph discovered Professor Brennan had in fact died three years ago. When Mr Einfeld was confronted with the fact that Teresa Brennan had been dead for three years, he said it was another academic, named Therese or Terese Brenan. She had also died on her return to the US, he said.

Since then The Daily Telegraph has uncovered Mr Einfeld also avoided speeding and traffic signal violations in 1999 and 2000 while he was a Federal Court judge earning more than $200,000 a year. In two statutory declarations, then Justice Einfeld named an Australian woman based in America as the driver of his taxpayer-funded car. When The Daily Telegraph phoned the woman in the US, she said: "I have no idea what you're talking about.''


Friday, September 08, 2006

Hooray! They caught one!

Plenty more where he came from

A corrupt north Queensland police officer was jailed yesterday after video footage shot by a "suspected pedophile" showed him collecting wads of cash from his victim. Former plainclothes constable Michael Angel Cifuentes, from Mareeba, showed no emotion as he was sentenced in the Cairns District Court yesterday to 3.5 years' jail. The 39-year-old father of four, whose wife is also a police officer, had pleaded guilty to extorting up to $15,000 from Robert Nastasi, who he had arrested for drug offences.

The court was told Cifuentes had threatened Nastasi with having the Family Services Department remove his children. Crown Prosecutor Angus Edwards said Cifuentes was filmed by CMC officers taking money from Mr Nastasi outside the Mareeba police station on February 7. Minutes later, with the money still on him, Cifuentes was called to investigate a man suspiciously filming in the area - thought to be preying on children from a local school. The man was in fact the CMC officer who had secretly recorded the cash handover.

Cifuentes' solicitor Bebe Mellick argued that his client needed the money to pay for his children's medical expenses, one of whom had leukemia. But evidence detailed in court revealed that the first thing Cifuentes did with the money was buy two power drills and pay a vet bill.

In the short conversation outside the police station, Cifuentes was recorded saying to Mr Nastasi that he had one more day to pay $7000. At this stage, Mr Nastasi had handed over $8000 worth of marked bills from the CMC.

Judge Peter White said it was an important judgment for Queensland. In sentencing Cifuentes, Judge White took into consideration the early plea of guilty, but questioned Cifuentes' remorse. "I'm aware that former police officers find prison harder than any other prisoner, including child molesters," Judge White said. "The most obvious is that you will have no friends and will be unlikely to make friends." Cifuentes had also worked as a guard at the Lotus Glen Prison at Mareeba for six years before becoming a police officer. Judge White said Cifuentes would be eligible for parole halfway through his sentence. CMC misconduct investigations director Russell Pearce described the jailing as a sad day for the police service but it proved the CMC had sufficient powers to expose and prosecute any corrupt officer. [When they get off their behinds long enough to do anything. Most of the compaints about police that they get they hand over to the police to investigate!]


Greenie dam-hatred bears fruit

Brisbane could become the first capital city to wear harsh level-five water restrictions, which include a total ban on outdoor watering. Queensland Water Commission chairwoman Elizabeth Nosworthy said it was "almost inevitable" that level-four restrictions would be introduced in southeast Queensland at the end of next month. And if this summer is as dry as the last, when little rain fell in catchments, level-five restrictions could be introduced as early as next March.

Australia's capital cities have to date been able to avoid the level-five restrictions that have been imposed in regional centres such as Toowoomba in Queensland and Goulburn in NSW. Although water is a central issue in the Queensland election campaign, the Beattie Government has been tight-lipped about the forced water conservation measures, including the level-four restrictions set to be introduced after the poll this weekend.

Under level four, residents face mandatory swimming pool covers and a further crackdown on garden watering. At the same time, businesses will be forced to install water-saving devices, such as waterless urinals and water limiters on taps.

Ms Nosworthy said businesses would have to do much more to save water, but she indicated that the 180,000 swimming pool owners in southeast Queensland would be the main residential targets under level-four restrictions. She said 11 million litres of water were wasted every day through pool evaporation and mandatory covers were under consideration. "Pools is an issue that we really have to deal with," Ms Nosworthy told The Australian. "People in the community without pools would expect people with pools to be taking responsibility for doing the right thing." Industry sources put the average cost of a backyard pool cover at $500, with another $500 for a roller to operate it, but the state Government has promised rebates. Ms Nosworthy said level-four restrictions had not been finalised and proposals would be discussed with local councils at a meeting on September 11 - two days after the election.

Residents of Brisbane and other southeast Queensland centres were banned from using hoses under level-three restrictions earlier this year, with only buckets and watering cans being permitted for outdoor watering. Ms Nosworthy said that while buckets could now be used at any time, their use could be restricted under level-four rules to late afternoons and nights. She said restrictions might need to be phased in over time if, for instance, retail outlets did not have sufficient supplies of pool covers. It was unlikely residents would ever be able to again water gardens freely. "I think those days are over," Ms Nosworthy said.

Hawkins Home Garden Living Centres owner John Hawkins said more than 40 plant nurseries in southeast Queensland had been forced to close because of water restrictions, with the loss of 1000 jobs. He said the industry might not be able to withstand the impact of further restrictions. "Level five would wipe us out altogether," he said. Premier Peter Beattie has denied he called an early election to avoid community anger at level-four restrictions.


More social-worker evil

Abused children have been left to die and the social workers couldn't give a damn

Child-protection workers in Victoria have been slammed by the Bracks Government's child death watchdog for failing to properly investigate warnings of sexual abuse, chronic neglect and family violence against up to 20 children who subsequently died. In two cases, child protection workers were told on 16 and 18 occasions respectively that children were suffering chronic neglect, but only got involved when the neglect was entrenched. In four cases, child protection workers did not investigate despite being told of the abuse in its early stages. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving three children were not given proper attention by authorities. Child protection workers also failed to properly investigate claims by children they were victims of family violence and prematurely closed cases after parents promised to go to support services but never did.

The damning findings - which follow strong criticism of child protection workers in other states - are made by the state Government's Child Death Review Committee, which investigated the deaths of 20 children known to the Department of Human Services. The committee published new figures showing child protection workers received 37,242 reports of alleged abuse and neglect last year. Fewer than one third - 11,346 - were investigated and just 7250 were substantiated.

Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said the report was further evidence child protection workers across Australia were out of step with community attitudes. "There is a difference ... between what the departments think child abuse is and what the community is willing to tolerate kids experiencing," he said. "The departments will tolerate much more violence towards children before they intervene ... Most professionals want the departments to act more strongly and they are not. That is at the heart of why the system keeps failing a lot of these kids."

Influential Howard Government backbencher Bill Heffernan last week demanded changes to the way the states handle such cases, accusing them of protecting abusive or neglectful parents at the expense of children.

There have been similar revelations in Western Australia of hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse being left in queues for weeks because of a shortage of child protection caseworkers. In an exclusive interview yesterday, West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter promised more money and more staff for the embattled Department for Community Development.

The Victorian committee spent 11 months investigating the deaths of 20 children from 2003 to 2005. Its report, tabled in state parliament in May, has received no media coverage. Seven of the children were found to have been chronically neglected, but child protection workers deemed some of these cases were not of sufficient concern to warrant intervention. Chronic neglect includes not being given food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care. "In four of the seven cases reviewed, early notifications of neglect were screened out of the system without investigation," the committee said. "In two cases, the families were the subject of 16 and 18 notifications respectively. By the time child protection became actively involved, the child was already experiencing developmental delay and other long-term adverse effects."

Victorian Minister for Children Sherryl Garbutt said the Government had recently made changes to child protection backed by significant funding. "Unlike other states, Victorian reforms were not sparked by crisis but by an ongoing assessment of the system based on reviews of case management practices ... and supported by the latest scientific research from Australia and overseas," she said.


More surgery cancellations in Queensland public hospitals

The State Government has cancelled elective surgery for up to 500 patients who would have had their operations after the election. The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital cancellations span 151 surgical sessions - up to 500 operations - over five weeks. Premier Peter Beattie said the cancellations were planned months ahead.

But Liberal leader Bruce Flegg said yesterday surgeons were only advised on Wednesday and patients would not be told until Monday - two days after the election. Dr Flegg said it was a slap in the face for patients, some of whom would vote for Labor. He produced leaked documents with the subject heading, "rolling cancellations", which showed that more surgery could be postponed. The documents reveal general, vascular, orthopedics and urology surgery will be suspended.

The memo from the hospital's surgical team to "interested parties" said that from September 25 to October 6, upgrades were scheduled for the surgical day care unit and the sterile processing centre. However, it does not reveal why operations need to be cancelled from Monday.

"These massive surgery cancellations are right across the board, from category one to category three," Dr Flegg said. "There is no doubt that cancelling people's operations in urgent cases put people's lives at risk. "Again we have hundreds and hundreds of Queenslanders getting a little slip in the mail saying, 'Don't come in on Monday, we have cancelled your operation'. "This is a Premier who stood with his heart and said, 'We're getting more doctors and nurses. We're fixing health'."

Mr Beattie accused Dr Flegg of "political mischief" and said very few surgeries would be cancelled. But Dr Flegg said Mr Beattie's blase excuses were a reason why visiting medical officers, who were among the backbone of public hospitals, were leaving the system. "Constant cancellations are exactly why the number of visiting specialists in Queensland has almost halved under the Beattie Government."


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Greer, the disgusting Greenie

Although he was an outspoken conservationist, lots of Greenies disliked Steve Irwin out of jealousy -- he got so much of the publicity and admiration that they crave -- AND he was a supporter of Australia's conservative government. So they made various specious complaints about him "disturbing" the animals he filmed. So what we see below from Australia's chief ratbag -- "publicity at any price" Germaine Greer -- is a regurgitation of that. It shows what scum she is (and always was) that she should at this time defame such a brave and brilliant man. It is a credit to Australia's responsible Left that her words were rightly dismissed by one of their chief spokesman as "politically correct claptrap"

Feminist Germaine Greer should keep her thoughts about the death of Steve Irwin to herself, Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said today. In an article in British newspaper The Guardian, Ms Greer said that the animal world had finally taken revenge on Irwin for causing stress to the animals he handled. "I think Germaine Greer should just stick a sock in it," Mr Rudd said in Canberra today. "You have got a grieving mother, you have got a couple of grieving young kids and a grieving nation and what to you get from Germaine Greer? You get a bucket load of politically correct pap - it's just nonsense.

"Steve Irwin was a nature conservationist, an animal conservationist and made a huge contribution to the preservation of wildlife worldwide. "And what do we get from Germaine Greer? - some gratuitous, politically correct claptrap. She should put a sock in it," he said.

Greer said she had "not much sympathy" for Irwin if he was grappling with the stingray that killed him on the Great Barrier Reef. Those on the boot with Irwin say he was not in any way harassing the stringray when it lashed out at him as he swam over it.

But The Guardian quoted Greer as saying: "As a Melbourne boy, Irwin should have had a healthy respect for stingrays, which are actually commoner and bigger in southern waters than they are near Port Douglas." She described Irwin's behaviour as "bizarre", noting the famed incident when he held his baby son while feeding a crocodile during a show at his Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast. "The whole spectacle was revolting," Greer said. "The crocodile would rather have been anywhere else and the chicken had a grim life too, but that's entertainment at Australia Zoo. "The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing ten times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn."

Police yesterday said footage of the incident showed Irwin in no way harassed or provoked the stingray.


Below is a reality-based account of Steve Irwin:

An American diver who owes his life to Steve Irwin says he was shattered to learn about the Crocodile Hunter's death. "He saved my life," an emotional Scott Jones said today from his home in Iowa. "I've lost a good friend."

Mr Jones was part of a tragic scuba diving expedition in the Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Mexico, in 2003. Mr Jones' friend, 77-year-old Katie Vrooman, died during the dive after a sea surge knocked her twice against rocks. Mr Jones fought to hold on to her unconscious body for almost two hours and, while hanging off rocks and floating in the water, attempted to resuscitate her. Eventually Mr Jones had to let Ms Vrooman's body go and he spent a harrowing night alone perched on rocks.

In a lucky twist of fate, Irwin and his film crew happened to be in the vicinity shooting a documentary and heard an SOS call on their radio that two divers had gone missing. Irwin, who had never met Mr Jones or Mr Vrooman, decided he would abandon his film project to try to find them.

Mr Jones was precariously sitting on a rock outcrop dehydrated and scarred from being battered on the rocks. Irwin, dressed in his khaki shorts and shirt, dived in the water and swam across to save Mr Jones.

At the time, Mr Jones did not realise Irwin was a celebrity. The quietly-spoken Mr Jones said he had heard of Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan, but not the Crocodile Hunter. "After they got me on to the main boat, Steve helped me get my wetsuit off me and he went below to do something," Jones recalled. "Somebody behind me said 'So what do you think of the Crocodile Hunter?' "So I was looking around for Crocodile Dundee. I thought when the makeup comes off Dundee's looks must change. "But, when I finally got home my daughter turned the Animal Planet channel on and I started watching his show from then. "It was wild. He was jumping on crocodiles and things like that."

Jones and his wife Deborah sent flowers to Irwin's wife, Terri, and kids, Bindi and Bob. They are also planning a trip to Australia to speak to his family. "We'd love to go to Australia and tell his wife and kids just what a great man he is," Mr Jones, who declined to tell his age, adding it was a secret, said. "He was a hell of an educator, from kids all the way up to old farts like me. "He was a hero." Mr Jones, an experienced diver, said he was surprised a stingray, "one of the most gentle creatures in the ocean" caused Irwin's death.


Realistic social security planning in Australia

Tax incentives to get Australians to do their own saving for old age

Farmers and small business owners will be the big beneficiaries of last-minute lobbying that has almost doubled the amount they can pour into superannuation to enjoy tax-free payouts. After pleading on behalf of ageing farmers and small business owners with plans to turn their lifetimes' work into super nest eggs, Peter Costello yesterday unveiled new "transitional" arrangements for his $7.2 billion super tax reforms. Until June 30 next year, anyone under 65 will be able to shift up to $1 million into super - up from a $600,000 limit at the time of the May federal Budget - paying the existing 15 per cent tax rate. The changes complete the surprise initiative of the budget to encourage super savings with a raft of measures including removing the tax on payouts from super funds for Australians retiring after the age of 60.

The Treasurer said yesterday the Government now believed it had created an environment where superannuation was the most tax-effective investment. "You will not find a better tax-preferred investment than superannuation," he said. "Don't wait until you are 55 or 60 to think about superannuation. I want 20-year-olds, I want 30-year-olds, I want 40-years-olds to think about putting money aside now." Mr Costello acknowledged that the change offered very generous tax concessions to a few, but said the long-term benefits of reform made the costs worthwhile. "It is not the concern of your average punter, because your average punter doesn't have $1 million sitting around," he said.

In the budget the Government announced that superannuation payouts would not be taxed if taken after the age of 60. The latest move makes superannuation so generous it is likely to see a massive transfer of wealth into the $1 trillion superannuation sector. Tax planners say that, for example, more people will take interest-only loans for property, in order to free up cash to plough into superannuation. Farmers and small business owners who may be considering retiring in the next two years will be able to enjoy greater tax advantages after July next year as a result of the changes. "It's no doubt going to be very beneficial to retiring farmers who sell their properties," Queensland senator Ron Boswell said.

Jo-Anne Bloch, chief executive of the Financial Planning Association, said planners had pushed the Government to lift the amount retirees could move into super. "It clearly does assist small business," she said. For many people such as small business owners and farmers, the proceeds from the sale of their businesses have been their only superannuation. "They sell the business at the end and put the proceeds into super," Ms Bloch said. "Clearly you're talking about people who are high-income earners or small business owners." In its submission to Government, the Financial Planning Association argued farmers - who often have low incomes despite owning valuable assets - were typically unable to contribute to super during their working lives.

The main improvement to super savings in the May budget was scrapping the 15 per cent exit tax and making it simpler to draw down super. But Mr Costello also introduced new contributions limits to prevent people throwing everything into super to minimise tax. From July 2007, an annual $150,000 limit on post-tax contributions will apply, but people under 65 will be able to bring forward contribution rights for two future years, putting in $450,000 in one year. This is on top of $50,000 a year in pre-tax contributions from salary, taxed at 15 per cent. People over 50 can lift this to $100,000 as a transitional measure for five years. Both contribution limits will be indexed, rising in $5000 jumps. Each partner in a marriage can take the maximum contribution into super.

Mr Costello also announced a plan to push people to give their tax file numbers to their super funds, to avoid tax penalties. The plan will allow people to claim refunds for tax withheld by super funds up to four years ago for failing to submit a tax file number.

Labor attacked the Government over new costings that show the plan will reduce revenue by $7.2 billion over four years, not $6.2 billion as originally proposed. "Amazingly, the Government underestimated administration costs of their own super plan by half a billion dollars," said Labor's superannuation spokesman, Nick Sherry.

Mr Costello said most of the $500 million administration costs related to operating the tax file number changes. He said Australians would not find a more tax-effective investment than super and urged all of them, no matter how old, to start putting money away. "What I would say to every young person in Australia (is): you can get your employer to put up to $50,000 into super, get as much as you can as early as you can because after 60 you will be getting that money back tax-free," he said.

The chief executive of the Investment and Financial Services Association, Richard Gilbert, welcomed the package, particularly for the changes for tax file number reporting. "When you look where the problems are in super, it's in lost monies," he said. "It's a major step in tracking money. This will go a long way towards solving that problem." But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was concerned the plan might not be sustainable. Mr Costello said he wanted legislation brought in by the end of the year to implement the program. He said the Government had no plans to increase the superannuation guarantee - the amount of super compulsorily contributed by employers - from its level of 9 per cent.


More revelations about the dishonest character of a prominent do-gooder and bleeding-heart

The pretensions of righteousness hide a fraud, a liar and a crook

Marcus Einfeld's presidency of Australia's human rights watchdog ended after allegedly twice claiming compensation for the same property lost on an overseas trip. Mr Einfeld asked the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to compensate him for an overcoat and several other personal items he reported he had lost during a trip to New York paid for by the commission. But before the claim, believed to be a few hundred dollars, was paid, commission officials allegedly obtained evidence that Mr Einfeld had lodged a separate compensation claim for the same items with his own insurance company.

Mr Einfeld resigned his post in 1990, shortly after the matter was brought to the attention of HREOC's four commissioners: Brian Burdekin, Irene Moss, Kevin O'Connor and Quentin Bryce. Three independent sources familiar with the incident have confirmed the commissioners were briefed on concerns about Mr Einfeld's compensation claim. "There was lots of rolling of eyes. It was a bit beyond shock," one source told The Australian yesterday.

Mr Einfeld had told commission staff that he had bought the coat during the New York trip and lost it before he returned home. He had not kept the receipt. Mr Einfeld, who was president of the commission from 1986 to 1990, issued a statement yesterday through his public relations agency CPR denying any wrongdoing. "It's the first time Mr Einfeld has heard of this," the statement said. "He is adamant he did not make such claims. He had assistance at the time from good, loyal staff. He is certain none of them would have knowingly made a false claim. "Mr Einfeld resigned from the position because he had previously agreed to see out one parliamentary term. He left on his own terms to concentrate on his Federal Court duties."

When approached for comment, former human rights commissioner Chris Sidoti said there had been many problems at the commission involving Mr Einfeld. Mr Sidoti, who now works for a UN human rights agency in Geneva, was secretary of the commission when Mr Einfeld was president. "Working with Marcus Einfeld as president of the commission involved a constant series of difficulties," Mr Sidoti told The Australian. "Fortunately the commission's processes proved sound throughout." Former commissioner Quentin Bryce, now the Queensland Governor, said she considered it inappropriate to comment on the matter.

The commission is alleged to have learned about the second compensation claim after an insurance company called to verify details concerning a claim lodged by Mr Einfeld. The insurance company, at the suggestion of a staff member at the commission, is said to have sent the commission a photocopy of the list of lost property. The list is said to have matched that which Mr Einfeld had submitted to the commission.

This incident has come to light as police are investigating testimony given by Mr Einfeld in a Sydney court that enabled him to avoid a $77 speeding fine. On January 8, Mr Einfeld told the Downing Centre Local Court he had lent his car to a woman who had since died in the US. He told the court that at the time of the offence he had lent his car to professor Teresa Brennan of Florida. After the court proceedings it emerged that Brennan had died in 2003. It has also emerged that two doctorates held by Mr Einfeld had been conferred by institutions debunked in the US Congress as diploma mills.


Got cancer? Too bad!

Cancer patients are being forced to travel interstate to seek life-saving treatment which Queensland Health deems too costly. Public hospital patients with brain tumours and prostate cancers are flying to Melbourne and Sydney - some at their own expense - to get the specialised radiation treatment. The treatment, known as intensity modulated radiation therapy, is available in most other states and gives cancer sufferers a higher radiation dose but minimises the side effects. The revelations come after The Courier-Mail reported yesterday that Queensland cancer sufferers are waiting up to four times longer than recommended for essential radiation therapy.

In 2005, Queensland Health said IMRT could help save lives but was expensive. "IMRT offers improved patient outcomes, yet due to competing demands (and) time constraints, introduction of these labour-intensive procedures is difficult and costly," it said in an internal report.

A Medical Radiation Professionals Group spokesman yesterday said patients would be spending up to seven weeks interstate to get the treatment. The spokesman for the group, which is made up of Queensland Health employees, said the treatment could be available with an upgrade of existing equipment. "Queensland has the equipment capable of offering the treatment but not the staff," he said.

Coalition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the Government's response to cancer was "hopelessly inadequate". "That technology should be available to public patients as it is to private patients," he said. "It shouldn't be the case that people have to travel interstate."

However, Health Minister Stephen Robertson said intensity modulator radiation therapy was "high end" medical treatment needed by only a very small number of cancer sufferers. "At present in Queensland, a very small number of public cancer patients require intensity modulator radiation therapy each year," he said. "Treatment is provided in Sydney - Queensland Health pays the cost for the handful of people needing this specialised care." Mr Robertson said the Government was keen to provide the therapy and a submission by the state's clinical oncology network was under way. The Government today will announce plans to spend $9 million on new cancer equipment at the Mater and Princess Alexandra hospitals. Mr Robertson said the funds would cut waiting times and allow both hospitals to treat more cancer patients. "It represents a significant expansion of cancer services and shows the Beattie Government is getting on with the job of improving the health system," he said


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

ABC secrecy

In the the four years to September 15, 2004, the ABC received 1408 complaints about its Middle East coverage. The Federal Court allows you to know that. But the court says you can't know who made the complaints, what they said, and how the ABC responded. So next time you hear the ABC board, or its new managing director, Mark Scott, prattling on about the need for openness and transparency, or the public's right to know, just remember that's what the ABC believes is good for others, not for itself.

It's different at SBS. When journalist Antony Loewenstein submitted a freedom of information request to see complaints about its coverage of the Middle East, SBS handed them over. As he wrote in his book, Loewenstein discovered the complaints were overwhelmingly from just one person, Colin Rubenstein of the the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. But when students from the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) at the University of Technology, Sydney, submitted their FOI request to the ABC, the ABC pulled down the shutters and claimed the material was exempt, relying on an unusual argument.

The FOI Act lists agencies with certain classes of documents that are exempt, particularly those commercially sensitive. The ABC is on the list with a special exemption for documents "in relation to its program material and its datacasting content". You'd think the idea behind this was to protect from release the ABC's intellectual property in material like films or radio programs. But the ABC said this phrase meant anything connected to a program, including the complaints about it and the records of how the complaints were handled.

The students appealed and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal agreed the exemption was meant to only protect intellectual property. It ordered the documents be released. But the ABC did not comply. It briefed senior counsel and went to the Federal Court. For reasons that are far from clear, UTS's counsel, Margaret Allars, argued the exemption was so narrow it only included tapes and recordings of program material - it didn't even exempt ABC scripts from release. Justice Bennett rejected this narrow interpretation and went instead with the ABC's argument that the exemption was very broad.

The head of the ACIJ, Chris Nash, was appalled at the likely consequences of this decision: "As a result of the judgement, the ABC has been effectively removed from FOI, " he said. "We believe it was appellable but the university, for its own reasons, decided not to."


University bypasses government exam results

IQ test comeback under another name

Victoria's biggest university is bypassing the VCE and moving to choose some students with aptitude tests. Monash University is running a pilot scheme where up to 500 students from underachieving schools can sit an aptitude test instead of using their ENTER score. Students usually receive a tertiary entrance ranking out of 100 at the end of their VCE and courses require a specific score for entry. But there are concerns ENTER scores do not reflect some students' potential to succeed at university, and students from poorly resourced schools are missing out.

The new exam will be available for undergraduate degrees at Monash's Berwick campus, which include business/commerce, communication and IT. It tests decision making, problem solving, argument analysis and data interpretation. Students from 62 "under represented" schools in the city's southeast, where less than 50 per cent of pupils received a tertiary offer, will be allowed to take the exam. Secondary colleges such as Berwick, Sandringham, Cranbourne, Doveton, Lilydale and Frankston are some of those eligible. Almost 130 students have applied and will sit the exam, known as uniTEST, on September 9. Successful students will be offered places in undergraduate courses before receiving ENTER scores.

Monash admissions manager Kai Jensen said the ENTER score was not always the best measure of future academic success. "We believe in the lower ENTER ranges, aptitude tests may be a better predictor of success at university," Dr Jensen said. He said some deserving students did not get university places because their schools could not compete with wealthier city schools. "There are large inner-city independent and Catholic schools that get a lion's share of the uni places," Dr Jensen said. "We believe that in outlying schools and schools in areas that don't have those resources, there are students that could still do well at university but may not be getting an ENTER score that reflects that."

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Stephen Parker said the university's aim of the trial was to admit the best students irrespective of means or circumstance. Dr Jensen said the test, developed by Cambridge Assessment in Britain and the Australian Council for Educational Research, had been used successfully at British universities. He said applicants still had to pass relevant VCE subjects to get in and students would be monitored for 12 months as part of the pilot study.

Education Minister Lynne Kosky's spokeswoman said the test was a good idea because it gave students a chance at university when there might be many reasons why their ENTER score was low.


The Communist salute says it all

Good riddance to bad rubbish

About 2000 people marched through the city yesterday to honour union official John Cummins, who died of cancer last week aged 58. Underworld figure Mick Gatto was among mourners who packed the Regent Theatre for Mr Cummins' funeral service. The Supreme Court has heard Mr Gatto brokered meetings between retirement village developer Primelife Corporation and Mr Cummins, state president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. The court heard the company had union problems at a time of growth.

Yesterday, Mr Cummins was remembered as a tough unionist who struggled for the rights of building workers. Addressing Mr Cummins' two sons, Father Peter Norden said their father was jailed twice for contempt of court after visiting sites illegally. "Your father was in prison because of his honesty," Father Norden said, adding that when he asked why he did it, Mr Cummins said: "I was just doing my job."

Mr Cummins played a high-profile role in the deregistered Builders' Labourers Federation, but fell out with the union's boss, Norm Gallagher, over amalgamation with the CFMEU. The Howard Government's Australian Building and Construction Commission had been pursuing Mr Cummins over a coercion claim at the time of his death.

Brother Jeff said Mr Cummins was a passionate sportsman who supported Fitzroy Football Club and repeated his final year of high school to captain the footy team. He said his brother's career path became clear when he organised protests as a student at La Trobe University. A Sherrin footy, a Fitzroy jumper and a hard hat were placed on the coffin.

Unionist Ralph Edwards spoke against the Howard Government, which he said was trying to destroy the CFMEU. "Make no mistake, we will fight," Mr Edwards told mourners. As Mr Cummins' coffin was carried into the hearse on Collins St, hundreds of unionists saluted with clenched fists. The crowd then marched behind the funeral entourage to Trades Hall. A message of condolence from the East Timor Government was read out during the service. Mr Cummins is survived by his wife, Diane, sons Shane and Mick, and his father, Jack, 97.


Deadly public hospital delays

Queensland cancer sufferers are being forced to wait more than four times longer than recommended for life-saving treatment. A damning Queensland Health document has exposed the potentially deadly delays that many public hospital patients and their families must endure. The fresh health scandal is a significant blow to Premier Peter Beattie only four days from Saturday's election.

The internal memorandum, obtained by The Courier-Mail, reveals priority two patients with aggressive tumours, bleeding or pain are waiting up to 34 days for radiation treatment. The recommended maximum wait time for such patients is 14 days. Priority three patients with breast or prostate cancers are waiting up to 89 days while 21 days is the recommended maximum.

A Medical Radiation Professionals Group spokesman said yesterday that a shortage of radiation therapists was mostly to blame and wait times would blow out further as more therapists quit Queensland Health. "It seems the Health Minister has mistakenly chosen to focus only on doctors and nurses and unfortunately the Queensland public is paying the price," he said. Health Minister Stephen Robertson played down the waiting time figures, saying that the Government was addressing the problem. "Timeframes will fluctuate from week to week," he said.

The August 29 memorandum, with the subject heading "Delay in Treatment", gives a breakdown of the waiting times for the four public hospitals which conduct radiation treatment. Townsville Hospital priority two and three cancer patients wait up to 34 and 89 days respectively. Princess Alexandra Hospital cancer patients are waiting 50 days for treatment on priority three cancers and 36 days for priority two. Cancer patients of the Mater Hospital and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital also face significant waits beyond what is recommended.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lots of Australian judges are Leftist and feminist hacks

Stacking the courts with political favourites was the "main evil" disrupting the administration of justice in Australia, an eminent jurist said last night. In a politically explosive lecture in Brisbane, former Supreme Court judge Geoff Davies, QC, pictured, said political patronage in judicial appointments had eroded the standard and standing of the judiciary. He called for Queensland judicial appointments to be taken out of the hands of politicians and vested in a panel of seven people, including the chief justice and another judge, the presidents of the Bar Association and the Law Society, leaders from church and women's groups and newspaper editors.

Mr Davies, who was appointed by Premier Peter Beattie to help oversee the state's health reforms, said a number of recent appointments, in Queensland and elsewhere, had caused many to be concerned about the future of the judiciary and the administration of justice unless judicial appointments were removed from sole political control. "If governments are not prepared to introduce some independence into this process, others should," said Mr Davies, who was praised by Mr Beattie as "terrific" when his appointment to the commission of inquiry into the hospital system was announced. He said an independent panel could serve as a kind of watchdog committee - with or without government sanction.

Mr Davies' extraordinary speech was seen as a challenge to state Attorney-General and Justice Minister Linda Lavarch, who has caused uproar in legal circles with recent appointments based on gender and politics.

Mr Davies, who also served on the Court of Appeal, Queensland's highest court, reserved some barbs for fellow judges. Some of them, he said, had shown hostility towards him after he proposed a new system of appointments two years ago in an article in The Courier-Mail. "No government happily surrenders power, and some may see the appointment of judges as a means of rewarding loyal party supporters or friends or at least of having their own views expressed by like-minded judges," he said. "More surprising was the hostility which my remarks engendered in some judges, not least some recently appointed ones."

Former federal attorney-general Michael Lavarch, dean of the law faculty at QUT, questioned whether a judicial selection panel would be of value. "Some might comment that Rupert Murdoch appears to already have enough power, without giving one of his newspaper editors a direct say in appointing judges," he said. "Equally, others might question the desirability of opening a debate about the role of the church and the role of the state, by having a head of church included. "A feminist perspective might raise concerns about the track record of the Anglican and Catholic churches in accepting women in positions of authority. Others might welcome the involvement of the imam of the Muslim faith as a refreshing sign of cultural diversity, as this position on the appointing body rotates amongst the various churches."


Dubious quality of Australian professional childcare

These concerns could easily slide into mindless credentialism. Where is the importance of a kind heart mentioned?

Most childcare workers are trained in a system that lacks rigour and accountability, with no monitoring of the quality of the courses offered. At a time when the federal Government is pushing for a greater educational focus in childcare, early childhood expert Alison Elliott describes the industry as a shambles, with huge variations in the quality of care provided and the quality of carer. Dr Elliott, research director of the early childhood program at the Australian Council for Educational Research and a former early childhood professor, said the links between qualified staff and a good start in life for children were well-established.

Yet only 10 per cent of childcare staff had degree-level qualifications and 30 per cent had no qualification or formal training. Only NSW requires childcare centres to have an early childhood teacher on staff, in centres with more than 29 children, and Queensland requires all staff to have a qualification, which could be as little as a six-month vocational certificate.

Dr Elliott said carers in family daycare were unlikely to have a formal childcare qualification and a three- or four-year-old child in a centre or preschool could be in a group with an untrained person, a worker with a vocational certificate or a teacher. "Imagine if the same inequities existed for five-year-old children in the first year of school, some with qualified teachers and some without," Dr Elliott said. "Imagine in hospitals (where) some three- and four-year-old children have care from qualified medical staff, some don't. "There is a remarkable national silence on the appropriate education, professional preparation and credentials for key education and care staff in childcare, kindergarten and preschool. "Despite recognition of the importance of improving staff qualifications and competence, there is no agreement for a nationally consistent ... framework, no accreditation of early childhood preparation courses, no standards for professional practice and no registration for early childhood educators." In a paper presented recently to a workshop on childcare policy, Dr Elliott said the vocational training was guided by a national approach, but there was no consistency in the way the courses were delivered.

The courses - Certificate III, diplomas and advanced diplomas in children's services - are provided under the auspices of the Australian Qualifications Framework and contain only basic statements of what should be taught, lacking any real detail. The National Training Information Service provides the courses to registered training organisations. But Dr Elliott said no expertise was required to become a registered trainer and hundreds of organisations were registered around the country, with 50 in Queensland alone. Some students had passed the courses without speaking English.

"Gradually, strong, specialist early childhood courses are being eroded," Dr Elliott said. "If recent announcements about universal preschool education are to become a reality, early childhood teacher education capacity in universities will need rebuilding." Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is pushing for a year of preschool for all children, and given the lack of stand-alone preschools in Australia, experts say most children will have that education in a childcare centre.


A small ABC backdown on their support for terrorists

The ABC's style guide will scrap references to "freedom fighters" in its entry on terrorism after a Liberal senator questioned whether organisations such as al-Qa'ida and the Bali bombers could be considered freedom fighters. The revised guide, which is about to be distributed, will scrap from the entry on terrorists and extremists the phrase: "Remember, one person's 'terrorist' is usually someone else's 'freedom fighter'."

The ABC said yesterday the change was part of a routine update of its news and current affairs style guide. But proving that one person's "update" can be another's moral victory, NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells seized on the move as a "step in the right direction". Senator Fierravanti-Wells asked the ABC at a Senate estimates committee in May whether the guide's reference to "freedom fighter" would remain, "given that al-Qa'ida, the Bali bombers, 7/7 (the July 7 bombers in London) could hardly be considered as freedom fighters". "What freedom are they fighting for?" she asked.

ABC stories have previously referred to "freedom fighters" such as East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, South Africa's Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta. ABC head of news and current affairs John Cameron said yesterday the original reference was "a note of caution and education rather than instruction".


Medical training funds spent on bureaucracy

Medical schools have accused the states of diverting money meant to fund clinical training of medical students into general hospital coffers. They want the commonwealth to hand control of training funds to universities, warning that inadequate clinical training could threaten the standards of Australian medicine. But the Australian Medical Association has accused universities of siphoning training money into their general administration.

The accusations come amid intensifying concern that public hospitals are not equipped to provide clinical training to the growing number of students of medicine and other health professions such as nursing. The Australian revealed yesterday that Education Minister Julie Bishop was reviewing funding mechanisms in response to complaints that students in allied health professions were being denied clinical training. This followed news that up to 200 physiotherapists might be unable to graduate from universities this year because, while meeting academic requirements, they will not have had adequate hands-on training.

Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools chairman Lindon Wing told The Weekend Australian yesterday that public hospitals were under such funding pressure that they were using money previously set aside for training to boost resources for medical treatment. "They are not able to allocate the funds as they might have before," Professor Wing said. "Education is not their focus." Professor Wing said people assumed hospitals had to spend a certain percentage of their funding on clinical training. In fact, hospital budgets had no line item for training.

He said resources were limited and that the situation would worsen because university medical graduate numbers were expected to increase to about 3000 a year in coming years - up from 1250 in 1998. He said CDAMS wanted the federal Government to increase the per-student grant paid to universities for medicine - now about $16,000 a year - or to boost the loading that augmented funding for medical students' clinical training.

However, AMA federal vice-president Choong-Siew Yong said some universities diverted up to half of commonwealth medical student grants into general administration. "The universities must stop using medicine as a cash cow," he said. Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott would not comment.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Treasurer keeps up Muslim pressure

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello says Australian Muslim leaders need to stand up and publicly denounce terrorism in all its forms. Mr Costello has also backed calls by Prime Minister John Howard for Islamic migrants to learn English and adopt Australian values, warning quarrels of the old country should not be brought to Australia. "I think the prime minister has a point that migrants who come to Australia are expected to speak English and endorse basic Australian values, and it's going to be a problem for future generations if they don't," Mr Costello told the Nine Network. "We have very, very successfully integrated people from all over the world in this country because we have had the attitude that when you come to Australia, whatever arguments you might have had in the old country we start again, and we start again with a common set of values and a common language."

Mr Howard caused outrage in Australia's Islamic community this week when he said Muslims needed to speak English and show respect to women. Mr Costello today said there was a minority in the Islamic community that had been radicalised and was preying upon young people with dangerous ideologies. It was important that moderate Islamic leaders speak out against the radicals and denounce terrorism in all its forms around the world, he said. "This is where we really need the Islamic leadership of this country to stand up and contend unequivocally that terrorism, no matter who it is perpetrated by, to make it clear that terrorism is never justified, under the cover of religion and to make it clear to would be converts that when you join this religion, you do not join a radical political ideology," Mr Costello said.

He said Australian Muslim leaders had to make it clear that terrorism had nothing to do with real Islam. "You have seen under the cover of a radical form of Islam, terrorism being perpetrated," Mr Costello said. "You have seen it with September the 11th, you have seen it in Bali, you have seen it with the London bombings and it is very, very important that the leadership of Australia are very clear and very precise that this is not real Islam, that terrorism is always wrong and terrorism is always to be condemned no matter what religion they seek to use as a cover."


Illegal police behaviour officially encouraged in NSW

Crookedness from the word Go. No-one who knows the NSW police will be surprised

Police recruits at NSW's Goulburn training academy who failed a crucial course on police powers had their papers re-marked so they could pass the subject. The re-marking was part of a push to get more recruits qualified in order to meet the state Government's pre-election promises about increased police numbers, one former staff member at the college said yesterday. "It would appear they have lowered the bar, the pass rate, to get the numbers through," the former lecturer said.

The Weekend Australian has learned that at least 50 students in the group due to graduate just before next March's state election originally failed the fundamental criminal justice subject. The academy's educational services head, Commander Tony Aldred, confirmed the re-marking had taken place. "In accordance with Charles Sturt University policy, examination results at high distinction and fail levels are re-marked as a matter for quality control purposes," he said. "The quality control check identified that some students had actually passed the course rather than failing."

But The Weekend Australian understands that trainee police have been told by their lecturers they had "stuffed up" the marking of assignments a few weeks ago because they had used the wrong formula. "It was just bizarre. I got a good mark, passed easily, then got it re-marked a few days later with an almost 20 per cent reduction," one student said.

An employee of Charles Sturt University, which runs the academy, said the re-marking had confused many students. Students from a previous group have objected to the changed marks, given that a number failed the police powers course and are now repeating it.

The NSW Labor Government has made a pre-election promise to train an additional 750 new recruits. Premier Morris Iemma attended a graduation ceremony at the Goulburn college yesterday when 316 probationary constables were welcomed into the force. Most will begin work on Monday, with a large number posted to Sydney's crime hotspots. Mr Iemma said the new probationary constables would bring numbers to more than 15,000, the highest in NSW history. "It is your sense of justice and fair play that brings you into the police force," he said.

Former police corruption commissioner James Wood warned a NSW parliamentary committee last week about the dangers of mass-recruiting drives. Mr Aldred said students who failed the subject would have to re-attempt the three-month-long course, adding extra cost to their Higher Education Contribution fees. The Weekend Australian also understands that an 11pm curfew, introduced last month after a series of drunken episodes in Goulburn, has caused concern among students who see themselves as no different from any other university students who pay for their own education. A former college administrator, Inspector Matt Casey, said the students now had stricter controls imposed on them than any military establishment. "They are all adults and soon they are going to be trusted with a gun out on the streets and yet we are telling them what time to go to bed," he said. The NSW Police Association has called for legal advice on whether the curfew is lawful.


Exclusive school expels cyber bullies

While government schools lag behind, of course

Five students at an exclusive Sydney boys' school have been suspended or expelled in the past month for cyber-bullying other students on the internet. Computer technicians were called in to track down the perpetrators. The King's School headmaster, Timothy Hawkes, said police and computer technicians could track down students who bullied their peers anonymously on the internet. "Those who continue to bully, intimidate or harass will be removed from the school," Dr Hawkes said. The internet and text messages were new weapons being used to denigrate victims, he said.

Dr Hawkes also said Internet chat rooms were a particular problem because a victim could be bullied by a whole group. "The school has taken a hard line ... because bullying at schools can spread like cancer."

State Opposition education spokesman Brad Hazzard said principals should have the option of suspending students who bullied others on the internet. "If the problem is damaging to students, then suspension should be an alternative available to principals."

In a newsletter to parents last week, The King's School deputy headmaster, Peter Rainey, said King's students had used cyberspace to harass and bully fellow students. "The school has had quite an occurrence of cyber-bullying this term," he said. "Many students from all schools indulge themselves with unfortunate, unsavoury and inappropriate comments in cyberspace."

Federation of Parents and Citizens Association spokeswoman Sharon Roni-Canty said cyber-bullying was on the rise. "It's happening in all schools," Ms Roni-Canty said. "It's treated as chit-chat outside school hours, but it can be as distressing as face-to-face bullying."

The Department of Education added emailing and SMS to its anti-bullying policy last year, but does not keep figures on the number of students suspended for bullying. "Principals can place students on suspension for up to four days for transmitting abuse electronically by email or SMS text messages," a spokesperson said. "If the short suspension does not end the misbehaviour or if the nature of the behaviour is very serious, the principal can suspend a student for up to 20 days."


Global warming: Too vital for guesses

Growing belief in global warming is pressuring governments and scientists to get their projections right says environment writer for "The Australian", Matthew Warren:

Al Gore is a kind of nerdy superman. He pushed the development of the internet, won the popular vote in the 2000 US presidential election without being elected and has made a movie about himself giving a slide show about saving the planet from climate change. His film An Inconvenient Truth, unsurprisingly, has polarised believers in severe climate change and their critics with its dire predictions of "a planetary emergency", including melting ice sheets, rises in sea levels, more frequent and severe cyclones and spreading tropical diseases. Due to open in Australia on September 14, the film catalogues mainstream science on climatic change as the basis for a swift and decisive shift to lower greenhouse gas-emitting energy systems across the developed world.

Prominent Australian climate-change sceptic Bob Carter, a geologist at James Cook University in north Queensland, provided this blunt review: "Gore's circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention."

Cinema launches of the film across the world inevitably leave a trail of scientists praising or condemning the former US vice-president's claims. Despite nearly two decades of consolidated research on the subject, there is still limited agreement about climate-change science. It is accepted that in the past 4.6 billion years the Earth's surface temperature has had a series of significant warm and cool periods, much hotter and cooler than now. Natural global warming 20,000 years ago removed giant sheets of ice that would have buried much of the northern hemisphere. The Earth is in a relatively cold period, not a warm one. Within these significant periods are much shorter and sharper natural fluctuations in temperature.

In the past millennium, temperature changes have manifest into smaller warming and cooling cycles; a noticeably warm spell from 1000 to 1400 called the Medieval Optimum, during which came the Viking colonisation of Greenland, followed by a Little Ice Age that lasted until the mid-19th century.

The Earth has been warming for about the past 200 years, a split-second in geological time. Since the start of the 20th century, global average surface temperatures have risen between 0.6C and 0.7C. Last year was the warmest year of the instrumental record, which dates back, coincidentally, only to the mid-19th century, when the present warming cycle kicked in. It is also agreed that the level of greenhouse gases have increased directly or indirectly because of human activities.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide are about 375 parts per million in the atmosphere, up from pre-industrial concentrations of about 280 parts per million. Other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are also higher. As Will Steffen, the director of resource and environmental studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, points out in a recent report to the federal Government, "the evidence for a warming Earth is stronger and the impacts of climate change are becoming observable".

Alarmists v sceptics: As the planet heats, so does the debate. The fundamental divide is between a growing majority of scientists who say there is increasingly certain evidence linking higher than predicted temperate changes with these known anthropogenic (man-made) increases in greenhouse gases, and a vocal minority who say such a claim is unsupportable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established in 1988 and provides the collective opinion of government climate scientists from more than 120 member countries. It is considered the eminent body in the world on the science of climate change. Since its first report in 1990, the IPCC has been evolving its modelling of the complex climate systems and has become more confident and certain of its modelled climate projections. In the 2001 third assessment report, it projected a temperature rise of between 1.4C and 5.8C by the end of the 21st century. Its draft fourth report, due for release next April, has narrowed the projected temperature range considerably to about 3C at the present rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at present levels would reduce this increase by about 1C by 2100. Increased confidence in improved climate models projects sea-level increases of 14cm to 43cm by 2100, with further increases of up to 80cm in the following century, projected increased storm intensity, but not frequency, and sustained reductions in rainfall in Australia of about 0.1mm a day.

It has been well publicised that such changes could inundate some island nations and low-lying stretches of mainland countries, notably Bangladesh. CSIRO research predicts the biggest local effect would be to increase the impact of storm surges, particularly on Australia's tropical northern coastline.

These new findings are unlikely to silence the critics of the IPCC who describe them as alarmists: a tight-knit self-serving peloton earnestly riding at increasing speed in the wrong direction. In reply, the climate-change mainstream portray their critics as a handful of cranky, anorak-clad sociopaths and contrarians operating mostly outside the accepted scientific processes who, given the chance, would argue about what time it was.

The sceptics continue to argue that the development and evolution of these climate models is self-serving and predictive: in other words, that they assume a causal link between anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and climate change and then retrofit their models to fit the theory. They claim that man-made increases in carbon dioxide levels are tiny compared with the Earth's natural exchanges: about 5.5 gigatonnes of carbon a year from human activity compared with about 750 gigatonnes in the atmosphere, another 1000 gigatonnes in the surface oceans and 2000 gigatonnes in vegetation and soils. The deep oceans, they say, contain 38,000 gigatonnes. To them, increased confidence in such modelling is inevitable but reveals nothing except the ability to refine and adapt new data to reinforce a predetermined, but flawed, thesis.

The sceptics argue that such modelling, even at its most advanced stage, is trying to reconcile natural systems that contain too many unknowns or unknowables to be meaningful. These include the complex interaction between the surface ocean and deep oceans, the role of currents in shifting energy around the planet and the complex interplay between the surface and layers of the atmosphere that includes myriad feedback effects. They claim these gaps inevitably have to be filled by assumptions, sometimes little more than educated guesses, which allow scope to manipulate outcomes and undermine the integrity of the findings. Such disagreement is absolutely normal in the history of scientific argument and debate.

What makes climate change so different is the stakes. The economic, social and environmental effects of a significant change in the Earth's temperature are potentially so severe that the issue has lured the interest of the broader community and business, and right on their tails are the politicians.

Beyond doubt? British philosopher Karl Popper observed that there was no such thing as an inalienable truth in science. Science, he said, was never right, it was always just increasingly less wrong. The contestability of any scientific theory is fundamental to the robust and progressive development of science. Only by continually challenging scientific theories do we make progress. While individuals in the political spin surrounding the climate-change debate repeatedly talk of the science being beyond doubt, the scientists are generally more circumspect. The IPCC talks of increased confidence in its models rather than in absolutes, and acknowledges some, albeit fewer, uncertainties remain about aspects of their modelling. Their critics are more certain of the uncertainty.

US paleoclimatologist Tim Patterson told a congressional committee last year that there was no meaningful correlation between carbon dioxide levels and Earth's temperature during this geologic time frame. "In fact, when carbon dioxide levels were over 10 times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half-billion years," Patterson said.

The hockey stick debate: This refers to the shape of one of the high-profile diagrams used by the IPCC to demonstrate the relative severity of recent climate change. US climatologist Michael Mann has used tree rings, ice cores and other proxies of past climates to reconstruct northern hemisphere temperatures during the past 1000 years. The modelling shows relatively stable temperatures for most of the millennium, then a sharp spike towards the end of the 20th century, producing a hockey stick appearance that gave a powerful visual cue to the scale of recent climate change and that figured prominently in public debate when the IPCC released its third assessment report in 2001. Mann's research said the 1990s were likely to be the warmest decade in the millennium.

In 2003, Canadian economist Ross McKitrick and engineer Stephen McIntyre tried to replicate the research and couldn't, claiming it was based on insufficient data and that it was the design of Mann's model that produced the hockey stick. What ensued was two years of claims and counter-claims on internet blogs and in the media between the scientists, and a growing band of supporters on both sides. Eventually the US Congress bought into the dispute and commissioned an independent review, which found that Mann's statistical work was flawed and unable to support the claims of the hottest century, decade and year of the past millennium. Yet further modelling by other climate scientists has since supported Mann's original conclusions.

What is a credible authority? Mainstream climate scientists repeatedly make the point that while they stick to the accepted regime of advancing their theories and models through the discipline of publication and peer review in important scientific journals, most of their critics do not. They also claim that many of their critics are industry-funded and not independent. Their critics counter that the IPCC process has been dominated by government-funded scientists with an interest in promoting a climate problem that would justify further research and therefore funding.

Policy response: The new IPCC report will further fuel demand for immediate and drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to contain the effects of increasing climate change. Given the most recent projections, it is likely that the suite of policy responses may need to consider processes to help adapt to climate changes that appear increasingly likely to occur.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Government child agency failed 'thousands'

This is something that government agencies are extraordinarily bad at. All such work should be contracted out to private agencies -- preferably church-based

The death of a 13-month-old boy has highlighted the cases of 22,000 abused children failed by a government child protection agency. Robbie Gillett was still in the womb when he was failed by the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS) for the first time. After his mother, Rebecca Mann, presented at Campbelltown Hospital with an alarming pregnancy complication, she was offered support from DOCS. But despite advice that her growing baby could be at risk because she was leaking amniotic fluid, she refused point blank.

Robbie, of course, had no voice to speak for himself - and no one prepared to take up his cause. Like an estimated 22,000 children in NSW each year, he was known to authorities as being at risk of serious harm, but was repeatedly failed by those paid to protect him. Before he finally gave up the battle to live, the tiny blond boy with the haunted eyes endured trauma that has left even seasoned child-abuse investigators shellshocked.

While the cause of Robbie's death is yet to be confirmed, The Australian understands an initial examination of the one-year-old's body revealed internal injuries consistent with violent force inflicted by a blunt object. In the hours before he was discovered dead by his mother in the family's home in Claymore, in Sydney's southwest, on July 31, Robbie's bowel, liver, one kidney and an adrenal gland had been perforated, and his heart sac damaged.

Yesterday, the boy's maternal grandfather, Stephen Mann, joined detectives to plead for anyone with information about how the baby spent his days to come forward. "Robbie was a beautiful baby boy who brought so much joy and happiness to our lives," Mr Mann said. "This shocking event will haunt our family forever."

Alarm bells should have been tolling for Robbie Gillett long before this catastrophic ending. Within months of his birth the infant suffered a skull fracture - but investigating DOCS caseworkers deemed no further intervention was needed. Six months later, another DOCS notification was issued when Robbie suffered unusual damage to his testicles. His parents insisted one of his two older brothers had stepped on the baby during a nappy change. That excuse was apparently plausible: Robbie's DOCS case file was closed soon after, within weeks of his death.

But it was not just welfare workers who failed the little boy. The Australian has learned at least two family doctors, in Claymore and Campbelltown, are likely to face disciplinary action for ignoring mandatory reporting obligations that require health workers in NSW to report suspected child abuse. The doctors had separately examined Robbie in the months before his death and referred him to hospital for treatment of a number of injuries, including extensive bruising and what has since been confirmed as two fractured ribs.

But tragically, Robbie's case is not unique. If anything, his story is just the latest illustration of how beleaguered and dysfunctional the NSW Department of Community Services has become despite a $1.2billion funding boost in 2003. Calculations based on the department's annual statistics, released without fanfare in May for 2004-05, show almost half of all initial assessments deemed by DOCS Helpline workers to be worthy of further investigation were never followed up.

Notifications to DOCS have jumped dramatically in recent years - driven mainly by increased mandatory reporting obligations placed on health workers, teachers and police - to 216,386 in 2004-05. About 65 per cent of those notifications were referred to caseworkers or Joint Investigation Response teams made up of DOCS staff, police and health workers, for investigation of potential physical, sexual or psychological abuse, or cases of severe neglect. But roughly half of those recommendations for further assessment - or 65,975 individual reports - had no outcome recorded in 2004-05. The DOCS report gives no explanation as to why, but distinguishes them from cases where the investigation is continuing. With DOCS estimating it receives two reports for every child referred to the service, these figures suggest almost 33,000 at-risk children never received the department's recommended follow-up. But about two-thirds of all cases that did receive secondary assessment in 2004-05 confirmed actual harm to a child.


Significant Greenhouse backdown

The world's top climate scientists have cut their worst-case forecast for global warming over the next 100 years. A draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained exclusively by The Weekend Australian, offers a more certain projection of climate change than the body's forecasts five years ago. For the first time, scientists are confident enough to project a 3C rise on the average global daily temperature by the end of this century if no action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The draft Fourth Assessment Report says the temperature increase could be contained to 2C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are held at current levels.

In 2001, the scientists predicted temperature rises of between 1.4C and 5.8C on current levels by 2100, but better science has led them to adjust this to a narrower band of between 2C and 4.5C. The new projections put paid to some of the more alarmist scenarios raised by previous modelling, which have suggested that sea levels could rise by almost 1m over the same period.

The report projects a rise in sea levels by century's end of between 14cm and 43cm, with further rises expected in following centuries caused by melting polar ice. The new projections forecast damage by global warming, such as stronger cyclones, modest sea-level rises and further shrinking of the arctic sea ice.

CSIRO research predicts the biggest impact of sea-level changes of this scale would be to increase the effect of storm surges, particularly on Australia's tropical northern coastline. The forecast temperature rises would also result in lower rainfall over most of the Australian mainland and exacerbate the threat to the survival of coral reefs and shellfish by increasing the risk of bleaching and increasing the acidity of the ocean.

Australian Conservation Foundation energy program manager Erwin Jackson said theprojections required an urgent and immediate response from the federal Government to drive accelerated investment in low-emissions technology in Australia. "Every day we delay taking action, the problem gets worse," Mr Jackson said. "The Government keeps throwing up the costs of action but totally ignores the costs of inaction. "No one ever said that saving the planet would cost nothing - that's the bottom line."

A recent Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report on the cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions estimated Australians would incur a fall in real wages of about 20 per cent if the nation was to unilaterally cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

John Howard this week said that sort of scenario would have an "enormously damaging" effect on the economy. "I accept that climate change is a challenge," the Prime Minister said. "I accept the broad theory about global warming. I am sceptical about a lot of the more gloomy predictions. "I also recognise that a country like Australia has got to balance a concern for greenhouse gas emissions with a concern for the enormous burden to be carried by consumers ... of what you might call an anti-greenhouse policy. It's a question of balance."

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell said the draft IPCC report was still undergoing a thorough review process before its approval by the panel next year. "It highlights the need for an effective global response to climate change as Australia alone cannot alter the pattern of world emissions," Senator Campbell said. "We are taking a leading role internationally to achieve effective engagement by all major greenhouse gas-emitting countries."

The new projections are based on the results of 23 climate models, developed by government climate scientists from IPCC member countries. According to current climate change models, stabilising global greenhouse gas levels to 400parts per million offers a good chance of avoiding 2C global temperature increases. This would require global emissions to be 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

CSIRO recently concluded that the goal of 60 per cent reductions might be considered the minimum needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Any further reductions in global temperatures would require cuts in emissions of about 80-90 per cent in industrialised countries by 2050, which would require a faster transition to near-zero emissions technologies.


A negligent NSW public hospital

A father who lost his son to meningococcal disease is suing a South Coast hospital after it allegedly twice sent him home with his sick child. Nicholas Constantini, 5, died 48 hours after his father first took him to the Shoalhaven Memorial District Hospital in January last year. Yesterday his father, Roy Constantini, of Nowra, sued in the NSW District Court, claiming damages for psychiatric injury he has suffered since his son's death.

In a statement of claim filed with the court, he alleges the hospital was negligent in its treatment of his son, and in the advice given to him about his son's symptoms. Among its alleged failures were a failure to follow public health and NSW guidelines for the early treatment of meningococcal disease, a failure to administer intravenous antibiotics and failure to conduct appropriate tests. "Had Nick been provided with adequate treatment he would have survived," said Mr Constantini's solicitor, Stephen Thornton.

Speaking from his home yesterday, Mr Constantini said he and his sister had first taken Nicholas to the hospital about 10am on a Thursday. He said the hospital administered some tests, and gave him Panadol. They were told they could all go home about 3pm.

Mr Constantini said after leaving hospital his son began to vomit, so he returned to the hospital at 6pm, and was told the boy had an allergy. By the next morning he said his son had difficulty breathing and walking. He took him back to the hospital at 10am where, not long after, he convulsed and went into a coma from which he did not wake.

Mr Constantini said his son was flown to Sydney that night but died on Saturday morning. "I was angry. I was in shock. I had a sick child and I trusted the doctors, too. I believed them," he said. "I want everybody to know about this. I don't want it to happen to another child."


Reasons for low teacher quality

The teaching profession has been shoved into the spotlight by a disturbing new study that finds the quality of teachers has plummeted in the past 20 years. It also has reignited debate on the mounting pressures teachers face. The Australian Nation University study released this week found that in 1983 teachers were in the top 26 per cent of high school graduates in terms of literacy and numeracy. By 2003, they were only in the top 39 per cent. Even more alarmingly, the number of very high achievers had halved, while the ranks of poor performers had doubled.

Both federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and her Opposition counterpart Jenny Macklin are looking at performance-based pay incentives as a means of halting the decline. During a visit to Brisbane this week, Ms Bishop said that teachers in better-off schools would not benefit at the expense of those in "tough" schools. She said a suitable formula for measuring teacher performance could be found despite the vastly different challenges faced by teachers in a variety of different schools.

Unions and parents' groups are sceptical, however. "Mention that (performance bonuses) to a teacher working with a class of special education students and they'd laugh in your face," Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said.

The ANU study concluded that falling wages relative to other professions was a key factor behind falling standards. "Compared with non-teachers with a degree, average teacher pay fell by more than 10 per cent during the period 1983 to 2003," it said. But the ANU researchers conceded that attracting the best school leavers was about more than money.

Serving and retired teachers contacted by The Courier-Mail listed student discipline, fears of false sexual harassment claims, workloads and lack of resources as reasons for the difficulty in enticing quality recruits.

Surprisingly, the No.1 complaint was a perceived drop in their status. None of them agreed to speak on the record for fear of upsetting Education Queensland or private employers, but their claims and other evidence suggested verbal abuse and assault by students was a major concern. In the four terms to mid-2004, for example, an average of four students a day were expelled from state schools for breaches of discipline and school rules.

Staffing levels continued to play on their minds despite recent recruitment drives. Despite all those woes, tertiary cut-off scores showed "good" courses still managed to attract quality graduates. Griffith University has managed to buck the trend to lowering entry scores for teaching places, which it puts down to a reputation for quality training. Dean of education Claire Wyatt-Smith said the market voted with its feet. "While the course content is heavily informed by education research, it has a strong practical component," Professor Wyatt-Smith said. "Students spend a day a week in classrooms early in their training."


Saturday, September 02, 2006

PM Howard unapologetic about the need for migrant assimilation

Mr Howard sparked controversy yesterday by saying on talk-back radio a small group of Muslim migrants had refused to accept their adopted country's values and had not learned English. The Prime Minister said today he had no reason to apologise or water down those remarks.

"There's a small section of the Islamic population which is unwilling to integrate," he said. "And I have said, generally, all migrants ... they have to integrate, and that means speaking English as quickly as possible, it means embracing Australian values and it also means making sure that no matter what the culture of the country from which they come might have been, Australia requires women to be treated fairly and equally and in the same fashion as men. "And if any migrants that come into this country have a different view, they better get rid of that view very quickly. "I don't retreat in any way from that. It doesn't involve singling out a group."

In the wake of Mr Howard's comments yesterday the chairman of the Government's Islamic advisory committee, Dr Ameer Ali, has warned of more Cronulla-style riots unless the Prime Minister tones down his rhetoric on Muslim migrants. "We have already witnessed one incident in Sydney recently in Cronulla, I don't want these scenes to be repeated because when you antagonise the younger generation, younger group, they are bound to react," Dr Ali said to Macquarie Radio. has today received a barrage of reaction from readers to the Prime Minister's comments. Many readers were wholly approving: "John Howard is simply stating the bleeding obvious" wrote Paul. "I know the vast silent majority fully support this idea," said Phil, while Mark said: "We were all thinking it and he had the balls to say it". A common argument was voiced by Rob of Sydney, "If Westerners travel to Islamic countries, we are encouraged to dress and behave conservatively out of respect for our hosts - and fair enough. Can we not expect the same?" Another common thread wondered about the motivation of migration. Jason wrote: "Generally people come to australia to escape the life they lived in these countries. So why do they insist on continuing to live as if they were still there?"

Some readers thought Muslims were doing themselves no favours. "The Islamic Council does a pretty good job of marginalising the entire Muslim community themselves, they don't need any help from the rest of us," wrote Jody. A number of respondents pointed to the efforts of previous migrant communities, "Chinese, Italian, Greek immigrants have learned English, and have fitted in and are now celebrated and accepted. All new immigrants have this obligation," commented Nate

More here

"Take Back the Night" for men as well: Australian data

Every year, campuses and cities across North America hold "Take Back the Night" -- marches and rallies to protest violence against women. But surprising data suggests that men may need to reclaim 'the night' as urgently as women. On Aug. 10, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the results of its first national Personal Safety Survey (PSS, 2005). It is the only national survey by a 'Western' country that analyzes a wide range of violence on the basis of a respondent's sex. Thus, the PSS offers the best snapshot available of the comparative violence experienced by men and women in a society with laws and a culture similar to North America.

The results are remarkable. If valid, they have far-reaching implications for how issues of gender and violence should be addressed. The current approach basically views women as victims and men as aggressors. The survey's bottom line: Australian men are twice as likely as women to become victims of physical violence or of threats thereof (11 percent of men; 5.8 percent of women). For the population between eighteen and twenty-four years of age, men were almost three times as likely (31 percent of men; 12 percent of women). But men were also three times more likely than women to be the perpetrators of violence.

Violence against men most often took the form of a brute physical attack rather than a sexual assault/threat. When perpetrated by another man, the assault occurred "at licensed premises (34 percent) or in the open (35 percent), however if the perpetrator was female then 77 percent of the physical assaults occurred in the home."

In some categories of violence, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, the PSS shows women as more vulnerable than men. For example, 1.6 percent of women as opposed to 0.6 percent of men experienced either sexual violence or threats in the year preceding the survey. Overall, however, the PSS offers good news to women. One of its goals was to "expand on the 1996 Women's Safety Survey" and compare violence against women then to now. With one notable exception, violence declined; the perception of being in danger also declined. The Sydney Morning Herald reported, "A decade ago, more than 21 percent of women felt unsafe compared to just over 13 percent in 2005."

Perhaps predictably, the public reaction of Julie Bishop -- a Liberal member of the Australian House of Representatives who advises the Prime Minister on women's issues -- focused on the negative news for women: violence against older women has increased since 1996. To the extent Bishop acknowledged encouraging data such as the increased reporting of crime, she credited the Women's Safety Agenda, which is tax-funded at approximately $57.5 million U.S. Bishop promised to consider the PSS's findings at an upcoming conference of Women's Ministers' from Australia and New Zealand.

Bishop may be forced to confront changing attitudes toward gender and violence. Shortly after the PSS's release, the New Zealand Herald reported on a new study. "Where only one partner in a relationship is violent, it is more likely to be the woman, University of Otago researchers have found. Researcher Kirsten Robertson, of the university's psychology department, said the finding indicated a change of thinking was required on domestic violence."

Part of that change will come from grappling with the still widely disparate views offered by studies and surveys on how many men versus women experience domestic violence. Many of the differences may be ascribed to nothing more than the methodology employed by various researchers. Despite those differences, however, both the estimates of men as victims and women as perpetrators of domestic violence seem to be rising across the board.

A new approach to gender and violence is likely to hit a brick wall of sexual politics. Much of gender policy in Australia and North America -- e.g. affirmative action, domestic violence and sexual harassment -- is rooted in ideology, in the idea that women as a class are oppressed by men as a class. But if men are twice as likely to be threatened or attacked, then the theory of women's class oppression becomes more difficult to sustain.

Even if men are more likely to be attacked by a fellow-male than a female, that does not change the fact that they are also victims of violence. And the task of collecting quality data becomes more important because only facts stand a chance of cutting through ideology.

There is some reason to question the quality of data in the PSS. For example, its summary states "an attempt or threat to inflict physical harm is included only if a person believes it is likely to be carried out." This asks the 'victim' to ascribe intent to an aggressor and invites subjectivity. Various figures are identified with "a relative standard error of 25 percent to 50 percent" or "greater than 50 percent"; this makes them unreliable. Moreover, the math in some tables does not add up; that is, when the subcategory totals are added together, the sum total is greater than the parts. (See page 5.) Without the raw data or more methodological detail, it is not possible to tell why this occurs.

There is no reason to believe, however, that the aforementioned problems skew the data more for one sex than the other. Other aspects of the survey, however, provide reason to suspect that violence against men could be understated or glimpsed less clearly. Although the PSS surveyed 16,300 adults, it included 11,800 women and only 4,500 men; this means the data on women should be more reliable. Moreover, the PSS used only female interviewers; this may have encouraged women to open up but it could have inhibited men.

In short, the PSS is neither ideal nor definitive but it is probably the best current picture of gender and violence in Western society. Under that picture, the caption should read "violence is a human problem, not a gender one."

Politically correct feminists sought to define violence, within certain contexts, as a gender problem, because the perception of women as victims of men promoted their ideology that pitted men against women. This view of violence as a gender problem has been sustained because government supported the ideology and its conclusions with money and favorable law. As a result, a false view of the nature of violence and of the relationship between the sexes has been created. Focusing on women victims is valuable for specific purposes, like counseling female rape victims, but anyone who campaigns to prevent violence against women should vigorously applaud similar efforts directed toward men. 'Take Back The Night' is for everyone.


A Gay Green politician

A Greens candidate has pleaded guilty to being a public nuisance after undercover police arrested him at a local gay beat. Candidate for Townsville John Boucher yesterday admitted visiting a public toilet in Townsville three weeks ago and undoing his fly outside a cubicle. But the 55 year-old said he was investigating the site after he heard homosexual men were being unfairly targeted by police at the beat.

Greens campaign coordinator Ian Gittus said Mr Boucher last night regretted having pleaded guilty, but wanted to put the episode behind him quickly. "He didn't go there for sex," Mr Gittus said. "He went there to investigate and as soon as he went in there, three undercover police arrested him." Mr Boucher is a probation officer with Queensland Corrective Services and is also a long-time gay rights activist.

Throughout his campaign he has argued for equal rights and social justice issues. Mr Boucher will remain part of The Greens campaign, with the full support of the party. "We do feel that police are harassing gay men in Townsville and we call for a hotline for gay men to call if they are being harassed," Mr Gittus said. Mr Boucher was fined $300.


Yet another negligent public hospital doctor

Here's guessing it's another "overseas trained" doctor. The Leftist Qld State government and its appointees is most uncritical about the character and qualifications of such doctors -- usually from the Indian subcontinent and Muslim lands

A senior Queensland Health doctor was suspended last night and faces at least two investigations over allegations his slow response to an emergency contributed to a patient's death. The unnamed doctor, at Murgon Hospital, 226km northeast of Brisbane, has been accused of being too far away from the hospital for a timely response to gravely ill patients while on call. It's understood the doctor, who eventually attended the emergency but was too late, has been disciplined by Murgon Hospital in the past.

Last night Queensland Health refused to reveal the name of the doctor, why it allegedly took him so long to attend to the emergency, or how the patient died. The doctor's actions have been referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the death will be investigated by State Coroner Michael Barnes. The revelations could not come at a worse time for Queensland Health and Premier Peter Beattie, who this week denied the health system was still in the grip of a crisis.

Sources said the male patient died in Murgon Hospital, but it was being asked why the doctor had only been suspended last night. In a statement last night, a Queensland Health spokesman said: "Concerns raised with the department about patient safety are taken very seriously. "Accordingly, the department has referred the death of a patient at Murgon Hospital to the state coroner. "Further, Queensland Health has also asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission to review some aspects of the matter. "A doctor at the hospital has been suspended immediately, pending the outcome of the CMC review, (and) medical services at the Murgon Hospital will not be affected by the suspension."


Friday, September 01, 2006

Unending public hospital woes in Queensland

Having a heart attack? You too have to wait!

This the anguished face of Queensland's health system. A woman waits with her elderly dad in an ambulance in a car park because he can't be admitted to the overflowing emergency department. At least five other patients wait in other ambulances. A year after the health inquiry and just a day after Premier Peter Beattie denied there was a crisis in the health system, Cairns Base Hospital yesterday was a scene of agony. As politicians from all sides of politics pledge to fix the problems in health, 70-year-old Ken Freckelton waited nearly two hours to be admitted to the hospital suffering chest pains.

His worried daughter Emma Freckelton-Bowden watched helplessly as paramedics were told there were no spare beds. After finally being admitted he was returned to the ambulance because there were no spare doctors. "Nobody would come and talk to us to tell us what was happening. They were talking to the paramedics telling them there were no beds," Ms Freckelton-Bowden said.

The gridlock was revealed as Coalition deputy leader Bruce Flegg stood outside the hospital unveiling a plan to expand cardiac services. Dr Flegg said the situation was a "disgrace" and left just after his press conference as media crews spoke to distraught relatives.

Cairns Health Service District Acting Manager Brett Grosser blamed the situation on an influx of patients needing beds with cardiac-monitoring equipment. "(That) meant some patients had to wait in the ambulances until these monitored beds became available," Mr Grosser said. He said this week had been particularly busy for the hospital's Emergency Department (ED). "We can't predict when ambulances will need to wait," he said. A spokesman for the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, which includes ambulance officers, said backlogs at the hospital potentially led to delays in responding to other cases.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Zelle Hodge said the hospital's emergency department was not big enough and had too few beds to cope with the demand. She said the problem of bed numbers in Queensland hospitals was compounded in the mid-1990s under the then Goss Government when Mr Beattie was Health Minister. Dr Hodge said instead of increasing bed numbers or maintaining them, they were cut. "The health economists at the time were saying: 'You're not going to need as many hospital beds because basically people are going to be in for a shorter stay'," she said. "But the doctors were saying: 'People are getting older, the population is getting bigger. Even though people are in for a shorter time, you're still going to need those bed numbers'." Dr Hodge said she was at a meeting last year when the Premier admitted he had thought those doctors were "empire building" and realised now he was wrong not to trust them


How sad: Australian football umpires now need bodyguards

A teenage Victorian footballer has been banned for seven years for striking an umpire. The under-18 player copped the career-ending suspension after going "troppo" in an Essendon District Football League semi-final on Sunday. The teen played for Doutta Stars in their 88-60 win over Strathmore.

Strathmore secretary Ross Higgins said he had never seen anything like it. "He lost his cool. He grabbed at the umpire. The player grabbed the umpire," he said. Mr Higgins said the incident happened when a second free kick was awarded to Strathmore near goal after it had converted the first. "The umpire had paid a couple of free kicks, one that had resulted in a goal and another that was going to result in a goal, and the kid just went troppo," he said.

According to the tribunal website, R. Gordon was found guilty of abuse, assaulting and striking the umpire and was banned for seven years. Neither the Doutta Stars nor the EDFL returned calls to the Herald Sun last night. But local umpires backed the seven-year ban. "Hopefully this sends the message to players that it's not acceptable," said EDFL Umpires Association president David Sullivan. "I think the tribunal has taken a good stance. "From our point of view, we think it's a good decision," he said. "We hate to see things like that happen. Unfortunately it does happen from time to time, but touch wood it doesn't happen again." Mr Sullivan said the umpire involved in the incident would continue to officiate.

Football Victoria manager of development and planning Mick Daniher said suburban leagues found it hard to attract umpires, and they must be protected at all costs. "That's a very serious offence, and I think every football league facing such a severe incident like that would want to be taking strong action against that," he said. "I don't think it's an unreasonable penalty for striking an umpire. "The whole industry of Australian football is wanting to recruit and retain umpires, and one of the negatives is the way umpires are treated and the abuse they receive. So we want to take a strong stance against any abuse of umpires."

The incident follows one in which Heatherton Cricket Club coach and vice-captain Daryl Rose, 33, was banned this year for 10 years after threatening to kill an umpire. Last year a junior football coach was banned for three years for abusing an umpire.


Leftist governments plan to stop cow farts!

The success of the Labor states' proposed carbon emissions trading scheme may hinge on stopping cows breaking wind. A joint discussion paper released by the states says agricultural emissions must be cut by 60 per cent and part of the solution is reducing flatulence in cows. Livestock produces more than 60 million tonnes of methane gas annually - the equivalent of 10 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The discussion paper was released this month to support the case for a state-based carbon emissions trading scheme.

Prime Minister John Howard has attacked the idea and Premier Peter Beattie, although supportive, is concerned about the impact of the proposed scheme on Queensland's coal industry. The paper says agricultural emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are a particular concern. "In order to achieve around a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by the middle of this century, agricultural emissions would need to be addressed at some point," it said. "Achieving emissions reductions in agriculture will require a significant research and development effort."

Reducing flatulence in cows is identified as one of the most promising research areas. In particular, it points to "preliminary rumen ecology" research being undertaken in Queensland. Scientists at the Department of Primary Industries are working on three projects. These include investigating whether bacteria found in the gut of kangaroos - which emit very little methane - could be used to reduce emissions from cattle and sheep.

Principal scientist Athol Klieve yesterday said three different types of bacteria had been isolated. "We have been looking at them in a fermentation apparatus . . . to see how well they can colonise, and see if they can reduce methane," he said. "There are promising indications that if we can work out a bit better the requirements they need to be able to persist in the rumen, they will be able to reduce methane emissions." Dr Klieve said the other two projects involved putting coconut oil and cotton seed in cattle feed. "It is known a lot of these liquid-based feed materials do reduce methane emissions," he said.


Money to move plan

A federal government plan to offer unemployed people a $5,000 relocation incentive is a product of economic prosperity, Prime Minister John Howard says. Mr Howard said the government's plan to offer the incentive for the unemployed to move to areas which had chronic skills shortages was commonsense. "Everywhere I go in the country, when I talk to employers, all they are talking about is getting enough workers," Mr Howard told reporters in Adelaide. "This is the product of prosperity, it's not the despair of depression - in a sense it's an interesting challenge to have."

Mr Howard said the incentives would be offered in a pilot program. "There are still some pockets of high unemployment in Australia and the incentives would be for people to go to areas where there are a shortage of workers," he said. "It won't be compulsory but I do think people who are genuinely looking for work but can't get it, particularly those who don't have such strong family ties, they should consider taking up these incentives. "The principle is a very simple one: that in any economy that is booming, and our economy is booming at the present time ... there will be a shortage of labour in the areas of intense economic activity, there will still be some pockets of unemployment. "And if we can persuade with incentives and assistance some hundreds of people to go from areas of high unemployment to areas of demand ... the principle makes a great deal of sense."

Mr Howard denied the move was a bandaid solution to Australia's shortage of skilled workers. "I don't think it's a bandaid solution when you have 4.8 per cent unemployment." he said. "The starting point of all of this is we have the lowest unemployment in 30 years. "And wherever you have a demand for more workers, you are going to have skills shortages - by definition you never have all the skilled tradesmen you need in times of peak economic activity because that is the nature of how an economy works."

Labor leader Kim Beazley welcomed the move. "Any step in that direction is a welcome step but they have to do so much more," Mr Beazley told reporters in Adelaide. "We really have to do something serious about skills at the national level in this country. "The government goes around with little bits and pieces of action here and there, when what we need is a wholesale set of plans to make us a more skilled people."


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