Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's BYO nurse at collapsing NSW government hospital

But some people see where the problem lies

The family of a dying man was forced to use his credit card to pay for a private nurse in a public ward at Royal North Shore Hospital because there were not enough staff to look after him. Phil Lindsay, 87, a World War II veteran, had less than a week to live when his wife became disgusted with the lack of care. She hired an agency nurse for four nights because the family did not want him left alone.

His cash-for-care story comes amid a wave of complaints about lack of staff and resources at the hospital after Jana Horska, 32, miscarried in the toilets of the emergency department this week. A former doctor at the hospital said funding was cut because "people on the North Shore had money" and could afford private health care. Also yesterday:

* Dr Simone Matousek, a registrar at Royal North Shore, said there was "no commitment to care", and she could do three to four more operations a day "if I did not have to deal with this grossly inefficient system". "Many people work shifts in the hospital and leave when their time is up, not when the patient has been properly cared for," she said. "Fire all the middle management in hospitals who have created this environment and contribute nothing and you will have plenty of hospital funding."

* The federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, ordered his department to investigate claims the NSW Government steered public funding away from the hospital.

* The Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, demanded the NSW Government launch a judicial inquiry into the claims.

* The NSW Health Minister, Reba Meagher, was forced to announce that pregnant women attending emergency departments would be transferred to maternity units rather than wait for treatment in crowded waiting rooms.

Budget documents, seen by the Herald, show the Royal North Shore/Ryde Health Service went $18 million over budget in the previous two financial years. Despite this its budget was cut by $13 million from $359 million to $346 million for 2007-08, the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said.

Mr Lindsay's case is one of many reported to the Herald. His daughter, Christine Rijks, said he had been suffering kidney failure when he was left in the emergency department for several hours in July 2005. The former Catalina gunner was later admitted to a four-bed ward, "causing my mother and my father more stress than his inevitable death". "It was so difficult to see him waiting," Ms Rijks said yesterday. "We knew he didn't have long to live. We became too frightened to go home at night because we just didn't know if anyone was seeing to him. We hardly saw any staff during the day and we were worried sick about what would happen when we went home."

Her mother, Hilarie Lindsay, said she had been asked to wash her husband, to crush his pills and dress him each day. "It was very distressing. I know the nurses are stressed out of their minds, but I was exhausted by the end of every day because we were the ones nursing him." Mrs Lindsay said she took her husband's credit card and booked an agency nurse, who stayed with him overnight. Ms Rijks said: "My parents were both under a delusion that his war service veteran's gold card would provide the best level of health care in Australia. Of more use was the American Express Gold Card."


Do as I say, not as I do for the Left

What's good enough for the "peasants" is never good enough for Leftists themselves

THE latest confrontation between Kevin Rudd's wife Therese Rein's company and its staff has made world headlines, and it's not because of a Coalition 'dirt' unit.

Question: Which Australian company under fire for its shabby treatment of workers in Australia fled overseas and is now in hot water for under-cutting its competitors bids by escaping employment conditions designed to protect staff?

Answer: WorkDirections UK, part of Ingeus, the multinational group founded and run by Therese Rein, wife of Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

Question: Which Australian company was found to have underpaid its workers by up to $4000 and was forced to repay them after shifting them from awards to common law contracts?

Answer: WorkDirections Australia, the Australian arm of the multinational group founded and run by Therese Rein, wife of Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd.

Question: Which Australian company sacked 300-400 workers after failing to meet the standards required by the Australian Government for employment agencies?

Answer: WorkDirections Australia, etc, etc. Now, before Rudd's chief of staff, David Epstein, the Sultan of Spin, the Master of Muck, and former chief ANiMaLS operative arcs up and unleashes the full force of the ALP's mindless army of bloggers and Howard-haters, let it be noted that the latest confrontation between Rein's company and its staff was revealed in the pages of The Guardian, the principal Labour daily in the UK.

The details were not revealed by anyone from the Coalition's non-existent dirt unit, despite what Rudd's deputy, the strident Julia Gillard, might honk, or shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan might insinuate, or mud-slinger extraordinaire Anthony Albanese might bray, nor in some crypto-fascist neo-con sheet bankrolled by aged nazi war criminals. The Guardian is a left-wing newspaper which still believes in class war, like some in the Left of the ALP, and no doubt published its story to highlight what it believes is an attack on workers and their conditions.

Rein's company won six of 15 contracts worth more than 85 million ($A196,560,000) from the British Government under a scheme which aims to get disabled people off welfare. According to The Guardian: `'Unions and charities are furious that Mr Hain (the work and pensions secretary) has handed over the lion's share of the first tranche of privatised services to the Ingeus group under a deal which will not include union recognition and will not safeguard jobs on the same conditions as in Whitehall.''

The competitors, mainly charities, factored in the costs of TUPE staff benefits - which cover employees when their employers are taken over - into their bids. Rein's company had legal advice it did not need to provide those benefits and was able to undercut its competition. Charitably, and with an enviable display of the sportsmanship associated with thugs from the Graham Richardson school of "whatever it takes'' right-wing Labor politics, Rein's UK manager William Smith said the charities were `'whingers''. `'Frankly its their own fault. They should have bloody read the questions and answers documents.'' Indeed. If they hadn't been busily looking after the handicapped, widows and orphans, they may well have employed a firm of smart lawyers to look for such an edge.

Interestingly, The Guardian quoted angry and disappointed officials from two interested parties, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the Public and Commercial Services Union, in its article about Rudd's wife's company. Stephen Bubb, the volunteer groups' representative, said he intended to ask the UK Government whether it had decided there was no future for voluntary organisations in delivering services. PCSU general secretary Mark Serwotka said: `'Not only has the voluntary sector been used as a Trojan horse by the private sector but the Government has handed a large chunk of work to a firm which is failing and mired in controversy in Australia. The Government is giving a green light to a company who we fear will try and circumvent TUPE regulations.''

A search of `'our'' ABC's worksite found just one reference to the story in which was included a quote from another representative of the PCSU, Martin John, who dodged around the issue by saying, while the union opposes the privatisation of public sector tasks it has no particular concerns with WorkDirections UK. `'I don't think we have any specific concerns about WorkDirections UK,'' he told the ABC. `'We are very concerned about the views of some in this Government in this country that they would like to follow an Australian model and contract out unemployment services. (But) we haven't got a particular problem with this company as against any others.'' Is his glass half-full or half-empty? Is WorkDirections better or worse than the other organisations he has trouble with? He's not really saying, according to `'our'' ABC.

But it doesn't take much imagination to realise what would be taking place if almost any other Australian company had undertaken the same flight offshore and engaged in the same slashing of staff benefits to beat its business competitors. The bruvvers and sisters from the Australian trade union movement who demonstrated their thuggishness on the picket lines they threw around the docks as they tried to block waterfront reform would be out in force. State and federal Labor politicians would lend their support as they did then, there would be demands that the company be ostracised for its un-Australian approach to its workforce.

Today however there is silence. Not a word is being said in Australia against the business run by the wife of the man who is telling everyone he will be the next prime minister, the business from which he derives healthy benefits at the cost of the benefits of its foreign employees. Hypocrisy, thy name is Labor.


Empty-headed Australia-bashing from Leftists

It is so often asserted as a truism: Australians have become more selfish, narrower, more materialistic. In February we had the great pleasure of having an Englishman, Oliver James, visit to diagnose the Australian malady for us as "selfish capitalism".

While in Sydney visit to promote his book, Affluenza, he dropped into Bondi and instantly distilled the vibe for us: "This kind of 'f--- you, we're rich' type thing." Now we have Hugh Mackay's book, Advance Australia Where? The veteran social researcher tells us of the findings of his focus groups: "Australians typically offer three explanations for the belief that our society is 'degenerating': a lack of connectedness (People won't even look you in the eye in the big cities); a surrender to materialism (I actually think we have too much, it makes you want more); unbridled selfishness (It's all me, me, me)."

This idea becomes politically potent when blame is attributed. Some explicitly hold the Howard Government responsible. After the 2004 election, Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute wrote that "the relentless promotion of self-interest and the rejection of the politics of social progress is no more than we should expect from the Liberal Party".

I have long been troubled by the idea that the Australian people have become so selfish. I have also been struck that all of these claims are impressionistic or anecdotal or ideological, unsupported by empirical evidence. This puts them on the level of assertion, not fact. So let's test the claim. On the level of anecdote, you can always find evidence of anything you seek. But there are always contrary anecdotes. The real question is this: What does the systemic evidence tell us? Consider two measures. One is the level of charitable giving. The other is the level of volunteering in the community. If the country has become more selfish, surely one or both of these indicators will show a decline.

The most comprehensive survey of overall Australian giving found that, from 1997 to the end of 2004, individuals increased their total donations to non-profit organisations by 88 per cent, or an annual average increase of 12.5 per cent. Giving for victims of the Asian tsunami is explicitly excluded - no one can claim that any extraordinary one-offs somehow distorted the picture. Want to take out the effects of inflation? After adjusting for inflation, growth was 58 per cent, an annual average of 8.3 per cent. Note that this does not just represent a passive "ride" on a growing economy or rising incomes. The growth in individual giving was more than twice the speed of GDP growth and more than double the rate of the average increase in personal incomes.

The annual cash value was $7.7 billion in 2004. Is this unrepresentative, though? Eighty-seven per cent of adult Australians, a total of 13.4 million people, donated, according to the report, Giving Australia, which was co-ordinated by the Australian Council of Social Service and initiated by the Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership. If you're wondering about averages, the survey deducts $2 billion generated by charity events, and then figures out an average donation of $424 per adult per year. Incidentally, the numbers don't support the common assertion that Melburnians (average donation $485) are more generous than Sydneysiders ($524).

Companies gave a further $3.3 billion, contributed by 525,000 firms, which represents 67 per cent of all businesses in the country. The survey was unable, for methodological reasons, to measure the overall change in total business giving, but it did report that the proportion of businesses donating money - as distinct from goods or services - grew from 40 per cent to 58 per cent.

The increased generosity of Australian giving has implications at all levels. Last month, rich Australians gave donations worth $15 million to three competing art galleries, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Gallery of Australia. At the less glamorous end of the spectrum, Father Chris Riley's Youth Off the Streets charity is able to increase the scope of the services it offers. This year, it is expanding to Griffith and Walgett, and will need an extra $600,000. "We are going to be able to fund it through donations - we have never gone into overdraft," says Father Riley, whose organisation this year has budgeted for total outlays of $15.5 million. "Our fundraising with everyday people is rising all the time. Our greatest supporters are ordinary people, parents and grandparents and pensioners who send $5 cheques, rather than the big end of town. Our results in June with the 50,000 people on our mailing list was particularly good."

Australian gifts to good causes overseas have surged even more conspicuously than gifts at home. Figures collated by the umbrella group for non-government organisations which specialise in foreign aid, the Australian Council for International Development, show that private Australian giving abroad has risen at an annual average of 13 per cent from from $391 million in 2002 to $690 million in 2006. That's an annual average increase of 19 per cent, or 16 per cent after inflation. This is private giving only, nothing to do with government aid. (The trend of rising private generosity abroad has survived the tsunami. Last year's $690 million is far greater, by 35 per cent, than the $509 million for pre-tsunami 2004.) World Vision's Tim Costello sums it up: "Fundraising has been fantastic." He dates the surge to the terrorist attacks of September 2001: "I think Australians have redefined home. They know you can't be secure at home by pulling up the drawbridge. You can't win a war on terror without winning the war on poverty."

This ranks Australians as the second-most generous people, behind the Irish, in the developed world, according to the OECD measure of donations abroad as a proportion of the national economy.

And volunteering? There are two measures. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of people donating time to a non-profit organisation has grown from 24 per cent in 1995 to 41 per cent in 2005. The average number of hours donated had, however, fallen, from 160 per volunteer to 132. The second measure is a survey by Volunteering Australia, the peak body for the sector, which finds the same trend, with different specifics: the proportion of Australians volunteering time has grown from 24 per cent in 1996 to 34 per cent last year. The overall picture in volunteering "is one of growth", says its chief executive, Julie Pollard.

So an outfit like the NSW Cancer Council, which has 3000 volunteers, reports that it is has multiple applicants for each volunteer position it offers: "It's definitely increased over time; it's becoming a huge thing here," says a volunteer program co-ordinator, Nadine Constantini.

Far from being selfish, the hard evidence is that Australians are not only a generous people, but becoming more so. If there is no intensification of selfishness, it's hard to fit up the Howard Government, or anyone else, for the blame. There is no such phenomenon. The entire construct is a mirage, a furphy, a chimera. Messrs James, Mackay and Hamilton, begone. Australians are an increasingly generous people, and entitled to be acknowledged for it.


The N-word in Australia

If elected to office, Labor is committed to set up scores of inquiries and commissions into this or that. In view of such bureaucratic largesse, there must be room for at least one more such initiative - along the lines of an inquiry/commission into the use or misuse of historical parallels in the domestic political debate. This might be established by Labor's deputy leader Julia Gillard, who has committed a government headed by Kevin Rudd to establish a commission for social inclusion. As for the title for such an entity - how about the commission for historical exclusion?

In Parliament last Thursday, Gillard made the point that to compare someone to a Nazi is "one of the most repulsive allegations you can make against another human being". Quite so. She was referring to the clumsy attempt recently by the Coalition staffer Dr Peter Phelps to allege that Labor's candidate for Eden-Monaro, Colonel Mike Kelly, was attempting to use the Nuremberg defence to justify his past involvement with the Australian Defence Force in Iraq.

Phelps was trying to argue that Kelly now regards the invasion of Iraq as improper but that he willingly served with the Australian Defence Force in Iraq. A reasonable debating point - until Phelps went over the top by alleging that Kelly was acting "like the guards at Belsen, perhaps". The historical reference was to the fact that many Nazis, who took part in the murder of Jews and gypsies at Belsen and elsewhere, later pleaded that they were only obeying orders. This line of defence was not accepted by the war crimes tribunals which were held at Nuremberg, following the end of the Second World War.

Phelps's essential error was to attempt to equate service with the Defence Force in democratic Australia with the actions of those who implemented the genocidal policies of Adolf Hitler's Nazi totalitarian regime between 1933 and 1945. Following the intervention of the Prime Minister's Office, Phelps formally apologised to Kelly for his "clearly inappropriate" reference.

Phelps is not the first Coalition supporter to use the Nazi label when criticising political opponents. For example, some years ago senator Amanda Vanstone accused the Labor prime minister Paul Keating of behaving like the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. However, this tactic is much more common on the left side of the Australian political debate. Consequently, it is something that Gillard might see fit to resolve if she becomes deputy prime minister.

It will be quite a task. The fact is that large sections of the Australian left like to link their political opponents with Hitler's Nazi regime or Mussolini's Italian fascist regime. Now that the left has got over its one-time love affair with Bolshevism, some leftists also like to invoke the communism/Stalinism comparison as a term of abuse.

Writing in The Sunday Age on April 1 this year, Robert Richter, QC, went for the double. He claimed that the United States military commission which tried David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay could be compared to "Stalin's as well as the German show trials of the 1930s". In other words, the US military justice system - which was supported by the Howard Government - is a bit like the show trials that prevailed under communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes during the dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler respectively. Julian Burnside, QC, is another Melbourne barrister who has raised the spectre of Hitler's Germany when criticising the Howard Government.

If Phelps qualifies for some Gillard-style counselling, then so do Richter and Burnside. And so should the Victorian Greens which recently compared the ALP to "hardened SS troops". And so should NSW magistrate Pat O'Shane who last June criticised Rudd for supporting Howard's (alleged) "jackboot" policies concerning Aborigines in the Northern Territory. The term "jackboot" invariably equates with Nazism.

Then there are the journalists. In the current issue of Quarterly Essay, Peter Shergold (the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) comments on his reaction when reading a Mike Carlton column that equated his views on the proper role of the Commonwealth Public Service with the position of "Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot". For good measure, Carlton threw in a reference to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Little wonder that Shergold maintains that such attempt at humour "is more offensive than incisive". Then there is the case of the journalist Mungo McCallum who claimed in November 2005 that, in a literal sense, the Howard Government is taking Australia on "the road to fascism". In April 2006, on this page, Alan Ramsey wrote seriously of contemporary Australia's "parallels with Hitler's Germany". And so on.

Within Australian universities there is a prevailing attitude in many a humanities department that Australia was in a pre-fascist condition in the early 1930s and on the eve of the civil war. The historian Andrew Moore has gone so far as to allege that in the 1950s, when Robert Menzies was prime minister, "it is not so very far from the truth" to suggest that the Lodge in Canberra was "Australian fascism's headquarters". Moore's approach to history was recently supported by the editorial writer in the leftist-inclined Canberra Times.

The linking of democratic Australia - under conservative or social democratic governments - with fascism or Nazism or communism not only indicates a superficial understanding of this nation. Perhaps more seriously, it demonstrates an appalling ignorance of the real totalitarian thing under Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin. Gillard's critique of Phelps is to be welcomed. However, she should not forget her own comrades who share Phelps's historical confusion - albeit from a different ideological perspective.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another mother miscarries after being ignored by NSW government hospital

Two babies lost in one night

A SYDNEY mother has spoken of the harrowing ordeal of being shunned by nurses at Royal North Shore Hospital while miscarrying - just minutes after a 14-week pregnant Jana Horska miscarried in the waiting-room toilet. The shocking revelation follows a string of horror stories emerging from the hospital, which has been labelled one of the worst in Sydney. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that on the same night Ms Horska miscarried in the emergency department's toilet, another expectant mother was also forced to wait while miscarrying.

Leng Liu and her husband Steve arrived at the hospital emergency ward on Tuesday night not realising the horrific circumstances that had just unfolded only minutes earlier. In acute pain and eight weeks pregnant, Ms Liu, 46, of Chatswood was seen by a nurse at 9.30pm and despite bleeding heavily was told to wait her turn. After an agonising two hour wait, Ms Liu's husband asked the triage nurse why his wife had not been admitted. "We were told we needed an ultrasound but that couldn't happen until the next morning," he said. "I decided to take my wife home and that is where she miscarried. "That nurse would have been happy to keep us waiting till God knows when and had we have not gone home we would have lost the baby there in the hospital toilet."

The couple decided to speak publicly after hearing of Ms Horska's ordeal. The 32-year-old from Mosman miscarried in the hospital's toilet after being forced to wait two hours in emergency. The Daily Telegraph has been inundated with horror stories from patients seeking help at the hospital. Just 18 months ago Angi Milos, 30, was handed a nappy and forced to sit in the waiting room while she miscarried. She was 14-weeks pregnant and crippled with pain when she arrived at RNS. After going to the toilet three hours later, she discovered she had lost her baby in the same toilet Ms Horska lost her baby. "I thought I had been just left there to bleed," she said yesterday. "They could have showed a little bit of compassion."

The State Government is refusing to hold a full investigation into the hospital, instead calling for an inquiry only into Ms Horska's ordeal. In Parliament yesterday, Health Minister Reba Meagher defended her decision not to fully investigate RNS. The hospital's director of trauma Tony Joseph also hit the airwaves yesterday to defend his staff. He said Ms Horska's miscarriage could have happened "in any emergency department in this city, in this state and in this country".

"I feel extreme sympathy for the lady ... and I apologise on behalf of the health system for what has occurred but for us working in emergency it's actually not surprising that this would happen," Dr Joseph said. Dr Joseph refused to apologise on behalf of the hospital, instead blaming a lack of government funding. "We've been telling governments of various levels of this problem for a number of years and we don't see much solution for it," he said.

Ms Meagher's refusal to launch a full investigation outraged Therese McKay, whose husband Don died last May as a result of appalling conditions at RNS. Mr Mackay died the day he left Royal North Shore after being admitted a month earlier for what should have been a routine operation to have his lungs drained. Instead he was exposed to third world conditions and mistakes such as having his breathing monitor switched off. Mrs McKay and her daughter Melissa flew from their Port Macquarie home to confront Ms Meagher. She described Ms Meagher's response to her presence in Parliament as "disgusting".


The class-war mentality behind the baby deaths

A FORMER senior doctor at Royal North Shore Hospital whose budget was slashed just before a state election says she was told people living in that area could afford to pay more. Dr Linda Dayan, who worked in the hospital's sexual health department for 11 years, said the cutbacks cost her her job. "Last year we had a massive budget cut in our area which was to halve the budget in two years," Dr Dayan told ABC Radio today.

"I called a meeting at the end of last year to speak with the deputy CEO and the woman who was directly under her ... to ask them why our budget was being halved," she said. "One of the women in the meeting said ... 'The new redistribution formula takes into account socio-economic class so everything has been cut in this area.' "She said, 'People in this area can afford to pay more'." [The North Shore is a generally affluent area of Sydney but not everybody who lives there is rich. So why should poorer people living there be discriminated against because some of their neighbouirs can and do use private hospitals? Is it to punish people for living in a somewhat nicer area? It probably is. Leftists think that only they deserve to live the good life. Witness the special treatment given to the "Nomenklatura" in the former USSR]

Dr Dayan, who now works in private practice, has called for a public inquiry into hospital funding. "I wonder if it was part of a political agenda as well - we were coming up to a state election and I was also told ... that maybe they didn't need votes in that area," Dr Dayan told Macquarie Radio shortly after speaking on ABC radio. "Things started to go from bad to worse. (The hospital) couldn't get new positions filled ... and at the last minute before the election those positions were filled so it looked on paper as if there new staff coming on board."

Services at Royal North Shore Hospital have come under the spotlight this week after a 14 weeks pregnant woman went without treatment for two hours and had a miscarriage in the emergency department toilets on Tuesday. Jana Horska was left holding her live foetus in the toilet, sparking outrage among medical groups and the community generally .

Dr Dayan spoke specifically about funding for the hospital's sexual health clinic, but said she was told there was an intention to cut budgets across all services. "Our figures were exactly the same as Western Sydney - they had $4 million, we were slashed to $2 million," she said. "Our figures were the same, our need was the same and yet the figures weren't taken into account. "I was told by an unnamed source that the guts of it was they had to cut $20 million of the budget."

A spokesman for NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher said hospital funding followed strict guidelines set out in the Australian Health Care Agreement, providing equal access to services regardless of where people lived. [Sounds like a barefaced lie]


Doctor vetting blasted

AUSTRALIANS can't trust medical authorities to hire properly trained doctors, according to Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews. Mr Andrews has made the claim while requesting the Medical Board of Queensland review its procedures for hiring overseas trained doctors. He has insisted on "stringent employment verification checks" before new doctors are employed.

Gold Coast doctor Mohammed Asif Ali was sacked last month for disgraceful conduct after lying on his resume about his medical credentials. In a letter to chair of the Medical Board of Queensland, Dr Erica Mary Cohn, Mr Andrews doesn't refer to the sacking directly. But he says "a recent case" had highlighted to the Australian Government the risk to Australians' quality of health care through "inconsistent registration processes across different jurisdictions".

Mr Andrews also refers to "less than thorough" employment vetting processes. "In order for Australians to have confidence in their overseas trained doctors, they need to have full confidence that these doctors have undergone a rigorous assessment process," he said. "Given this case, I do not believe that Australians can be fully confident in the assessment system that currently exists."

Mr Andrews said the Council of Australian Governments had implemented a new national system for registration of health professionals and the accreditation of their training, to be operational by July 2008. "Until this process is complete, I believe it would be beneficial to review the processes by which employment backgrounds and qualifications of overseas trained doctors are assessed," he said. "As part of this review, I am seeking your assurances that the Medical Board of Queensland is undertaking the most stringent employment verification checks and qualification assessments in order to ensure the integrity of this program."


Teachers: No taxation without representation

Another sign of dimwittedness from this Leftist government. At least George III had the excuse of insanity

WESTERN Australia's chronic teacher shortage could worsen as thousands of teachers face the sack if they refuse to pay a $70 registration fee. Teachers have been told by the Education Department that they have until October 26 to pay membership fees to the WA College of Teaching, their professional standards body, or face deregistration and termination of contracts. The issue sparked alarm yesterday with the Opposition predicting chaos in schools as students were preparing for their TEE exams.

It is understood that about 3000 teachers, including 1600 of the state's 33,000 classroom teachers, have refused to pay their fees because they are angry over a lack of teacher representatives on the WACOT board. They say promised elections to put 10 teachers on to the board have not been held three years after the body was established. The Education Department wrote to them on Wednesday warning they would be dismissed if they failed to comply. It also told principals to prepare contingency plans to deal with any deregistrations.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said the approach was extraordinary at a time of a severe teacher shortage when the Government was desperate to recruit more teachers. "What you've got potentially are 1600 teachers who are not going to be in our classrooms in a month's time," he said. "That is hundreds of classrooms across the length and breadth of the state potentially without teachers in six weeks' time, three days before the commencement of the tertiary entrance exams."

The issue caused uproar in state parliament yesterday, with Education Minister Mark McGowan rejecting the claims of looming chaos. Teachers would pay, he said. "Do you actually think that anyone would give up their job over what is, in effect, a $50 (after tax deductions) fee," he said. "There will be very few, if any, teachers that don't pay. "A $50 fee is, in effect, a half-a-morning's pay for a teacher."

State School Teachers Union president Mike Keely told The Australian the comments were provocative and Mr McGowan might be surprised at the result. "This is a sledgehammer approach to people you want to keep," he said. "That dismissive approach is the last thing teachers need to hear from the Government."


Fast food: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

FAST-FOOD makers have made efforts to stop using unhealthy trans fats - but the replacement oils are usually just as bad, an industry meeting was told yesterday. While some fast-food outlets have trumpeted their moves to abandon trans fats, the meeting was told they often turned to equally undesirable oils high in saturated fat. The nation's major fast-food chains, including McDonald's, Hungry Jack's and KFC, held the roundtable meeting to discuss their progress in switching away from frying oils linked to increased risk of heart disease.

"What we have seen, unfortunately, is in reducing trans fats, some of the industry groups have introduced fats that are very high in saturated fat, like palm oil," said Heart Foundation food strategy director Susan Anderson, who addressed the meeting in Sydney. "The commitment from the group today was to address both the trans fats and the saturated fats." Ms Anderson did not identify which fast-food providers had made the error.

A low-grade oil known to contain trans fats is also made up of 48 per cent saturated fat. Palm oil contains no trans fats, but its saturated fat content is 55 per cent. The companies were urged yesterday to switch to oils such as canola or grapeseed oil, which have no trans fat and are less than 10 per cent saturated fat.

Other fast-food chains represented at the summit include Domino's Pizza, Eagle Boys Pizza, Jesters, La Porchetta, Oporto, Red Rooster and Subway. The roundtable was chaired by federal Liberal senator Brett Mason, who said the sector had moved "very quickly" to address trans fat concerns and their focus was now on reducing the saturated fat in their food production. "It would be a bad thing if trans fatty acids left the diet and saturated fats went up," Senator Mason said. "Industry accepts that they do have a social responsibility to look at this issue. Let's face it, it harms people's health and it costs the community a lot of money." The fast-food industry is under threat of regulatory intervention unless sufficient progress is made towards cutting trans fatty acids by 2009.


Friday, September 28, 2007

More economic stupidity

LABOR has left the door open to slowing the pace of tariff reductions on Australia's textile, clothing and footwear industry in a bid to protect 60,000 manufacturing jobs. A Rudd government would also trigger an independent inquiry into the sector to consider further taxpayer-funded support, including research and development funding and export market development grants.

Labor industry spokesman Kim Carr yesterday accused John Howard of treating manufacturing as though it was "on palliative care". Asked about government claims that Labor would increase tariffs on imports, Senator Carr said he had made no such commitments. But he wanted to bring forward an inquiry already planned by the Government to examine "all matters" affecting the competitiveness of the TCF industry. "That's why I am not ruling out action on the tariff in terms of the legislated changes," Senator Carr said.

The Labor move would be the first major review of the TCF tariff regime since both sides of politics embraced the need for tariff reform in the 1980s. Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane seized on the comments last night to accuse the "socialist Left" of seeking to bring back tariffs. "The public rhetoric from Mr Rudd is calculated to reassure people that Labor would be a responsible economic manager, but his senior shadow ministers are spreading a very different message to selected people in private," Mr Macfarlane said.

Under Howard government legislation put in place in 2003, tariffs on TCF imports are being gradually reduced in line with the long-term trend towards trade liberalisation. Between 2005 and 2009, tariffs on cotton sheeting, woven fabrics, carpet and footwear will remain at 10 per cent, while 7.5 per cent tariffs will apply to sleeping bags, table linen and some footwear parts. But from January 2010, these tariffs will be reduced to 5 per cent. Tariffs on clothing and some finished textiles will be remain at 17.5 per cent until 2009 but will fall to 10 per cent from January 2010, and then to 5 per cent from January 2015.

Senator Carr flatly rejected any suggestion that Labor would increase tariff levels. But he said he would bring forward and broaden an inquiry already foreshadowed in legislation to examine thelegislated reductions and explore ways to improve the industry's competitiveness. "As far as I am concerned, manufacturing is not a dirty word and we repudiate the Government's approach, which essentially is to presume that these are sunset industries," he said. "With the right policy framework, we could actually see quite dramatic improvements."

He said the legislated tariff levels were underpinned by economic assumptions valid at the time they were put in place but which were now questionable. "What we've seen since that time is the dollar appreciate dramatically," he said. "This is an industry that still employs close to 60,000 people. They are entitled to a good deal more attention than they are getting. "The presumption that many have is that the Government wants to put them on palliative care and die quietly. That's an approach that I strongly reject."

He said focus was needed on innovation research and development and measures that improve productivity. "It's not just about tariffs," he said. "Tariffs are a second-order issue. How can we focus on greater innovation and productivity are the questions that I want answered." He said the existing regime provided several options for further industry assistance, including enhancements to an existing $575million, 10-year strategic investment scheme, a $50 million product diversification scheme, a structural adjustment program and a small business program.

Mr Macfarlane said the only reason Senator Carr would want an inquiry was so he could change the law. "The socialist Left is working hard to bring tariffs back, with Senator Carr leading the charge as shadow industry spokesman," Mr Macfarlane said. "Kim Carr's only qualification for the shadow industry portfolio is that he was a key backer of Kevin Rudd's leadership challenge in December 2006. "What a repudiation of previous reforms, proving that Labor either has no policy or has a policy it won't dare share with the Australian public."

The Howard Government remains committed to phased tariff cuts for the TCF sector and the car industry. Mr Macfarlane has previously flagged a review of the car industry next year to examine the impact of tariff cuts, which are due to fall from 10 per cent to 5per cent in 2010.


New vision for schools 'just drivel'

A FORMER senior Labor policy adviser has attacked the vision for school education unveiled by state and territory governments, describing it as "dangerous drivel" and a "retrograde step that will dumb down school curriculum across Australia". Ken Wiltshire, professor of public policy at the University of Queensland and the architect of the Queensland curriculum under the Goss government, told The Australian that the Future of Schooling report showed Labor education policy was still driven by the teachers' unions.

Professor Wiltshire seized on the idea in the report, released this week, that "the judgment of teachers is paramount", with external state exams and national tests supplementing the teachers' assessment. "External assessment should be what drives the whole national school curriculum. School-based assessment is subsidiary," he said. "This is an enormous step backwards. This is a really retrograde step that will dumb down the whole curriculum across Australia to the lowest common denominator, and the worst school will become the standard. "If this document gets through, the eight state education ministers are the greatest dunces in Australia."

Professor Wiltshire said the argument for school-based assessment was driven by teachers' unions and meant the teachers decided what would be examined and assessed, with no external checks or comparison of standards. "It's teachers' unions driving this to prevent any checks or controls on teachers and to prevent parents having appropriate measures of accountability and performance standards for the reporting of their kids," he said.

The Future of Schooling report was released on Tuesday by Victorian Premier John Brumby and commissioned by the Council for the Australian Federation from a steering committee chaired by the secretary of the Victorian education department, Peter Dawkins. The report was a final version revised after consultation with a range of organisations, with very few changes.

But the statement on public reporting of student assessment did change, with the draft version saying: "The external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs provide this kind of information (to understand personal development of students)." The final version states: "The judgment of teachers is paramount, but external assessments of all students in state and national testing programs must supplement this information."

Professor Dawkins said that to interpret this sentence as a movement away from state and national testing programs was wrong, and that they remained a critical part of the assessment and reporting process. Rather, the idea of a teacher's judgment being paramount was to reflect that teachers are trained to interpret test results and relate this to a child's development, and that they are the primary communicators with parents about their child's performance. "State and national testing programs are an important part, but not all the information that a teacher uses to determine a child's developmental needs," he said. "The judgment of teachers should always be crucial in reporting to parents. "During the consultation period, we received feedback that this is important. However, this is not intended to detract from the important role of external assessment."

Professor Wiltshire said the explanation was "gobbledegook and designed to prevent proper accountability". "Parents want to see external assessment - they're not interested in school-based assessment," he said. "They don't want to know whether the teacher likes their child, or how they rank in class. They want to know how their child is shaping up and keeping pace with the national curriculum."


Government "child welfare" organization kills another little kid

If it does lead to real skepticism about the value of university "social work" qualifications, that would be a big step forward

THE Queensland government will consider employing child safety officers with more "life experience" following the death of a toddler returned to his parents from foster care. The two-year-old died on Tuesday night after he was allegedly assaulted by his father at their home at Margate, north of Brisbane. The 34-year-old man appeared in Redcliffe Magistrates Court yesterday charged with manslaughter and torture. He was remanded in custody to reappear on November 27.

The state government, which has ordered an independent review of the case, yesterday confirmed the child had been in the care of the Department of Child Safety before being returned to his parents. Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech today defended her department, saying staff had a "really tough job, full of tough decisions".

But she said a review was under way into the skills needed to be a child safety officer. "Many of the great people in the job are young women, many of them are graduates from our universities who have had a small amount of life experience," Ms Keech told ABC Radio. "What we're considering right now is perhaps looking at not only the very important qualifications that the child safety officers need, but also they need life experience and other skills. "Perhaps professions, for example, (like) police officers, nurses, teachers may be other qualifications that may be welcome when we're looking at recruiting child safety officers."

Ms Keech described the boy's death as an "absolute tragedy", but said there was a lengthy process to determine whether children known to the department should be returned to their parents. "I believe that the process is a very strong process," she said. "I guess at the end of the day, individual parents will, unfortunately, whether it's through the effects of alcohol abuse or drug abuse or their own history etc, do actions which unfortunately lead to tragic results."

An immediate departmental review into the boy's death is to be carried out, as well as an external review by the child death case review committee, chaired by the Commission for Children and Young People. "They will review all decisions that have been made in the case and if there are any things that we can learn from the case we can accept the recommendations and implement them," Ms Keech said.

In July, two brothers aged four and 18 months were allegedly murdered by their mother's boyfriend in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane. Department of Child Safety officers had contact with the older boy a fortnight before his death and handed him back to his mother and her partner.


A MOST interesting study of ill health among war veterans

Anti-malaria drug PREVENTS cancer. A fascinating finding. Australia had conscription during the Vietnam war so the sample is unusually representative. Dapsone is quite an old drug but is still not well understood. It is related to the Sulfonamides

Australia's Vietnam veterans were not harmed by taking the drug Dapsone to protect against malaria, a new study has found. The finding has eased veterans' concerns that Dapsone might have contributed to health problems they suffered in later life. Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson said the study showed the incidence of cancer among those who took Dapsone was actually 10 per cent lower than in a comparison group of veterans.

But, like earlier studies into the cancer and mortality of Vietnam veterans, the study confirmed that Vietnam war service had adverse effects on the health of many veterans, he said. "The overall incidence of cancer in both groups of veterans is significantly higher than in the Australian population," he said in a statement. "For those who took Dapsone it was seven per cent higher and 20 per cent for those who didn't." [In other words, dapsone eliminated two thirds of the bad effects. Most impressive. IT WOULD SEEM TO SUGGEST A PREDOMINANTLY BACTERIAL CAUSE IN THE GENESIS OF CANCER AMONG VETERANS]

Vietnam Veterans Association national president Ron Coxon said veterans had been concerned that they might have been used as guinea pigs to test a drug that had health risks. "We had serious concerns that the veterans on Dapsone might have had some serious side effects from that medication," he said. "But from the controlled studies that have been done it would appear that is not the case ... this would seem to allay that."

Dapsone is an anti-bacterial drug most commonly used in the treatment of leprosy. During the Vietnam war, some Australian troops took the drug Paludrine as an anti-malarial agent, while some took both Paludrine and Dapsone. A royal commission into the effects of the herbicide agent orange on Australian troops in Vietnam, established in 1983, reviewed the use of Dapsone and recommended there be further study into whether it caused cancer.

The report released on Wednesday is the fourth and final volume of The Australian Vietnam Veterans Mortality and Cancer Incidence Study. This study, produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, examined all army veterans deaths identified from the end of Vietnam service to 2001, and all cancers diagnosed from 1982 to 2000. It compared death and cancer rates among those who consumed a combination of Dapsone and Paludrine with those who used Paludrine alone and concluded there was little evidence that Dapsone was associated with an increased cancer risk.

"There are case reports of cancers among persons who have taken Dapsone, but no specific or unusual site of cancer consistently appears in these reports," it said. "None of the reports gives a biological argument for an association of specific cancers with Dapsone use." It said most cases described in scientific literature as developing cancer had been taking Dapsone in high doses over long periods to treat leprosy. "The study revealed no definite evidence that Dapsone exposure (among Australian servicemen in Vietnam) was associated with an increase in total cancer incidence," it said.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another public hospital disgrace

Pregnant woman ignored: Miscarries in hospital toilet

A PREGNANT woman miscarried in a emergency department toilet while waiting for medical help at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, her family says. Despite complaining of acute pain, the 32-year-old woman was not seen by a doctor or given painkillers at the hospital overnight, Macquarie Radio reported today.

The woman's husband, identified as Mark, said his wife, Jana, had already had one miscarriage this year. He said Jana went to the hospital about 6.30pm (AEST) yesterday because she was experiencing similar symptoms to when she had the earlier miscarriage. Mark said that after Jana had been waiting more than an hour at the hospital, he was told by a triage nurse there was nothing they could do, and they should just wait in the queue.

"In the course of our waiting, she's ended up on the floor in a squatting position .. with her hands wrapped around her legs ... directly in view of the administration section of the emergency ward. "She's grimacing in pain and nothing's being done."

Jana then went to the toilet and stayed there for a while, he said. "Next minute, I just hear a scream and a smash, and I jumped up, and I raced into the toilet, and ... I just couldn't believe the scene in front of me. "It is my wife ... sitting on the toilet, screaming ... an image in my mind I'll never be able to get out, the look on her face, screaming, tears, hysterical, pants around the ankles ... holding a live, live mind you, live fetus in her hands ... with blood everywhere."

The woman's husband complained to emergency staff about the pain his wife was experiencing, but was repeatedly told to sit back down and wait, the report said. The man's cousin, identified only as Peter, said on Macquarie Radio that the treatment they received was disgraceful.

"When we weren't looking she walked off into the toilet and had a miscarriage," he said. "People have come running (from) everywhere. "I can't go into the finer details, it's just so gruesome, mate. It's just something I wouldn't say on air. "She's holding the little fetus in her hand, basically, and was wheeled out of the toilet in front of this packed waiting room. "Not only that, but once they found her a bed they left her lying with the fetus between her legs for one hour."


Climate promises so much hot air

What is it about climate change that attracts charlatans? While the focus has been on the Howard Government these past few days, what about the political snake-oil salesmen who would have you believe that we can reduce carbon emissions and fix global warming in the near term? That we can pull it off without noticeable economic or political pain and without worrying about what developing countries do. All bunkum. But you wouldn’t know that just by listening to the siren songs of the federal ALP or the Greens. They tell us breezily we can have it all, no worries. Where is the probing, sceptical media when these sorts of porkies are told?

Labor’s climate change policy represents the sort of brazen deception that Hugh Mackay would have no hesitation labelling “shameless mendacity” had it been offered up by the Liberal Party. But because Mackay and his progressive friends are barracking for Kevin 07, they have gone missing in action on the issue of what an ALP government can, and will, deliver on climate change.

A couple of striking recent developments in NSW tell us what a real live ALP government would be forced to do if it got its hands on the levers of power. It doesn’t bear any resemblance to the cuddly, idealistic promises of the Kevin 07 campaign. Federal Labor is hoping nobody will notice the yawning gap between what can be delivered on climate change without passing through the public’s pain barrier and what Peter Garrett and co are holding out to us.

Which is why we ought to take a close look at NSW, where this problem is writ large. The NSW Iemma Government is acutely aware of the chasm between reality and spin because it actually holds the reins of government.

Exhibit one from the NSW Government reality file is Moolarben. A few weeks ago, the NSW Government approved the development of a massive new coal mine at Moolarben near Mudgee despite loud protests from environmental and residents groups. Moolarben is huge. The Sydney Morning Herald reported it would produce 504 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 168 million more cars on the roads and almost as much climate change pollution as Australia generates in a year. If you’re a climate change purist, this is surely a disaster. But the iron law of political reality meant it had to be approved. A cleaner environment tomorrow is no substitute, electorally speaking, for jobs and prosperity today.

As Tasmanian forestry unions taught us at the previous election, the first duty of any Labor government is to preserve and enhance the jobs of union members. Utopian promises of a clean, green environment free of coal mines and timber workers must always surrender to reality.

This is one reason that those telling you it is possible to have meaningful and binding international targets on carbon emission in the near term are practising a fraud. If the NSW Government cannot say no to the jobs generated by the coal industry, can we realistically expect developing countries such as China to do so?

And any scheme that imposes real and effective targets on developed countries but not on developing countries is no more than a scheme to export jobs from Australia to China. Now, Bob Brown and Garrett may have no objection to that. But the hard heads in the ALP know better.

Exhibit two from the NSW school of practical political reality. The NSW Labor Government realises that NSW needs at least one large new power station to “keep the lights on”, to quote Premier Morris Iemma. But as Tony Owen told the Government in his report, it cannot afford to have one without privatising the NSW electricity retailing sector at a minimum, and probably also the generation sector as well.

Herein lies not one but two delicious ironies. Privatising the power industry in order to fund a new power station, inevitably coal-fired, shatters two sacred tenets of the left-wing faith. Thou shalt not privatise. Thou shalt not build more coal-fired power stations.

The need to preserve the jobs of electricity workers, no matter what the cost, will likely mean privatisation will fail because the unions will oppose it, just as they did when former premier Bob Carr and his treasurer Michael Egan went down that path in 1997. Already the unions who pull the NSW Government’s strings have vetoed privatisation.

Interestingly, according to reports in The Daily Telegraph, they have done an unholy deal with the NSW Government to keep any dispute between them quiet until after the federal election. Similarly, if NSW needs a coal-fired power station to keep the lights on, they will get one. At public expense. No matter what climate change commandments are broken in the process. Union jobs will always outrank the cost to the public and certainly trump a clean atmosphere.

The hard men from Labor’s NSW Right faction learned those lessons of practical politics along with their two-times tables. And the key lesson for voters is that federal ALP is run by such practical men today. Men such as Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan. They know, though they are not saying, that Garrett, Anthony Albanese and ALP promises of a clean, green tomorrow are all just flim-flam election material. They know that, pre-election, the vast gap between what they promise on climate change and what an ALP government can actually deliver needs to be filled with a combination of smoke, mirrors and lies.

Should Labor win the federal election, these childish stunts will stop and the real business of governing will begin. Perhaps we should be grateful: adhering to idealistic targets, butchering the coal industry and banning electric hot-water systems will simply impoverish Australians and send jobs offshore without making a jot of difference to world carbon levels or global warming.

If we think the Chinese are going to stop opening new coal-fired power stations because we veto new Moolarbens and won’t sell them coal, we have a shaky grip on reality. So the realpolitik of the ALP hard heads is infinitely to be preferred to the Pollyanna-type views of the dreamers who write the campaign ads and the jingles about clean green futures.

But it would be nice to think that when this inevitable deceit is practised upon us, it would be fearlessly exposed. To think that the left-wing faithful, the artists, poets, actors and playwrights will complain about a lack of public decency in public life, led by Mackay, excoriating the mendacious in public office. To think the intelligentsia will moan about being lied to and write books titled, Not Happy, Kev.


Multiculturalism becomes poison for social capital

WE have heard little in this year's political debate about immigration or multiculturalism, although immigration is running at record levels. Yet a change of government has the potential to bring with it a marked change in both these policy areas, and one that most Australians may not like much. Kevin Rudd has, as on other issues, kept a low profile and told his shadow immigration minister to do the same. It has been left to Paul Keating to remind us what things were like under the Hawke and Keating governments, with his attack on John Howard earlier this year.

Keating said then that when Howard disparaged elites over what he celebrated as the mainstream, he was in fact disparaging cosmopolitan attitudes vis-a-vis the certainties of the old monoculture. There was even a comparison drawn and then withdrawn between Howard's populist appeal to ordinary Australians and Hitler's to the German Volk.

In the Labor years it was the role of cosmopolitan elites to keep ordinary, red-necked Australians and their inherent racism on the straight and narrow. It was an era of stifling political correctness, where critics were howled down with cries of racist by the cosmopolitan internationalist elites of the progressive Left. It was also an era of corrupt immigration policies, with family stream migration rorted to provide branch-stacking fodder. It was a time when ordinary Australians had the cosmopolitans' virulent multiculturalism shoved down their throats, with the result that support for immigration plummeted. This is no right-wing Liberal fantasy. Former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh described immigration policy under Hawke as a process of blow-out and cave in. The immigration program numbers blew out above target, bloated by regular cave-ins to the ethnic lobbyists.

Another former Labor minister, Gary Johns, saw its immigration policy as part of vote buying and branch-stacking. But most telling of all was the findings of the FitzGerald committee inquiry into immigration policy set up by the Hawke government. The committee, headed by Stephen FitzGerald, found a key problem in maintaining support for immigration was a profound distrust by Australians of the policy of multiculturalism. Historian John Hirst wrote in 1994: "Mainstream Australian society was reduced to an ethnic group and given an ethnic name: Anglo-Celt. Its right to primacy was denied; indeed, it became the most suspect of all ethnic groups given its atrocious past."

The Howard years changed all this and Rudd is unlikely to revert to the excesses of the Hawke years; however, there are signs that are worrying nonetheless. For example, Labor's platform, where immigration is dealt with in the section on human rights, itself a worrying sign of a return of the Left to policy formulation, speaks of restoring a fairer and more balanced immigration program. At the moment the program is 70per cent skilled migrants, an economic focus that is very much in Australia's interest. Restoring balance suggest Labor will increase the role of family reunion, an ominous possibility given the record of the Hawke years.

However, the real worry, given Australia will want to continue to run a strong immigration program, is a Labor government's ability to retain a national consensus in favour of immigration. There is a substantial body of research that shows the ethnic diversity driven by immigration is destructive of social capital. The most comprehensive of these studies is by American political scientist Robert Putnam, best known as the author of Bowling Alone, a book on the breakdown of community in the US. Putnam defines social capital as "social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness".

Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History, told an International Monetary Fund conference on social capital some years ago: "Social capital is important to the efficient functioning of modern economies and is the sine qua non of stable liberal democracy."

Putnam, himself from the progressive Left, is somewhat embarrassed by his findings that ethnic diversity leads to the breakdown of trust and community networks that are a vital part of any society's social fabric. While his study is of the US, he says it would apply to other countries such as Australia. Worried about the impact of his research given the increased sensitivity on immigration issues since September 11, he said nothing about it for four or five years, before delivering a paper in Sweden last year. While he is at pains to say that in the long run immigration and ethnic diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal and development benefits, his own research doesn't establish this. What it does show is that over several decades immigration and ethnic diversity lead to mistrust, challenge social solidarity, break down community and are poison to social capital.

This isn't an argument for stopping immigration or for racial purity, since, as Putnam says, ethnic diversity will inevitably increase in all modern societies. But it is a powerful argument against multicultural policies that encourage ethnic separatism and discourage assimilation. The litmus test for a Rudd government will be what it does in response to the Howard Government's changes to Australian citizenship laws designed to increase the value immigrants place on citizenship and insist on competent English and an understanding of Australia's laws, history and culture.

Australian sociologist Katharine Betts and demographer Bob Birrell provide an excellent discussion of the changing approach to citizenship since the Whitlam government in 1973 in the March issue of People & Place. What they show is that under successive Labor governments the value of citizenship was reduced to little better than a certificate you could pull out of a corn flakes packet. They note two very different concepts of citizenship, which they label the procedural position and the patriotic view. The procedural view holds that migrants should have no other commitment to Australia beyond respect for the law and rights of others.

The patriotic position, which surveys show is held by a clear majority of Australians, attaches a strong value to citizenship as a national bond and expects immigrants to live like Australians. This is the position the Howard Government has moved to in recent years. Rudd has yet to declare his attitude to the Government's citizenship approach, but Labor emphatically rejects any suggestion of assimilation. Yet the strongly adverse effect of immigration and ethnic diversity on social capital suggests a policy that brings Australians together rather than encouraging cultural separation will be essential to sustaining immigration and its long-term benefits.


"Pumpkin" reunited with grandma

ABANDONED toddler Qian Xun Xue has been reunited with her grandmother in Auckland, 10 days after being dumped by her father in Melbourne. In a photograph released by New Zealand's Child, Youth and Family (CYF) service, Qian Xun, three, is shown being lovingly embraced today by her maternal grandmother Liu Xiao Ping, who had flown in from China. Qian Xun looked healthy and content, while Ms Ping was clearly delighted to see her granddaughter.

Qian Xun's mother, Anan Liu, was found dead in Auckland last week in the boot of a car belonging to her husband, publisher Nai Xin Xue, who is now on the run in the US. Mr Xue abandoned Qian Xun at Southern Cross railway station before fleeing to America.

CYF regional director Marion Heeney said Qian Xun, nicknamed Pumpkin, had settled in well in Auckland, but had eagerly waited for her grandmother. "While Qian Xun has times where she has been quite distressed, she is generally a very sunny, happy little girl," she said. "She has been chatting away and playing with her new toys but her focus has been on seeing her grandmother."

Ms Heeney said bringing the two together was pleasing for everybody concerned. "Despite the love and affection shown by those caring for Qian Xun, for the past nine days everyone has been new to her," she said. "She needs and deserves to feel safe and secure with a family member that she knows well. "There is clearly a great deal of love and caring between Qian Xun and her nana."

Meanwhile, Mrs Liu, in an open letter, thanked the New Zealand public for their support and paid special thanks to police in New Zealand, Australia and the US. New Zealand Chinese Herald editor Jerry Yang said he received the letter from an unnamed associate of Mrs Liu. In the letter, she said she was writing on Mid-Autumn Day, a traditional day for Chinese family members to come together. But for her, it was the day she was leaving China to attend the memorial service for her murdered daughter. "At this very moment, anyone who has a conscience would understand the deepest pain in my heart," she said.

Mrs Liu wrote that she intended to take Qian Xun back with her to China. She was grateful to the authorities who have cared for her granddaughter and expressed a desire to see justice done over the death of her daughter. ``I want her to grow up healthy in a safe and warm place being well protected by us,'' she wrote. ``I want to condemn the violent crime committed against Anan that is this murder and I'm requesting that Interpol arrest this brutal criminal as soon as possible.''


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deluge of red tape to get worse

THE federal Opposition's plans to create a raft of new departments, agencies and advisory groups and a host of additional bureaucratic appointments feeding the already bloated public service dash any hopes of real reform under a Labor government. What we can expect is change to satisfy a social engineering agenda, such as replacing the Government-created Australian Building and Construction Commission, even though the Opposition acknowledges it is doing a good job.

Reform is what is really needed to make the system work more efficiently and to lessen the burden of compliance on the individual. The bigger the public service, the more it has to justify its existence by creating more red tape for business and individuals to wade through. For example, while the federal and state governments have lived high on the hog since the introduction of the GST, life for small business operators has been a series of continual frustrations as they try to satisfy the endless demands of the tax man. And there is no suggestion from either side of politics that this is likely to change. Marginal-seat polling available to the Labor Party has highlighted this as a significant area of voter dissatisfaction with the Government, particularly among independent contractors.

But to get a real picture of how the dead hand of the bureaucracy works, you need look no further than the plight of farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin. They have been driven mad by endless bureaucratic paperwork on the allocation of water rights that often don't even exist, while they struggle to make ends meet in one of the worst recorded droughts.

The responsibility for water policy in this crucial farming area sits with the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. This is made up of two ministers from the federal Government (including Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull as chairman) two each from NSW, Victoria and South Australia and one from Queensland. The council meets at least once a year but any policy decisions require a unanimous vote. As we have seen through the collapse of the Prime Minister's Murray-Darling rescue package, there is fat chance of that happening on anything deemed to be politically sensitive, particularly on the eve of an election.

Meanwhile, the council has an executive arm in the form of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. The commission has its own president, with two commissioners and two deputy commissioners drawn from the federal bureaucracy and the public service in each of NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. The ACT is represented by one commissioner and a deputy commissioner. As well as overseeing project boards and committees, the commission also receives advice from 19 working groups covering everything from fish to landscape and salinity. The council is also assisted by a 22-member community advisory committee that has its own independently appointed chairman and is supported by a secretariat based in Canberra.

As the election draws near, our political leaders are vying for support from the rural sector with more promises of drought relief. But what is the real benefit of this without bureaucratic relief?

A similar situation surrounds the growing political focus on the environment and the impact of climate change, which is spinning another massive federal-state regulatory web. In the area of greenhouse emissions, industry is being confronted by a rapidly rising tide of red tape. While this significantly increases the cost of business management, it offers no incentive for compliance; indeed, all it seems to hold out is the likelihood of more regulation down the track.

For example, in the greenhouse gas emission area, industry is involved in voluntary reporting, internal company reporting, industry association reporting and reporting through the federal Government's Greenhouse Challenge program, as well as an increasing level of state government-mandated reporting requirements.

In his recent five-pillar development speech, Prime Minister John Howard acknowledged the scope for more reform in a fifth term of government. Addressing the adverse effect of bureaucratic duplication and red tape could save billions of dollars and project a forward-thinking image for business and the community generally. This may be our last hope for reform because from what we have seen so far, it looks like it is not going to come from the other side of the political fence, particularly with all the states and Canberra sharing the same bed.


Kiwis deserting socialist New Zealand

AUSTRALIA'S population is growing at its fastest pace in almost two decades, with workers from New Zealand pouring into the country to replace Britain as the biggest source of immigrants. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday revealed the population rose 1.5 per cent to 20.9 million in the year to March, the quickest growth rate since 1990. The introduction of the baby bonus has driven the nation's birth rates higher. But the ABS figures reveal most of the population growth was driven by overseas migration. New arrivals accounted for 54 per cent of the increase, compared with natural increases of 46 per cent.

Separate figures released yesterday revealed New Zealand had overtaken Britain as the biggest source of new arrivals. Overall, the population rose an estimated 307,100 people, the biggest 12-month increase since record-keeping began in 1789.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said an ageing population and a booming economy were the main reasons Australia was taking more migrants. She said that in 2006-07 about 152,000 migrants settled in Australia, 70 per cent of whom were skilled workers. This did not include the 48,000 457 visa holders in Australia temporarily to fill skills shortages.

The mining states of Queensland and Western Australia are enjoying the fastest population growth, with numbers up 2.3 and 2.2 per cent respectively. The Northern Territory population rose 2 per cent, Victoria and the ACT 1.5 per cent, South Australia and NSW 1 per cent and Tasmania 0.6 per cent.

Bill Randolph, director of the City Future Reserach program at the University of NSW, said cities were "creaking at the edges". He said a decade of underspending had left an "infrastructure deficit". Although federal government policies such as immigration drove population increases, it was largely up to the states to accommodate ballooning numbers. The result was a "policy vacuum" that fed urban overcrowding and housing affordability crunches and put pressure on transport assets and water supplies, Mr Randolph said. "The Federal Government has no cities policy," he said. "If you want immigration you've got to at least have some idea about how you're going to deal with them and their needs."

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter agreed there was a disconnection between states and the commonwealth on infrastructure. He called for a collaborative approach to manage growth and identify infrastructure "hot spots". Mr Carpenter said immigration was a good example. "The national and West Australian governments should be sitting down with some of the big project proponents saying, 'what sort of numbers are we looking at here, how many people do we need, where do we need them, what sort of skills profile are we going to require?"' he said.

In 2006-07, the number of settlers from New Zealand jumped to 23,906 compared with 19,033 the previous year, Immigration Department figures showed. The next highest source of migrants was Britain, with 23,223. Overall, the two countries accounted for 33.6 per cent of all settler arrivals. There were 13,496 migrants from India, 12,009 from China and 5561 from the Philippines.


South Australian Certificate of Education becoming too easy

The new high school certificate will worsen the skills crisis by discouraging the study of maths and science subjects at Year 12 level, teachers say. Associations of maths and science teachers say the new format, which applies from 2011, will encourage students to drop one of either physics, chemistry, mathematical studies or specialist maths. It requires students to complete 60 study units, the equivalent of three full-year subjects and universities are yet to announce whether their entry requirements, now five Year 12 subjects, will change.

But teachers say the new certificate's focus on raising the number of students who finish school and pressure to get the best score for university entry will mean more students drop out of harder maths and science subjects and opt for "easier" studies. SA Science Teachers Association past president and president-elect of the Australian Science Teachers Association Peter Turnbull said the new high school certificate was "flying in the face" of efforts to combat the state's skills shortages. "We have a view that this is going to have an impact on the uptake of the sciences. It is a major concern for us," he said.

Course counsellors already discouraged students from difficult subjects to maximise their Year 12 score, Mr Turnbull said. "The evidence we're getting is that when kids are choosing subjects, there is often a fairly hard lobby to avoid the hard things," he said.

SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel agreed easy subjects were increasingly offered to students as replacements for key subjects. "I am concerned we are continually providing more and more softer choices to students, which is encouraging them away from some of the four subjects required for engineering," he said. People with strong backgrounds in the maths and sciences are needed to address the state's skill shortages in professions such as engineering, geology, surveying and aviation.

Mathematical Association of SA vice president Carol Moule predicts specialist maths will be hardest hit under the new certificate - with universities already teaching these subjects - calculus, geometry and complex numbers - in bridging courses. About 1100 Year 12s studied specialist maths last year. Maths studies attracted about 3160 enrolments, chemistry 2200, and physics enrolments were below 2000, according to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of SA.

Designers of the new qualification deliberately simplified the number of subjects required, reducing it to 200 points or 20 semester-long subjects, rather than the existing 22. Mrs Moule said the new SACE was designed to increase retention rates. "It is simply about encouraging kids to stay on and do Year 12 and get a certificate," she said. "I really care about the more able ones keeping up their study of the maths and sciences."

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said SACE would prepare more young people for "skilled careers, further education and citizenship". "Science and maths will continue to be key subject offerings provided under a future SACE," she said. Future SACE office director Wendy Engliss said students will be able to choose either Year 11 or Year 12 subjects in addition to the compulsory requirements at each year level. "This gives scope to students to choose more full-time stage two subjects, including more maths and science, if this best suits their pathways," she said.

No limit on the number of Year 12 subjects was proposed for the new certificate and a requirement for an arts subject would also be dropped. Ms Engliss said requirement to study an in-depth project at Year 12 level would be another opportunity for students to study maths or science.

Association of Independents Schools SA executive director Garry Le Duff said university requirements needed to be resolved "in the very near future", but he believed the new SACE was flexible enough for students to do a combination of maths and science subjects.


A heavily politicized "human rights" bureaucracy

Post lifted from Leon Bertrand. See the original for links

Last week we had two separate stories on the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission's left-wing political bias. These stories can be found here and here. We have since found another example of bias for your enjoyment. ADCQ's Submission to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission for consideration in its Pay Equity Inquiry in June of this year reveals that the Commission explicitly favours a Socialist industrial relations system, again breaching the Public Sector Code of Conduct. For instance, the Commission advocates that it, or the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, should set wages in private sector workplaces:

28. The QIRC discussion paper discusses possible amendments to the ADA to permit the Commission or Tribunal to make equal remuneration orders based on comparable worth. The discussion paper speculates whether it may be possible for an equal remuneration order based on comparable worth to direct that the specified employee or class of employees be reclassified.

Of course, recent thinking on industrial relations has come to the conclusion that employers, and not Government bodies, are best able to evaluate the worth of an employee's work. This coincides with the rise of economic rationalism and the decline of soft socialism. Nevertheless, the "fresh thinking" of the ADCQ essentially advocates a new form of centralised wage-fixing, as though Tribunal members are better judges of an employee's worth. As we have already shown, Tribunal members often know very little. In fact, the H.R. Nicholls society has pointed out that:

The inevitable problem which arises in every specialist tribunal, unstated by Justice Guidice, is the composition of these tribunals. The type of people who seek appointment to antidiscrimination tribunals, and often succeed in getting appointed, are often women, homosexual, and sometimes disabled (the former head of the Victorian tribunal was a blind woman). They tend to be steeped in student revolutionary culture of the 1970s and are living specimens of an undergraduate time warp. For them, employers, large and small, are the drivers of capitalist oppression. In this time warp, white, middle-aged males harass, intimidate, fail to promote, fail to hire and terminate employees as part of a conspiracy against non-Anglo-Saxons and women. Profoundly ignorant of how markets work in a free economy, and guided by chattering-class perceptions of how and why hiring and firing occurs, they are determined to bring light to the unenlightened and to expose the evils of the market economy. These tribunes are not judges at all-but social engineers sitting on the bench-inspired by the example of Sir William Deane, Sir Anthony Mason and Sir Gerard Brennan.

Being the left wing organisation that it is, the ADCQ couldn't resist a crack at Workchoices, the Australian left's second biggest obsession after climate change, the latter being a phenomenon which has occurred since the beginning of Earth's existence:

39. If there are no legislative constraints imposed by the WRA and Queensland does have power to adopt and implement legislative models similar to those implemented in Sweden or Quebec, United Kingdom and the Netherlands, France or Switzerland, the ADCQ submits that a strong mandatory model binding all employers should be passed in Queensland. Such a legislative model is likely to be one of the most effective means to have systemic outcomes, if combined with other measures to address the underlying causes of the gender pay gap. This type of measure becomes even more necessary, given that the individualisation and decentralisation of wage bargaining, and the removal of state based equal remuneration principles under WorkChoices eliminates some of the former means of reducing the gender pay gap.

The ADCQ goes on to express its strong support for Quebec's model which requires employers to "methodically report on their compliance" with bureaucratic regulations imposed by the state, including a "pay equity process" and a need to post results of such a process. Such a model might sound appealing to some, however from an economist's point of view there are hidden costs associated with over-regulation such as this. What ADCQ are proposing is that the compliance costs of business are increased, whilst their ability to run their businesses efficiency and flexibly are undermined. In short, it's a typical soft left proposition which, if implemented, would be detrimental to the Australian economy. On top of this authoritarian approach, ADCQ even proposes the following:

46. Preferred tenderer status should be conferred by the Government on those organisations that have undertaken an approved gender pay equity audit and have taken action to achieve pay equity at all levels of their organisation. The QIRC discussion paper notes that this measure has been introduced in Switzerland. Public procurement policies are increasingly being used internationally to further social goals including equality in employment. Procurement policies can attain these objectives by requesting contractors to modify the gender, racial or ability/disability make up of their workforce, or by encouraging contactors who are female or belong to racial or ethnic minorities to partake in public tenders. The USA, South Africa and Europe are all using procurement policies to promote equality in the workplace.

Whilst ADCQ is designed to fight against discrimination, it keenly wishes to implement AA, a form of discrimination that the left promotes. Again, there are hidden costs to the economy if you force employers to hire people for reasons other than merit. But of course, just like the rest of the soft left, ADCQ seems oblivious to this. Further mandatory regulations ADCQ wish to impose on the very businesses that generate the wealth that funds ADCQ include:

* Introduce a 14 week paid maternity leave scheme (recommendation 13).

* Phase in a more comprehensive scheme consisting of:

a) At a minimum, two weeks paid paternity leave to be taken at the birth of the child; and

b) A further 38 weeks of paid paternal leave that is available to either parent (recommendation 14).

Again, this clearly shows that ADCQ believes that businesses are generally bottomless pits of money that can be asked to fund virtually anything, even if they don't receive a cent in return. The irony of course is that compulsory paid maternal leave would actually result in discrimination to women: the very thing ADCQ seeks to avoid. It is quite apparent that the world ADCQ aims for is essentially a socialist utopia, completely divorced from economic realities which make it unworkable. It's the same dreamy utopianism which made Karl Marx pen that "religion is the people's opiate", not realising that he himself was befuddled with a rather similar narcotic.

This blog has already pointed out that women encounter few disadvantages, and are increasingly rising to the top. The only evidence that ADCQ is able to produce as evidence that Anti-Discrimination laws do not redress discrimination in the field of employment are the comments of another Tribunal leftist, namely Glynn J in the NSW Pay Equity Inquiry. It seems it has never occurred to the leftists at ADCQ that there are other reasons besides discrimination that are responsible for women generally earning less than men. For instance, women often choose to be the stay at home mothers for years, before they re-enter the workforce, thereby slowing their career development. Secondly evidence also suggests that in many cases men are more ambitious than women, and this is due to higher levels of pressure and expectation being imposed on men. ADCQ happily ignores all of these considerations, deciding to instead dogmatically assume that it is the best judge of the value of one's work. It is a push for socialism, under a new, post-Marxist guise.

In a previous post on the ADCQ, we pointed out some key principles enshrined in the Public Service Code of Conduct:

The Australian Public Service:is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner; provides a workplace that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves; has the highest ethical standards; is openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public;is responsive to the Government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the Government's policies and programs; delivers services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public and is sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public;

Once again, with its push for obsolete left-wing policies, ADCQ has revealed that it is not a politically impartial organisation. Rather, it is an organisation whose political orientation can best be described as soft left, and which is quite apparently out of touch with the economic and social realities of the real world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Below are five reports from within the last week. QLD is the State of Queensland; VIC is the State of Victoria; NSW is the State of New South Wales; SA is the State of South Australia

QLD: Ambulance death coverup

A QUEENSLAND Ambulance Service report into the death of a young heart attack victim was shredded, rewritten and a new version given to the Coroner's Office. Sources have told The Sunday Mail the original report into the death of Burbank man Vito Catenaro, 39, was damning of QAS management and its handling of the controversial case. Mr Catenaro died in June last year after his wife Silvana tried in vain to get resuscitation advice from a Triple-0 operator, a nearby ambulance was sent to another address, and eventual medical help was delayed more than 30 minutes.

Mrs Catenaro said one of Commissioner Jim Higgins' assistants admitted to her that the service had bungled at every turn, and apologised. But ambulance insiders said QAS management was now trying to shift blame. "Unhappy with the outcome which revealed a huge system f--- up, the managers ordered that the report be rewritten," a source said last week. "When the ops managers refused, the report was destroyed and a new player brought in to rewrite the facts. "Interestingly, the ethical standards unit rep advised the original investigators to keep copies of the first report handy in the event that it leaked."

The source said management was "in a panic" after new Premier Anna Bligh ordered an audit into the service. The original report was written by highly respected QAS manager Stewart Merefield, an Australia Day Award winner with more than 25 years' ambulance service. Mr Merefield declined to comment yesterday.

A QAS insider said Mr Merefield was ordered by senior ambulance management to rewrite his 60-page report so it was less critical. When he refused, they said someone else would rewrite it and he would be forced to sign. "Mr Merefield refused to play their game because he did not want to perjure himself to the coroner," the source said.

The insider said management and legal counsel ordered that the original Merefield report and all email correspondence be destroyed. Another manager with no paramedic experience was brought in to do the rewrite. The second report was handed to Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements only recently - 15 months after the death - despite repeated requests from the coroner's office, police and Mrs Catenaro to speed the process.

A spokeswoman for Ms Clements said she had not had a chance to read the QAS report to determine whether an inquest would be held. A spokesman for the commissioner admitted a preliminary report was done. "However, the commissioner requested other matters be pursued to ensure all aspects of the investigation were fully canvassed before a final report was submitted to the State Coroner," he said. A spokesman for Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the second report was more in-depth and produced significant recommendations, including counselling and retraining of some staff. He strenuously denied claims that there were orders to destroy the original report.

Mrs Catenaro said she hoped the coroner would investigate so "this sort of failure never happens again".


VIC: Negligent public hospital treatment of injured woman

An 8-hour wait to deal with a serious head injury is inexcusable and the consequences have been severe

THE family of a critically injured Portland woman, forced to wait eight hours to be admitted to a Melbourne hospital, have joined a campaign for a rescue helicopter for Victoria's southwest. Carolyn Meerbach remains in a coma almost six weeks after she was struck by a car while on her morning walk around Portland with her husband, Joseph. While she was taken by ambulance to the Portland hospital almost immediately after the horror crash, the Melbourne-based helicopter that flew her to the city was not called until almost four hours later.

Her brother-in-law, Keith Meerbach, has joined a 10-year campaign for a rescue helicopter to be based at Warrnambool or Portland. He said he believed Mrs Meerbach's injuries had been worsened by the delay in her undergoing surgery at the Alfred. "There's not a lot of doubt she would be better off is she could have had the pressure in her skull relieved earlier," Mr Meerbach said. He said his 46-year-old sister-in-law had been bleeding into her brain and was now on full life support at the Alfred.

Metropolitan Ambulance Service Chief executive officer Greg Sassella said he was confident Mrs Meerbach's care was not compromised by the air ambulance being based in Melbourne


NSW: Hospital keeping patients in old storage rooms

ONE of Sydney's busiest hospitals is so under-resourced that patients are being squeezed into storage rooms for treatment. Nurses at the Royal North Shore Hospital at St Leonard's report critical understaffing and that 100 positions for registered nurses and midwives are vacant.

The hospital has launched "treatment rooms'' to relieve the burden on emergency beds. But the new rooms are little more than a hospital bed stuffed into an old storage room. Frustrated nurses are threatening industrial action. They could call an emergency union meeting as early as this week, claiming they are being pushed too hard to pick up the slack. "It's a shambles," said one highly placed nurse, who did not wish to be identified. "There is barely enough room to walk around the beds, let alone treat people properly." The nurse said her colleagues were working up to 19 hours overtime every week to fill the gaps left by the vacant positions. "We are worked off our feet," she said. "We have to do so much overtime to meet targets." The nurse said her colleagues were seriously considering industrial action to improve their working conditions.

Ambulance officers, speaking through the Health Services Union, confirmed that patients were being treated in inadequate rooms with little room to move.

Northern Sydney and Central Coast Health acting chief executive Terry Clout said the hospital was actively recruiting to try and fill the vacant positions. "While international and national nursing shortages are impacting on our ability to fill these vacancies, extensive marketing and recruitment strategies are being put in place to ensure we fill (them) as soon as possible," he said.

Mr Clout confirmed the hospital runs treatment rooms that are used when the emergency department exceeds its capacity. "Clinical treatment rooms in wards at Royal North Shore Hospital are being used to accommodate patients, in response to periods of high-level demand," he said. "The use of these rooms was introduced as a capacity-management strategy in 2000, to prevent patients being kept in the emergency department when its capacity to meet demand has been exceeded."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said that conditions at the hospital were "disgraceful". "I have had many phone calls and contact from staff about the lack of morale in that hospital. The nurses say the only thing that keeps them there is a commitment to the patients and each other," she said. "Royal North Shore is particularly bad. The place is disgraceful in terms of the physical condition. It's dirty, seedy and rundown."


QLD: New heart defibrillators are duds

EXPENSIVE new life-saving defibrillators - which cost the State Government more than $1.5 million - do not work. The Queensland Ambulance Service confirmed yesterday the new defibrillators had to be upgraded before they could be rolled out.

It is another major embarrassment for the Government after Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts boasted in State Parliament this month about the devices. "The message that I want to give to the community is that we need to extend and broaden the range of locations where we have defibrillators... (they) are life-saving equipment. "When you are talking about cardiac arrest, every minute and every second count," Mr Roberts said. He also said $2.5 million had been allocated in the 2007-08 Budget for 240 new defibrillators "to ensure our paramedics are able to access the most modern and reliable equipment for patient care".

A defibrillator, which costs between $10,000 and $20,000, administers electric shocks to try to restart a heart that has stopped. The Sunday Mail revealed in April that faulty defibrillators had been linked to at least three deaths in Queensland since 2005. In March, a 38-year-old Mitchelton man died after the defibrillator in the ambulance taking him to Royal Brisbane Hospital did not work. New devices became a priority and were part of the record funding for the QAS announced by then-treasurer Anna Bligh in her June Budget.

But there have already been problems with the first shipment of defibrillators. Paramedics told The Sunday Mail last week that they had tried to replace their faulty old devices, but had been refused. "People die due to lack of good equipment .... it is locked up... they have pallets of new ones in a warehouse," said a frustrated ambulance officer. A spokesman for Ambulance Commissioner Jim Higgins said: "the QAS has 83 new defibrillators on hold, which are awaiting an external cable upgrade."


SA: Obstructive paramedic plus hospital delay kills man

Most surprising behaviour from a woman. Is she a lesbian or was she just hormonal?

A female paramedic with a "chip on her shoulder" actively discouraged a critically ill man from going to hospital hours before he died, an inquest has found. State Coroner Mark Johns has strongly criticised SA Ambulance Service officer Jennifer Bell over her dealings with Stefanos Markantonakis, 63, of Goodwood, who had a history of heart disease.

Ms Bell and another paramedic, Sarah Moore, were dispatched to Mr Markantonakis's home at 2pm on March 4, 2004, when he complained of chronic lower back pain. The pair decided he did not need to be taken to hospital and suggested he take painkillers. They returned at 5pm when his family said he had worsened.

Mr Johns said Ms Bell treated him in "a blunt . . . manner more calculated to dissuade him from going to hospital than to encourage him". "I had the impression that Ms Bell is a person with a chip on her shoulder," he said. Mr Johns said this attitude was evident in how she spoke to Mr Markantonakis, his wife and their daughter, Chrisoula, who said she told her it "was a case of poor me".

Mr Johns said Ms Bell left Ms Moore outside when they returned two hours later. "According to Chrisoula she came into the house and stomped through with the attitude she had and said to Mr Markantonakis 'come on we are taking you now'," he said. Mr Johns said Mr Markantonakis was driven to the Flinders Medical Centre, with Ms Bell allegedly telling him to "shut up" before they arrived at 5.24pm.

He waited until about 8pm, when he was examined by a doctor who diagnosed serious internal bleeding from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. He died soon after during emergency surgery.


The ABC adds that the bitch: "misdiagnosed the man as having a back ache and then failed to pass on to a nurse vital information about his symptoms. The man died five hours after an ambulance was first called. SA Ambulance medical director Dr Hugh Grantham says, since then, the service has conducted its own investigation and Ms Bell is no longer employed there".

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rudd shooting from the lip on hospitals

Kevin Rudd's $2 billion plan to fix public hospitals is in danger of unravelling. New figures compiled by the Federal Department of Health and Ageing reveal a central pledge, to create 2300 aged-care beds to relieve pressure on acute-care places in hospitals, is based on a false premise.

Mr Rudd has sold the plan on the basis that aged patients are taking up hospital beds that should be used for more urgent medical cases. But previously unpublished departmental figures reveal there are more than 400 aged-care beds available that are not being used by the states. They also show that the Labor premiers -with whom Mr Rudd has pledged to co-operate to fix the hospitals crisis and end the so-called "blame game" - have in many cases reduced the number of acute-patient beds they provide in hospitals. In Queensland, there has been a 4.5 per cent reduction in beds, in South Australia the figure is down 3.2 per cent, while the ACT has a whopping 18.8 per cent shortfall.

The period covered is between 1996 and 2005. Over the same period, the Commonwealth increased the number of aged care beds by almost 33 per cent - to the extent that 406 such beds are currently empty. As late as last week Mr Rudd declared: "Tonight across Australia, 2300 people will be in acute hospital beds that have already been classified to go into an aged care home. Why aren't they going into an aged care facility? Mr Howard's Government, which has total responsibility, has not provided them."

Federal Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne told The Sunday Mail the new figures showed Mr Kudd's hospitals plan was flawed: "Kevin Rudd's aged care and health policies don't stack up because they are based on a false premise. The fact that the existing transition-care program is under-utilised by the states to the tune of 400 out of 2000 places gives the lie to the idea that there are thousands ofelderly people in hospitals who should be in aged-care facilities."

Mr Rudd suffered two embarrassing setbacks last week: he was unable to nominate when certain tax rates cut in, and claims about an alleged Government "dirt unit" backfired when he couldn't produce evidence.

The above article by Glenn Milne appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on September 23, 2007

Panic measures over police shortage

TRAFFIC police, detectives, child-protection and tactical crime squad officers could be sent to respond to emergency calls if no general-duty crews are available. Police Minister Judy Spence and Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson announced a new priority policing policy yesterday to address first-response policing problems statewide. It followed last week's Sunday Mail report on a crisis in first-response policing and the recent police failure to respond to an emergency call-out to a Southport home three hours before a woman died, allegedly stabbed to death by her son.

Ms Spence said if there was a noisy party with gatecrashers that got out of control, all available police on duty on a particular shift should be able to attend. "If, for example, there is an increase in routine police calls in a division, police resources from other divisions or from operational areas, including traffic branch, inquiries office, tactical crime squad or the CIB, will be allocated tasks to assist," Ms Spence said.

She said the Queensland Police Union and senior officers were in favour of the move. But she added: "I think many police will find it very difficult to take on general duties roles." Ms Spence also announced the police service would examine a system where officers currently not working in general duties' first-response policing could be tasked to the beat for a period of time each year. It follows a request from the Police Union that all non-operational police, from inspectors down, be required to work 10 days a year on frontline duties. The proposal is based on the West Australian police's Frontline First - Community First policy.

Police Union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said he was disappointed that the Minister and Commissioner had not committed to the proposal. "We believe that this would be an enormous benefit during major events such as Indy or Schoolies, and give senior, desk-bound officers some contemporary exposure to the real world of policing on the front line," Mr Fitzpatrick said. "It would also demonstrate leadership and understanding of the problems being experienced by ordinary police and lift morale significantly."

Commissioner Atkinson also has been asked by the union to audit administrative functions to see if civilians could free up officers to return to active duties. The police service also is considering increasing the compulsory retirement age of senior police from 60 to 65 years, but has denied it is to bolster police numbers. The QPS says it expects about the same number of officers who resigned in 2006-07 - 350 to 360, or about 3.5 per cent of the force - to quit in 2007-08.

More than 120 people - mostly serving or ex-Queensland police - responded to a Sunday Mail online survey last weekend, asking whether the state had enough police. Most expressed concerns over police numbers, especially in first-response roles.


Melbourne hospital dubbed 'the killing fields'

A KEY Melbourne hospital has been labelled "the killing fields" at a high-level meeting of doctors. The damning indictment on the health system is revealed in a letter from a leading doctor to Premier John Brumby, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun. In the letter Dr Peter Lazzari reveals how Maroondah Hospital has become known as "the killing fields", as it is forced to rely on under-trained doctors to manage life-and-death cases.

Dr Lazzari, chairman of the medical staff at Angliss Hospital, wrote to the Premier demanding action. In the letter, he says: "All the chairs of medical staff of Victoria's major public hospitals at the August meeting at AMA House were appalled to hear the Maroondah representative speak gravely of his hospital's reputation among doctors on rotation as the "killing fields".

Opposition health spokesman Helen Shardey said: "If we have doctors making these sorts of claims, the Government can no longer turn a blind eye."

But Maroondah Hospital general manager Zoltan Kokai categorically refuted the claims. The hospital was recently been accredited by the Australian Council of Health Care standards and its doctors were credentialed in accordance with Eastern Health policy and registered with the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, he said.

But Paul Hoek knows how things can go wrong in the hospital system. The 41-year-old truck driver broke his leg more than a year ago, but is still off work. When his plaster cast was removed 12 weeks after his initial operation at Maroondah Hospital, he was left with a painful, gaping wound near his ankle. Ten months later that wound has not healed. The initial operation saw 18 screws and a plate inserted in his leg but months later Mr Hoek was still complaining about pain in the leg. He says it took more than 30 visits before he was taken seriously and doctors discovered five screws holding his fracture together had broken and the plate was protruding out of his skin. "I am furious," Mr Hoek, of Lilydale, said. He said he was on a disability pension and struggling financially.


Imaginary allergies and illnesses

I am myself aware of certain women whose health problems vanished when their relationships improved

MORE than five million Australians are suffering "imaginary" food allergies and intolerances, health experts say. Research shows food allergies have become society's new "'fad", with people suffering the symptoms - including rashes, breathing difficulties and stomach cramps - simply because they want to. "The brain is very powerful and can make people react because they think they are going to react," said Jack Bell, a specialist allergy dietitian at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and clinical lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Queensland University of Technology.

His opinion is backed by research by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Another study carried out in Britain reached similar conclusions.

Figures show up to six million Australians claim to be allergic to foods ranging from milk to mustard - but only one in eight has had the condition medically diagnosed. Mr Bell warned people against diagnosing themselves with an allergy, saying it could lead to eating disorders, vitamin deficiences, unnecessary use of medication and costly medical bills. "It's not uncommon to see people on highly restricted diets that they don't need to be on because they don't actually have an allergy," he said.

Researchers said the latest food allergy to become "popularised" was an intolerance to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Others include milk, eggs, soya beans, wheat, fish, and even an intolerance to fruit and vegetables.

A food allergy is an immune system response to a food that the body mistakenly believes is harmful, and an intolerance occurs when the body finds it hard to digest a particular type of food. An intolerance is harder than an allergy to diagnose because it can take varying amounts to achieve a reaction and it is affected by other factors such as stress and hormones. With an allergy, only a small amount of food is needed for a reaction.

Brisbane nutritionist Anthony Power urged people to seek a medical diagnosis. "There is also a tendency for people to panic unnecessarily and think they have one when really it's just a bit of bloating after a meal," he said. People are advised to see an immunologist or accredited practising dietitian.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Labor pledges support for Medicare safety net

Another move towards the status quo from Australia's Left. Opposing protection from unusually high medical bills was always pretty wacky for socialists. The great "offence" of the scheme was that it helped "rich" people as well as the poor. But there are many so-called "rich" and their votes cannot be risked

The Federal Opposition has announced it will maintain the Medicare safety net if it wins the imminent federal election. In the 2004 election campaign Labor said it would cut the scheme, saying it subsidised the wealthy. But Labor's health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon says soaring health costs means the safety net now provides some cost relief to families and the party will make no changes to the scheme.

"Nearly 1 million people each year get some benefit from the safety net," she said. "Labor supports the relief that that provides. "And we're going to make sure that in areas where the safety net is not used as heavily, we get services like doctors and specialists into those areas, so they can get the healthcare they need, and they'll get more benefit then from the safety net as well."


Surgeons say NSW public hospital unsafe

THE head of surgery at Mount Druitt Hospital says the hospital is unsafe and has accused the Health Department of covering up the death of a patient who waited 14 hours to be moved to another hospital because Mount Druitt has no intensive care unit. In a letter obtained by the Herald, Mac Wyllie said the department's claim in an internal report that the delay "did not affect the outcome" of the patient's condition was "'inappropriate" and "deliberately misleading". The 68-year-old man died of acute pancreatitis the day after arriving at Westmead Hospital's intensive care unit from Mount Druitt on March 3. "Our [surgeons'] alternative conclusion is that this delay did affect the final outcome of this patient who eventually died," Dr Wyllie said in his letter to the Sydney West Area Health Service, dated September 5.

Surgeons have been warning for the past three years that Mount Druitt Hospital's emergency department is unsafe because it has had no intensive care unit since early 2004, when it was closed due to staff shortages, and the high dependency unit, where the man waited for the transfer, has no full-time medical staff. They say even "remotely unwell" patients must be transferred to Blacktown or Westmead hospitals. They are concerned that local people, among Sydney's most disadvantaged, wrongly believe the "emergency" sign at the front of the hospital gives the impression it can admit acutely ill patients, which it has not done since October 2004.

The Premier, Morris Iemma, who was then the health minister, promised that patients would not wait for transfers as a result of the intensive care unit closing and that the high dependency unit would have consultant supervision. Apart from cardiology, rehabilitation and pediatric services, Mount Druitt has no acute medical beds and no full-time general staff physician, or even an on-call general visiting physician.

A patient presenting with conditions such as a diabetic complications, breathing problems, chronic arthritis or a stroke must be transferred. Accident and emergency specialists are confined to that department, which is also understaffed. A senior doctor at the hospital, who did not want to be named, told the Herald: "Since 2004 there has pretty much been a whitewashing at Mount Druitt Hospital." He said the man who died "had deteriorated quite significantly" while waiting for the transfer.

Critical cases were not brought to Mount Druitt, but for the "isolated cases" that do end up there, "there is no question that they are in danger - quite considerably - which has been shown by this case and others".

However, local residents are staunchly opposed to closing the emergency department and it would be a political nightmare for the State Government. The Government has ignored its own, independent General Metropolitan Clinical Taskforce, which recommended in a February 2005 report that the department be closed and noted that the community's "perception" that it was a 24-hour, comprehensive service "needs to be addressed". "Mount Druitt Hospital still remains unsafe and the clinicians find it increasingly difficult to fully exercise their duty of care to the patients of Mt Druitt," Dr Wyllie said in his letter, which he addressed to the deputy director of clinical governance at the Health Department, Dr Andrew Baker. Dr Wyllie did not supply the Herald with the letter.

He said the Sydney West Area Health Service Root Cause Analysis (RCA) report on the man's death had "fundamental flaws and omissions". It was more than 15 hours before the man saw an intensive care doctor, Dr Wyllie said. "To say that this delay did not affect the final outcome of the patient is not only inappropriate on the evidence put forward, but could be construed as deliberately misleading," he said. The report failed to take into account that the high dependency unit "has no dedicated residents and it has no direct supervision from either Blacktown or the Westmead intensivists". "I am advised that no intensivist has had a physical presence in the unit to supervise the treatment of patients for over three years."

The RCA report, seen by the Herald, said the man arrived at Mount Druitt Hospital emergency department at 7.30am on March 3, was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis and was to be sent to Westmead Hospital's intensive care unit. However, there were no beds available and he was moved instead to Mount Druitt's high dependency unit and did not arrive at Westmead until 9.45pm. He died early the next morning.

"It is unlikely that this delay altered the course of his illness." the RCA report said. Although the report said there were no intensive care beds at Westmead when nurses checked at 3pm and 5pm, when the man "began to deteriorate", it blamed the delay on "poor communication" within the emergency department.

Another senior doctor at Mount Druitt Hospital, who did not want to be named, said transfer delays were "inevitable" and "unnecessary". "The point is that you can't keep anyone who's even remotely unwell for monitoring at Mount Druitt," he said. "Politically, it's the right thing to say that you've got an emergency department but the fact of the matter is that this hospital has been so downscaled that if a person is really unwell, we can't keep them here.

But one of the authors of the General Metropolitan Clinical Taskforce report, Professor Kerry Goulston, said yesterday that the problem was not a lack of an intensive care unit but understaffing of the emergency department. "We said it was wrong 2« years ago to have a sign saying 'emergency department' and it wasn't functioning as a proper emergency department," Professor Goulston said.

Questions put to the Sydney West Area Health Service on Tuesday - including how it justifies keeping the emergency department open, whether patient transfers have been improved, what it was doing to increase consultant staffing levels, and what were the results of an audit on patient transfers - remained unanswered yesterday.


Rent law revamp to lure investors

Reality strikes at last -- faintly. Existing tenancy laws are so anti-landlord that only high rents can justify the risk of letting properties out. So the NSW government is finally beginning to recognize that the high rents that the poor have to pay are to a considerable extent the government's own doing

TENANTS face swift eviction if they fall behind in their rent and many will have to pay water charges currently borne by landlords, under the first big overhaul of NSW's tenancy laws in 20 years. But tenants' rights will also be boosted. If landlords default on their mortgages and their properties are repossessed, tenants will be guaranteed at least 30 days' notice to move out. And for the first time, renters who need to move out of a share house or a relationship will be able to be apply to have liability on their part of the lease waived.

The changes are partly about "encouraging investment and people back into the property market", the Fair Trading Minister, Linda Burney, told the Herald. "At the moment it can take three months to [evict tenants] and that's a long time." That will be about halved under the new legislation to cut the "red tape". "Encouraging investors back into the market should help to reduce Sydney's rental squeeze," Ms Burney said. The rental vacancy rate in Sydney is just 1.5 per cent, and this adds to the housing affordability crisis.

The State Government will release its plans for public comment today - after several years of reviews - before introducing legislation early next year. The tenancy tribunal now confronts more than 20,000 cases involving rent arrears every year, and the Government wants to cut its workload. Under the changes, tenants who fall behind in rent would have "the onus placed on them to apply to the tribunal" if they wished to contest their eviction - rather than landlords having to justify their case. The tribunal could make a decision on the application swiftly without need for a hearing.

But the laws will also protect tenants who become victims when landlords default on their mortgages. The planned 30-day eviction warning follows horror stories of tenants arriving home to find the locks changed. On the rights of renters leaving a shared tenancy, Ms Burney said: "The issues of co-tenancy are really important - particularly where you might have a domestic violence situation." Other planned changes include:

* A right to a reduced rent if a landlord puts the property up for sale and prospective buyers traipse through;

* Greater rights for tenants to put up pictures or paint properties;

* Water charges to be levied on all tenants in properties with separate meters to provide "uniformity". A similar move in public housing resulted in a 29 per cent cut in water use;

* Powers for the tenancy tribunal to remove tenants from databases that real estate agents use to reject applicants;

* Cancelling eviction notices if a tenant can pay their rent arrears before the eviction date.

The Government plans to stop the payment of interest to tenants on their bond money. Currently the rental bond board returns the money after tenants move out of a property, with an interest payment of 0.01 per cent. That is just $80,000 a year on the $650 million in bonds that it holds.

The principal solicitor for the tenants' union, Grant Arbruthnot, said it was "retrograde" to put the onus on tenants when they fall behind in rent. It would hurt people with low literacy and of non-English speaking background the most. The Government says those people would receive special consideration. Ms Burney, a former chairwoman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, said it was about achieving a "balance" and she stood on her record of "protecting the rights of the vulnerable". The Real Estate Institute of NSW welcomed the quicker dispute resolution but said it needed a closer look at the detail.


Some history of the Chinese in Australia

It is certainly true that the Chinese adapt very well to Western society -- something clearly attributable to large areas of cultural compatibility between the two groups -- plus the high Chinese IQ. I have reproduced below just the history -- ignoring some rather silly political point-scoring

At the age of about seven, I have to confess, I took part in one of the earliest and smallest race riots in Sutherland Shire. Our gang at Jannali Public School somehow thought it would be a good idea to line up outside the local Chinese greengrocer's shop and chant "Ching-chong, Chinaman". Duly reported to our parents by an outraged neighbour, some of us were sent to make a formal apology, the first but not the last embarrassing encounter in a lifetime largely focused on Asia.

At that point, in the 1950s, the identifiable community of Chinese descent in Australia had dwindled to about 10,000 from about 50,000 at the time of Federation, thanks to steady application of immigration laws enforcing the White Australia ideology. Subject to this kind of cheap taunt, you must wonder why any stayed at all.

The answer is supplied in a powerful new book by John Fitzgerald of La Trobe University that combines the skills of an excellent China specialist, Australian historian and fine writer. The Chinese were as "Australian" as the rest of us, and despite all the rejection - which started immediately after the Federation parades they joined with dragon and lion dances - they held keenly to what are now called Australian values. While our early statesmen were fulminating about the subservience, cruelty and depravity of "John Chinaman", John was punting on the Melbourne Cup, as a frayed Chinese SP bookie's ledger in the Launceston Museum attests.....

Fitzgerald shows us that right from the 1850s gold rushes, Chinese immigrants to Australia were caught up in the revolutionary fervour starting to sweep their homeland. Indeed, some arrived fresh from the millenarian Taiping rebellion against the Manchus. They quickly appreciated the benefits of the British rule of law and the labour movement beginning to form in the colonies, and were early supporters of the imperial reform movement, then Sun Yat-sen's republicanism.

Far from seeking to stay outside the emerging Australian society - running the opium and gambling dens of popular perception - the Chinese sought respectability and participation, with the biggest secret society, Yee Hing, going public as the Chinese Masonic Association of NSW in 1911. If Australian Chinese travelled more frequently back to their homeland than British migrants, it was because China was that much closer, and because of the White Australia laws blocking entry of wives and family.

The republican period also saw Australian Chinese tycoons marshalling share capital in Australia for some of the biggest overseas investments in the modern Chinese economy, with the four biggest department stores on Nanking Road in Shanghai modelled on the Australian retailer Anthony Hordern's formula of impressive display, reasonable fixed prices, and polite uniformed staff.

Other Chinese Australians went back consciously trying to plant Australian and Christian values in the new China, with the journalist Vivian Chow drawing on the "Anzac spirit" in his writings (there were many diggers of Chinese descent in World War I). But partly this offshore business move reflected the restricted opportunities in Australia (in 1921, Queensland even applied the infamous dictation test, whereby port officials could test anyone arriving in any European language, for entry to its banana industry).

Even so, some who remained found ways to flourish. In 1925, Leslie Joseph Tingyou changed his father's name for that of his old profession, a "hooker" on the railways, and went on to set up the real estate agent L.J. Hooker, with most of his big business peers unaware he was a "Chinaman". This background was hardly known in the 1980s when the Malaysian share raider Lee Ming Tee was mounting a hostile takeover of L.J. Hooker, frequently complaining of racism when his manoeuvres were queried. Maybe the irony was on all of us.

It was not just in business. As a baby, John Yu, son of a Kuomintang minister, was smuggled out of Japanese-occupied China in a wicker basket and raised in Sydney, becoming a pediatrician and chancellor of the University of NSW.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

An old, old story in South Australia

Why governments cannot use off-the-shelf database progams remains a mystery. It's just hubris -- and very expensive hubris in every way. You appreciate how good Microsoft are when you see how unable other people are to construct much simpler programs

The Public Service Association (PSA) says Department of Transport staff have been struggling with a new computer program, designed to streamline the issuing of vehicle registrations and drivers' licences. PSA general secretary Jan McMahon says there have been long delays for customers and staff have been bearing the brunt of their frustration. She says the computer program is modelled on one used in Western Australia which has been fraught with problems.

"The new system is often throwing up incorrect data," she said. "It might tell a customer that their car has been stolen. So many more people are having to access the actual shopfront where there are long queues and often the system is still not helping resolve the issues."

The Department of Transport's registrar of motor vehicles, Martin Small, says he is confident that a computer glitch will be rectified soon. Mr Small says there have been problems with the new computer program, which was introduced this month, but he satisfied with the progress being made to sort out its faults. "As at yesterday afternoon we've had 272 errors logged and we've cleared over a third of those," he said. [Well done! -- I don't think!]


Reserve Bank "destroys the myth" of migrants on welfare (not)

What a huge crock! The most the story below proves is that immigrants tend to be younger. Figures that are allegedly about the dole don't in fact discriminate between those on the dole and those not on the dole! Quite amazing! Propaganda does not get much more blatant than this

THE stereotype of the dole-bludging immigrant is a myth, research by the Reserve Bank has found. Drawing on unpublished figures from the Bureau of Statistics, the bank's researchers found workforce participation among immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2005 was higher than for the total population. The proportion in or looking for work in July this year was 68.2 per cent, compared to 65 per cent for the population as a whole.

A strong economy, increased skilled migration and the fact that immigrants were more likely to be of working age were behind the result, the bank said. "With immigrants relatively more concentrated in the prime working-age group, it may not be surprising that they have participation rates above the national average," a paper released yesterday said.

Immigrant unemployment had also fallen dramatically over the past two decades, the bank found, from above 30 per cent during the 1991 recession, to roughly 7 per cent last year. The longer someone had been in Australia, the further this fell. For migrants who arrived between 2001 and 2005 their jobless rate in July this year was almost the same as the national rate, 4.9 per cent compared to 4.3 per cent. For more recent arrivals, in 2006 or 2007, it was still higher at 13.1 per cent. "While in the year after arrival the immigrant unemployment rate is consistently higher than the national unemployment rate, in recent years this gap has narrowed significantly," the Reserve Bank said.

Immigrants accounted for almost a third of all jobs growth between 2001 and 2006. In an economy close to full employment, migrant workers and increased participation by older and younger workers have helped keep pressure off wages and inflation - the trigger for higher interest rates. "Immigrants have accounted for a considerable proportion of employment growth in a historically tight labour market," the bank said.

More than 180,000 permanent visas were granted in 2005-06, with more than half granted under the skilled migrant scheme. A quarter were granted to family members of Australians, 24,000 for New Zealand settlers and 14,000 for humanitarian reasons. The bank said there was still scope for increased participation by older people in the workforce. While participation had increased dramatically in the past decade, Australia had fewer people aged 55 to 64 in the workforce than comparable economies. It was 57.5 per cent in Australia, 59 in Canada, 63.5 in Britain and the US, and 73 in Sweden.


Negligent NSW police have to pay up big

POLICE have been ordered to pay almost $60,000 in legal costs to a man wrongly charged with the murder of a six-year-old girl who was found to have died from a methadone overdose. In ordering the Crown pay $59,968 to John Robert King, a businessman of Cattai, the Central Local Court magistrate, Robyn Denes, said in her costs judgement that criminal charges laid against him had been "initiated without reasonable cause".

Mr King was charged with murdering the girl in September, 2005. She had been living at his Cattai home, on Sydney's north-west outskirts, with his de facto, Julie Anne Austin. Mr King was also charged with supplying a commercial quantity of methadone and cultivating cannabis - charges that were also dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions last year along with the murder charge.

But the department proceeded with its prosecution of Mr King's partner, who was in May committed to stand trial in the Supreme Court, on a date to be set, for the murder of the girl and a charge of supply of a prohibited drug. It was during Austin's committal hearing that Ms Denes first criticised police for laying charges against Mr King. "In this case, although the police were faced with the death of a child, a number of methadone bottles and evidence that other children had ingested the drug, one would have thought it prudent to thoroughly investigate the scientific aspects of the case before proceeding to charge," Ms Denes said. She said the investigation of Mr King was "improper" and "unreasonable".

In evidence at the committal hearing, the Crown prosecutor, Ian Davidson, challenged a claim by Austin that she had accidentally mixed up bottles of children's cough medicine and methadone. Mr Davidson said that scientific evidence showed the methadone dose was not a "one-off" incident. Mr King's lawyers argued that their client had been arrested because of publicity over the child's death. In Central Local Court on Wednesday, Ms Dene agreed the Crown should pay Mr King's legal costs, but not $98,000 originally sought by his defence team.


Kids and guns: time for commonsense action

Tasmania firearms legislation may soon be brought in line with other Australian states by allowing monitored firearms use by junior permit holders from 12 onwards. The increasingly shrill voice of the anti-gun lobby tells us this will put a gun in the hand of every child, and cries of 'God Bless Aus-merica' on every lip. Questions of whether Tasmanian laws should reflect other states' legislation have been obscured by a campaign of misinformation, as has the fact that nobody is proposing to alter the stipulation that under 18s are not permitted to own a firearm or use a firearm without strictest supervision.

There is no evidence-based justification for opposing the controlled introduction of juniors to legal shooting activities. The only excuse given is a vague muttering about tough gun laws being a moral imperative for avoiding "US gun culture". An increasing body of peer-reviewed research, including by the Australian Institute of Criminology, shows the 1996 gun bans and $500 million buyback scheme did not impact on the pre-existing decline in firearm homicides. The majority of firearm homicide perpetrators are unlicensed. Despite our tough gun laws, young men use illegally obtained firearms in the course of crimes that are all too often drug-related.

In contrast, consider the young people interested in learning about legal firearms use, and judged by their parents or guardians as ready for the responsibility. They know their participation depends on staying on the right side of the law, and that involvement with violence or drugs will bring an end to legal firearms use. Under the direct supervision of adults who have been approved by police to handle firearms, they are taught that the "US gun culture" seen on television is not the Australian way. They learn the only "gun culture" should be one of safe and sensible use.

NZ laws 'world class'

Some take the ideological view that any "gun culture" is negative, but New Zealand proves otherwise. New Zealand has higher gun ownership and lower firearms abuse per head of population than Australia, and does not expend scarce resources policing the already compliant. Instead of bans and buybacks, they emphasise voluntary training through the Mountain Safety Council, and genuine co-operation and consultation between the firearms community, police, and government.

Like Australia, New Zealand has not had a public mass shooting in over a decade, even though licensed New Zealanders still use the types of firearms Australia banned. Why there has not been a mass shooting despite the availability of these firearms remains unexplained, and poses significant challenges for those who believe the 1996 bans are responsible for preventing mass shootings in Australia.

The New Zealand model has been hailed 'world class' by Mr Tsutomu Ishiguri, Director of the UN Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific. Their down-to-earth laws recognise that firearms licensees and the associated culture of responsible gun ownership do not pose a danger to the fabric of society and the morals of young people.

Illegally used firearms, and the circumstances surrounding their possession, are where we should place our attention. Preventing our future champions from taking their first steps on a lifelong path of achievement, and discouraging motivated young women from following the positive example set by our highly successful Olympic and Commonwealth female shooters, cannot achieve this. Rather, we must recognise that allowing disadvantage, social exclusion, and gross inequality to permeate our society is what can lead us down the US path. If we commit to tackling these issues, then we truly stand a chance of protecting young people.

Preventing young people from learning about firearms from suitably licensed adults has no bearing on protecting youths. Labelling young people with an interest in using firearms in a supervised environment as an undesirable element of the community contributes nothing to protecting the teens who are at real risk of being drawn towards crime, or are already involved in the justice system.

Legal firearms ownership in Australia is not the harbinger of apocalypse created by gun prohibitionists' fertile imaginings. Their rhetoric does not withstand scrutiny, containing only tired slogans where once there were great promises of a safer Australia. Sadly those promises were never about compassion, equality, or progressive social policy - qualities that are key to making Australia a better place for future generations.

With no factual support to justify further restrictions upon legal firearms use, anti-gun lobbyists must find the courage to accept that demanding change on the basis of stringency alone, or decrying modification as "watering down", does not engender effective policy. It encourages simplistic dichotomies between good and bad that actively impede debate and progress. So when it comes to kids and guns, or guns in general, it is time for commonsense - exactly what the Tasmanian Government is trying its best to use.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Australian Leftist commentators bubbling over with deluded hatred

LIKE those inexperienced footballers who attempt to dispose of the ball before they have it, Australia's standing army of Howard-haters has gone beyond predicting a Labor victory at the forthcoming federal election. They are now explaining, and claiming ownership of, that victory. Writing on this page last month, Phillip Adams put John Howard's looming defeat down to the fact the Prime Minister's "wedging, vote-buying and sundry pork-barrelling has confirmed the electorate's worst suspicions about his deviousness". Any evidence those suspicions are widespread outside the echo-chamber of Late Night Live, Phil?

Adams continued: "Honest John is now seen to be as tricky as Dicky. Our increasingly Nixonian PM is focusing on his worst attributes and sinking into deeper do-do and disrepute." Apparently, after years of ignoring the prophets of the cultural Left, the electorate has woken up to the truth of what they have been saying all along: that Howard is evil incarnate.

Reading Adams, I was reminded of a comment made to me recently by a Left-leaning friend who works in one of the arts industries: that Australians are about to ditch the Government because of its abandonment of the anti-Semitic terrorism-supporter David Hicks.

But if a kind of Rip Van Winkle theory of the electorate was merely hinted at by Adams, it was outlined in great detail last weekend by Hugh Mackay, the social researcher and Fairfax columnist whom Tim Blair recently dubbed "Australia's most boring human". The key point about the election, wrote Mackay, will be its "retrospective character". This will be an election "about the past - the Government's and ours - catching up with us".

The poll will demonstrate the electorate awakening from a "dreamy period" during which it has disgracefully prioritised material satisfactions over principled politics. And can you guess whose pet peeves will be legitimised in this catch-up? "Many Australians who have felt powerless will want to punish this Government for sins long past," Mackay says. "Those who once marched in support of Aboriginal reconciliation, for instance, will decide it was not good enough, after all, to simply push that idea off the agenda. "Those who were ashamed of our treatment of asylum-seekers, but let themselves become anaesthetised by propaganda, will decide it was wrong to capitulate. Those who took the easy path of prejudice against ethnic or religious groups will decide they are capable of nobler responses than that. "Those who were too dozy to react to their gut instinct that told them the anti-terrorism laws went too far will think again."

But why, Hugh? Why would voters who rejected the reasons put forward by the cultural Left to ditch Howard in 1998, 2001 and 2004 suddenly accept those as the best reasons to ditch him now?

Similar threads were apparent in an extraordinary opinion article by Catherine Deveny in The Age yesterday. "If I were John Howard, I'd be praying for a terrorist attack," wrote Deveny, revealing a level of bloody-mindedness I wouldn't have expected even from the worst of the Howard and Bush-haters. Deveny looks forward to an election-night party that will deliver her and her crowd their long-delayed revenge. "The angry and disillusioned (I take it she means the green and the Left) are hoping for a grudge match come election night," she writes. "It's not enough for the Howard administration to be voted out. People want to see blood. They want to see Howard cockily strutting into the election claiming smugly, 'We are the underdog' ... only for it to go horribly wrong as the votes come in. "It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it."

And I bet it gives Howard goose bumps just reading about it. Do Mackay and Deveny even realise what utter poison it is to Labor's cause if voters in outer-suburban seats get a sniff of the looming triumphalism of those who seek to turn politics into either a moral crusade ("nobler responses") or a blood sport?

Anyway, do we really need such abstruse and self-serving theories as these to explain the predicament of the Howard Government? Here's a simpler account, based on the universal logic of the use-by date. The electorate is considering a change of government for the same reason I just traded in my old Commodore: as any unit ages, it becomes less reliable. While voters have, in fact, been toying with a political upgrade for some time, Labor has previously failed to satisfy one of the basic criteria: sound leadership. Voters thought Mark Latham was too volatile, Kim Beazley too soft. But in Rudd they are prepared to embrace a leader every bit as conservative, temperamentally cautious and safe-handed as Howard.

A disclaimer: the above theory is not original. It was unrolled before me by Rudd himself, five months ago, in the bookshop at Sydney Airport, as we stood leafing through Anne Applebaum's superb new study of the Soviet gulag and pondering whether to buy it. (I did; he didn't.)

Let me say that, as a swinging voter, I don't invest anything like Deveny's emotional energy in the outcome of the election. Rather, I celebrate the convergence of the main parties, which testifies to the contemporary Australian settlement in favour of markets as the fairest mechanism for distributing scarce resources, and the US alliance as the foundation of our foreign relations.

That said, if the Government falls, will I be discomfited by the crowing of the Howard-haters, against whom I have spent most of the past 15 years at war? Well, OK, yes. But even as I cringe under that cacophonous onslaught, I will be anticipating a more familiar and comforting sound: their howls of disappointment, as Rudd reveals he is no more a victim of their prejudices than Howard.


Sleepy New Zealand police good at excuses only

New Zealand police say they are relying on Interpol to coordinate the search in the United States for fugitive father Michael Xue. He is now the prime suspect in what is thought to be the murder of his estranged wife Annie Liu. Mr Xue fled to Los Angeles at the weekend, leaving his three-year-old daughter Qian Xun Xue at a Melbourne train station, yet US police claim not to have been contacted by detectives in Auckland.

The officer in charge of the homicide investigation, Senior Sergeant Simon Scott, says they are dealing with Interpol, rather than local law enforcement agencies. "We want to speak with [Mr Xue] in relation to what's gone on here and in Melbourne," he said.

A post-mortem examination today is expected to formally identify a body found in Auckland as the toddler's missing mother. The body of an Asian woman believed to be 27-year-old Annie Liu was discovered in the boot of her estranged husband's car almost 48 hours after police first went to the family's suburban Auckland home.

But Senior Sergeant Scott blamed the apparent delays on obtaining a search warrant and the need to follow procedures. "We haven't had the keys for the vehicle - it's just not a matter of breaking the windows and getting in," he said. "I'm satisfied my staff have done an excellent job. "We are hoping examination of that vehicle is going to reveal evidence as to how the person that is in that vehicle has met their death."

Meanwhile the toddler's grandmother Liu Xiaoping, 53, will travel to New Zealand and then on to Australia to try and gain custody of Qian Xun Xue. "What she is going through now has no doubt left scars on her heart," Ms Liu said. "The Australian Government and people have given her great caring and support, for which I feel very grateful, but it will take some time for her to recover and walk out of the shadow cast on her heart." Her grandmother says she is the only one left to care for the girl. "I'm her closest and most important family member - she's got nobody apart from me," she said. "Anan [mother Annie] was my only child and she's my only granddaughter. I will do my utmost to bring her up."

Ms Liu wants to take her back to live in China's Hunan Province where she works as the deputy general manager of a large company. A Chinese politician in New Zealand says the three-year-old girl is best off being reunited with her extended family in China. Nationals MP Pansy Wong says the girl speaks Mandarin, and her grandmother has given assurances about family connections in China. "She's a very youthful grandmother, strong woman, they also have uncles," she said. "Qianxun also has grand-uncles and grand-aunties, so there's a lot of very caring extended family there."


Police union attacks police bureaucracy

But the Leftist government loves the bureaucracy, of course

The Queensland Police Union (QPU) says the Commissioner needs to make police on the front-line his priority if he is going to be in the job for the next three years. The State Government has extended Bob Atkinson's contract to keep him on as Police Commissioner until 2010.

QPU vice-president Denis Fitzpatrick says the union yesterday opted against pushing for a vote of no-confidence in the Commissioner but that things need to change in the police force. "We disagree with the priorities of the Police Service - the way the service is operating at the moment, the way administration seems to become the main focus of the police service in Queensland, rather than preventing and solving crime," he said. "It's the union's firm view that operational police should be the priority of the Commissioner."

Queensland Police Minister Judy Spence says she has told the union to work with the Commissioner. "I had a meeting with the police union last night and told them of the Government's decision to renew the contract of Commissioner Atkinson," she said. "I'm disappointed with the fact that they've gone round with these motions of no-confidence. "They're not going to influence the Government's decisions and it's about time they agreed that they would work with the Commissioner."


Rough West Australian cops betray their community

One would have thought that the wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard would have shown them that their "anything for a conviction" mentality was wrong

There is a lot of soul searching going on inside the criminal justice system in Western Australia, after the guilty plea this week by a man named Dante Wyndham Arthurs to the shocking murder of an eight-year-old girl in a Perth shopping mall toilet last year.

It was a routine shopping trip that turned into a crime which shocked the nation. In June last year, the young girl, Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu, was brutally murdered in a toilet at this shopping centre in Perth's southern suburbs. She was out of the sight of her brother and uncle for just 10 minutes, but the violence of the attack shocked even the most hardened police, including WA Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan. "The girl has got some shocking injuries, including broken bones and it's a very disturbing crime," he said. "As I said, it's one of the worst that I've ever seen."

Almost four years earlier, police had charged Arthurs with sexually assaulting another young girl, but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) then dropped it because he ruled the police interview was too aggressive. In this week's murder case, the Supreme Court dismissed the police interview once again for exceeding acceptable boundaries.

Police acknowledge improvements need to be made and there are mounting calls for a major overhaul of law enforcement tactics.

On Monday, the man accused of the crime, a 22-year-old shopping centre worker, pleaded guilty to murder after the DPP dropped charges of wilful murder and sexual assault. "We have a conviction by a plea of guilty to murder and there will be a life sentence imposed. That's not a bad outcome," WA DPP director Robert Cock QC said.

Spokesman for the family of the murdered girl, Father Bryan Rosling, says they are relieved to be spared the trauma of a trial. "They are relieved in the sense that they don't have to be involved with the ordeal of a long trial and that their son Gabriel, who is only 15, will be spared having to be a witness," he said. "But they're very disappointed and saddened by the downgrading of the charges through the plea bargain."

The question now being asked of the DPP and the police is, could this murder have been avoided? In 2003, Dante Arthurs was charged with sexually interfering with an eight-year-old girl in a park near his home. Arthurs confessed to the attack, but as Mr O'Callaghan says, the matter went no further. "The DPP made the decision not to proceed with that case because they thought the detectives' questioning of Dante Arthurs was robust," he said. "We disagree with that, we disagreed with it at the time, we disagree with it now."

"It was just devastating to know that nothing was going to be done about it," Sophia's mother said. "It was just dropped and I was angry. I think it was inevitable that he was going to do it again."

But Mr Cock does not think the decision to deal with Arthurs led to the recent murder of Sophia. "I think it draws a very long bow to suggest that had he been dealt with for that offence, this offence may not have happened," he said.

The handling of the Arthurs murder case came close to failure last month. The defence had a win in the Supreme Court, when a videotaped police interview with Arthurs was ruled in admissible because of the aggressive interrogation yet again.

Mr Cock has criticised the interrogation of Arthurs by police. "The questioning by police went beyond the wind in this one, it wasn't just close to the wind," he said. "It exceeded the limits of a fair interrogation such to produce an interview which was not admissible in court. "So in that respect, it went too far."

"We have to understand that firstly there were no admissions made in that particular interview, so it wasn't necessarily as key as we think it might be," Mr O'Callaghan said.

Dante Arthurs pleaded guilty, therefore saving another potential embarrassment for police, but in recent years WA has seen a string of high-profile cases result in defeat and sometimes red faces for law enforcement.

In 2002, deaf mute Darryl Beamish was freed after serving 16 years in jail for murder and in 2004, the Mickelberg brothers conviction for a multi-million dollar gold swindle were overturned after more than 20 years. In 2005, Rory Christie's conviction of his wife's murder was overturned and in the same year, Andrew Mallard's 1995 conviction of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence was quashed, which is now the subject of a Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry. Earlier this year, three men were acquitted of the murder of Phillip Walsham in 1998.

But Mr O'Callaghan warns against drawing conclusions. "I think we have to be very careful in drawing conclusions that because a case is lost, the police have not done their job or the investigators have not done their job. That's not true," he said. "I don't want to sound overly defensive about policing, I think that we do have some improvements to make."

Mr Cock shares a similar view. "I think it's unfair to put in a bundle, about seven or eight high-profile cases that have been delivered recently - although depending on trials that have happened over the last 40 years - package all them up and say therefore you haven't learnt anything," he said.

Many in Perth's legal community, including barrister Tom Percy QC, believe there needs to be a radical overhaul of the law enforcement culture, even after a royal commission into police conduct which reported in 2004. Mr Percy has been practising criminal law in WA for three decades. "I haven't seen any major changes in the last 20 years, 30 years of any real significance at all," Mr Percy said. "It's time that the whole culture of the police and the DPP was examined and examined by someone who doesn't have a culture within the DPP or the police. "Someone from the outside [to] have a good look at it, because as long as the people who've been part of the system for many years are in charge, we're unlikely to see anything change."

WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty has announced the State Government will abolish the offence of wilful murder to bring it in line with other states. But regardless of any reforms, the family of Sofia will always be haunted by the question, what might have happened had Arthurs been convicted in 2003.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Global warming attracts the dumb and the devious

IT'S a toss-up as to who's making a bigger fool of themselves over climate change: our politicians or our Miss Earth contestants, Andrew Bolt writes

At least the girls in the Miss Earth beauty pageant can afford to look stupid, since they aren't in charge of anything important, like the vanishing water supplies of our cities. They've just wanted to preach green messages in a bikini and tiara, as they fought last week for the titles of Miss Earth Australia, Best in Swimsuit and Best Environmental Speech. So, we could smile to read contestant Snezana declare that "Salinisation (sic) of land is one of the major environemtal (sic) crises facing Australia", and Kirra warn that "the biggest problem in our enviroment (sic) today is our lack of water". At worst we'd have wondered how badly we teach English as Angelique demanded help for an "environmnet" in danger, and Natalia wept for an "enviornment (sic) that sustains us".

How cute, these earnest bikini babes, so keen to save something they cannot even spell. But how scary, too, that many of these contestants want to save this thing they cannot spell from a threat they cannot understand. You see, someone - a few of the girls dobbed in Al Gore - has filled their pretty heads with such wild fears of global warming that poor Amanda now wails that "the human race will eventually become extinct".

Scared silly, like so many children now, by professional panic merchants, it seems there's nothing these girls won't now blame on global warming; even tsunamis caused by earthquakes. Christine, for instance, says she's been worried about global warming "from when the tsunami happened in Thailand back in December 2004". "Hey! Me too," squeals Georgina. "Aside from an increase in natural disasters such as the fateful tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, smaller changes to weather patterns are slowly being recognised."

Of course, we mustn't blame the girls for believing something so stupid when even Great Guru Gore has falsely suggested global warming caused Hurricane Katrina, the melting snows of Kilimanjaro, the drying of Lake Chad, the immigration of Pacific islanders and whatever else he dreams up when flying here to tell us to cut the kind of emissions he just blew out the back of his jet.

And I ask again: Who really is making a bigger fool of themselves over global warming; these harmless beauty contestants or our politicians, now watching our dams drain dry? The girls may think global warming causes earthquakes, but our politicians just as stupidly claim it's causing our cities to run out of water. Here is New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma last Friday, explaining why Sydney is getting permanent water restrictions: "The changes brought by climate change are going to change the way we use water." Victoria's politicians have used the same line. Here is our since departed Minister for No Water, John Thwaites, excusing water restrictions that are killing our playing fields and gardens: "So all the evidence points to a significant involvement of global warming in the present drought."

How handy, that global warming bogyman. Blame global warming for Melbourne's dams now being 7 per cent lower now than they were even last year, when things got grim. Blame global warming for the Brumby Government having to reassure us last week that Melbourne won't run out of drinking water this year, at least. Gosh, don't blame the Government instead for having such a green phobia about a new dam that we may run out of water the year after. What deceitful men. Or stupid.

For a start, no scientist can tell if any drought yet has been caused by the slight global warming of 0.7 degrees thought to have occurred last century. Let's not forget we've had many droughts before in our "land of droughts and flooding rains". Indeed, the driest five years in NSW in the past century were from 1940 to 1944, and Victoria's past five years have been no drier than what we suffered then, too. Bureau of Meteorology figures suggest we may just be returning to the drier weather of the first 45 years of last century.

In NSW, the average annual rainfall back then was just 475mm. Then came years of plenty, averaging 567mm, but since 1996 the annual rainfall has fallen back to an average of 511mm - still well up on the usual rainfall of the post-war years. So what drought? Victoria's weather has followed much the same pattern: Dry years until 1945, followed by years of good rain until a decade ago, when the dry returned. Our average annual rainfall from 1996 has been 571mm, much less than the post-war average until then of 671mm, but not much less than the pre-war average of 603mm.

Droughts come and droughts go, and it's impossible to see the influence of any man-made global warming. So why should this make you furious with our politicians? Because the history of this continent's weather should have told them to prepare for dry years of the kind we've had so often before. Because it should have told them they were mad to waste dam water on environmental flows for rivers that had survived years far drier than these. And because by blaming global warming instead of themselves, they make sweet girls like Miss Earth's Krystle shake on their stilettos, sure that "the ultimate end of existence of Earth and man is global warming". Fear not, Krystle, stupidity will kill us more surely than global warming.


Leftist racism on the march among the Australian Left

LIKE most of you, I'm indigenous. I was born here and have nowhere else to go, Andrew Bolt writes

This is my home, and where my heart is. If I'm not indigenous to Australia, I'm indigenous to nowhere. So you might think I'd cheer at Labor's promise last week to ratify - should it win government - the United Nations' new Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Except, of course, we know Labor is infected with the New Racism, and still plays off one tribe against another.

In the case of we indigenous Australians, Labor now wants to ratify a bizarre document that doesn't just stop at saying some indigenous people are more indigenous than others. It also says the most indigenous of us - people born here, like me, but with some Aboriginal ancestry - can be excused the laws and obligations that apply to the rest of us. And get extra rights all of their own.

Here's proof that Kevin Rudd's new Labor isn't so new, after all, exploiting the ethnic differences which divide us rather than celebrating what unites. Incidentally, for more proof, see star Labor candidate Maxine McKew, now fighting Prime Minister John Howard for his seat of Bennelong. She's just promised to recognise the "Armenian genocide", hoping to thrill Bennelong's 4000 ethnic Armenians. The nation's many Turks, however, will be enraged, rightly arguing that the death of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the wars, famines and inter-ethnic slaughter of the Ottoman Empire's last years was a tragedy, but no state-ordered genocide. McKew's promise can bring only strife, but harvesting votes by preaching old divisions rather than a new unity is an old Labor ploy.

And so we see again with this UN Declaration on indigenous rights. The wretched thing is actually the work of the UN's discredited Human Rights Council, which includes representatives from such beacons of humans rights as Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia. Already you'll have figured this is a document full of empty sentiments that even its authors don't believe or most certainly will never implement. That helps to explain why the four countries that refused to ratify it last week are ones that take their word more seriously: Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand, each of which objects that this declaration puts ethnic laws above national ones. But Labor's spokesman for indigenous affairs, Jenny Macklin, can't wait to sign, promising "a federal Labor Government would endorse Australia becoming a signatory".

So what is in this UN declaration, that Macklin later stressed was "non-binding", that Labor wants to sign us up to? Read closely, because it's actually a blueprint for an Aboriginal nation within Australia, with rights to its own schools, own government, own treaties and own laws, even if as barbaric as payback: "Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation . . . "(States must give) due recognition to indigenous peoples' laws . . . "Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their education systems . . . "States shall consult and co-operate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions . . . "Indigenous peoples . . . have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and co-operation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes with . . . other peoples across borders . . . "Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the responsibilities of individuals to their communities." That last one is oppressive. It says tribal strongmen can tell Aborigines who want to join the mainstream to stick with the tribe instead.

Macklin is now insisting she won't let tribal law overrule the general law. But why sign a protocol that implies the very opposite? That supports an Aboriginal nation within Australia? That supports separate rights and separate development for Aborigines, instead of urging them to seek a future with the rest of us? What divisive and racist foolishness. Already we can assume Labor in office will kill the federal intervention in the Northern Territory launched by this Government to save Aboriginal communities now drowning in booze, violence, truancy and unemployment.

It isn't right, a Macklin will say after the election, that "we" trample on Aborigines' rights to their own ways. And once again the weak will pay for this Noble Savage myth that Labor still worships: this insistence that Aborigines be a race apart. They'll be like the boy of this news story last week: "A magistrate seeking to preserve an Aboriginal toddler's cultural identity ignored warnings from child protection workers and put him into the care of his violent uncle, who four weeks later tortured and bashed the boy almost to death . . ." Preserve the tribe! Never mind the individual. And pit one race against another. Pit one group of indigenous people against the rest who were born here, and want brothers, not rivals.


Australian education pattern different

Leftist State governments fail to teach the basics

AUSTRALIAN school students spend half the time learning reading, writing, maths and science that their counterparts in other industrialised nations do. Australian curriculums devote the least amount of time of the 30 leading industrialised nations to teaching core subjects for 9- to 11-year-olds and for 12- to 14-year-olds, says the OECD report on education released last night. Education at a Glance 2007 says Australia is the only member of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development to decrease public investment in tertiary education, by 4 per cent, compared with an average 49 per cent increase in the 29 other nations.

While public spending on education at all levels is below the OECD average, the level of private spending at the school and university level is among the highest.

The report also notes the lack of financial incentive for experienced teachers, with 31 per cent of wage rises in the past decade going to beginners and only 3per cent to those with more than 15 years on the job. Education Minister Julie Bishop and Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith said the core subjects of reading, writing, maths and science were vital and the OECD results reflected why it was necessary to introduce a rigorous national curriculum in such subjects. Ms Bishop said the report echoed recent concerns made by the Australian Primary School Principals Association that the curriculum was too cluttered and that core skills were suffering as a result. Mr Smith said the core subjects were at the heart of a quality education and fundamental to other learning.

But association president Leonie Trimper disputed the figures, saying Australian primary schools spent about 30 per cent of the week on reading and writing and 20 per cent on maths. The OECD reports that the intended instruction time for the compulsory curriculum in Australia is 13 per cent in reading, writing and literature for primary school students compared with 23 per cent in the OECD, and 9 per cent for 12- to 14-year-olds, compared with 15 per cent. Maths accounts for 9 per cent of instruction time in primary schools compared with the OECD average of 16 per cent, and 9 per cent in high schools, compared with the average of 13 per cent. Primary school science accounts for 2 per cent and a foreign language 1 per cent of teaching time compared with the averages of 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

The report notes that Australia has a much lower proportion, 41 per cent compared with the OECD average of 92 per cent, of compulsory core curriculum, or the minimum required time devoted to core subjects common to all students. The majority of the compulsory Australian curriculum is flexible, allowing schools or students to choose where to spend the rest of their time. "This indicator captures intended instruction time ... it does not show the actual number of hours of instruction received by students," the report says. "It nevertheless provides an indication of how much formal instruction time is considered necessary in order for students to achieve the desired educational goals."

In assessing education funding, the report says that based on 2005 figures, public funding of all levels of education in Australia is 4.3 per cent of GDP, compared with an OECD average of 5 per cent while private spending is 1.6 per cent of GDP, more than double the OECD average of 0.7 per cent, and the third-highest level behind the US and Korea.

Public funding of tertiary education institutions fell by 4 per cent compared with an average increase in the OECD of 49 per cent. Half of all tertiary spending is now from private funds.

Mr Smith said the investment Australia made in education compared with other countries was the crucial factor. "The report finds that there has been a significant decline in public investment across all levels of education in Australia under the Howard Government," he said.

Ms Bishop said the OECD's analysis was flawed, and was based on a different definition of tertiary institution than used in Australia. Ms Bishop also said it failed to include large public funding increases since 2004, including the $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund. However, she said the report provided further support for the Government's push to introduce performance-based pay for teachers. "The lack of incentive and career prospects is one reason why 40 per cent of teaching graduates do not go into teaching and 25 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within five years," she said"


Leftists find racism under every bed

TODD Harper, the VicHealth boss, really does seem awfully keen to see racism where none exists, Andrew Bolt writes

Last week, I pointed out that VicHealth now claimed our Anglo culture made immigrants sick. As VicHealth Letter put it: "The dominance of an Anglo culture, and civic organisation based on a British system of law and governance, inadvertently leads to systemic racial discrimination, creating barriers to the economic resources necessary to maintain good health and well-being."

I tried, using facts and reason, to show Harper why he was wrong to so savagely criticise a culture that has actually produced a society remarkably happy, rich - and healthy. I wasted my time. You may have seen on these pages on Monday Harper's response, which began with the best anecdote he could find to show how bad our racism was: "An 11-year-old boy, Steve, is at the footy with his dad. The boy was born in Australia. His father was born in Greece. They are both proud Aussies. "They are watching Carlton champion Anthony Koutoufides playing St Kilda in what will turn out to be his last game. "As Kouta drops a mark, a St Kilda fan roars: 'Go back to your souvlaki shop.' The boy turns to his father with a scared and confused look . . ." This, Harper triumphantly concluded, is among the "evidence (which) shows that Victoria's large culturally diverse population deal(s) with fairly high levels of discrimination . . ."

Small problem, Todd. As it happens, Koutoufides really does own a souvlaki shop, called Souvlaki Hut, along with former teammate Ange Christou. In fact, he's since left football and indeed gone back to his souvlaki shop. So, what was that St Kilda fan supposed to shout instead: "Go back to your Chinese takeaway?" And was what he said truly racist, when the most passionate anti-racists saw nothing wrong with similarly advising One Nation's Pauline Hanson to go back to her fish and chip shop? Really, Harper should be much less eager to take offence. It's not healthy, and not that fair on us, either.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A very cranky major Australian newspaper

The Age used to bill itself as one of the world's great newspapers, and there was a time when that was probably true. The paper no longer uses that slogan, and just as well. These days, the Canberra bureau apart, its standards fall far short of those set by the world's best newspapers. Things have become much worse since Andrew Jaspan, a left-wing Englishman, took over as editor in October 2004.

Jaspan, the former editor of the obscure The Sunday Herald in Scotland, has always been a puzzling choice for a self-confident Australian city such as Melbourne. His singular notoriety emerges from the astonishing story he commissioned after al-Qa'ida murdered 3000 Americans and others on September 11, 2001. Jaspan's reporter was given extensive space to make the following extraordinary claims:
"Who do you think they were? Palestinians? Saudis? Iraqis, even? Al-Qa'ida, surely? Wrong on all counts. They were Israelis; and at least two of them were Israeli intelligence agents, working for Mossad, the equivalent of MI6 or the CIA. Their discovery and arrest that morning is a matter of indisputable fact.
"To those who have investigated just what the Israelis were up to that day, the case raises one dreadful possibility: that Israeli intelligence had been shadowing the al-Qa'ida hijackers as they moved from the Middle East through Europe and into America, where they trained as pilots and prepared to suicide-bomb the symbolic heart of the US. And the motive? To bind America in blood and mutual suffering to the Israeli cause." (The Sunday Herald, November 2, 2003)

In the 1960s, under Graham Perkin, The Age threw off its staid conservative image and became a crusading liberal newspaper in the true sense of the word. For instance, it campaigned against White Australia and the death penalty. Under Jaspan, however, The Age's liberalism has morphed into a peculiar sort of bitter and twisted extremism, borrowed from Britain's The Guardian.

Nowhere is the corruption of The Age clearer than in its coverage of foreign affairs, characterised by systematic anti-Americanism, symbolised by horrible Michael Leunig cartoons showing Americans and Israelis as Nazis. It is to The Age's eternal shame that Leunig was welcomed by the mad bigots in Iran for their competition denigrating the Holocaust.

I am no great fan of the Bush administration, but there is a difference between criticising a particular president and the reflexive hostility to everything American that now pulsates from the columns of The Age. Australians whom I know do not have that visceral hatred of all things American. These are alien views. These views are being shoved down the throats of Age readers, mainly interested to read Epicure and know what is happening in Melbourne.

Even worse is The Age's news coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Since 2002 The Age's correspondent in Jerusalem has been O'Loughlin. Like many people, I have given up subscribing to The Age because of its primitive coverage of the Middle East. Getting angry over breakfast spoils my day. Fortunately, other people make it their business to monitor O'Loughlin's writing and expose his errors of fact and interpretation.

One of these is Tzvi Fleischer of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, who writes the Media Watch column for the Jewish News. Fleischer has documented literally dozens of cases in which O'Loughlin has got basic facts wrong, or else placed his own anti-Israel spin on stories. As Fleischer says: "O'Loughlin's bent is clearest in his longer features, which have generally been simply attempts to make and sell the Palestinian case to his readers." According to O'Loughlin:

* Palestinian suicide bombers are militants whose murder of Israeli civilians is an understandable reaction to Israel's brutalisation of their families.

* Israel's security barrier, which has saved hundreds of Israeli (and Palestinian) lives, is a wall, imposing apartheid on innocent Palestinians.

* Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was all part of a cynical Israeli scheme to occupy the West Bank forever.

* Israel and Hamas are morally no different, since neither wants peace and both are dominated by rejectionists.

The Age and O'Loughlin are, of course, entitled to their opinions. If their anti-Israel polemics were confined to editorials and signed opinion articles, I could just ignore them. But anti-Israel bias seeps into The Age's news columns as well, and that is another matter. The Age was an influential paper, and its systematic anti-Israel bias has a real effect on public opinion.


Teacher failures spell student trouble

Who will teach the teachers?

Young teenagers could be forgiven for misspelling words such as subterranean and miscellaneous, but what about the nation's primary school teachers? A spelling test of about 40 Victorian teachers, conducted in April this year, provides no grounds for confidence. Not one of the teachers could correctly spell all 11 words, ranging in difficulty from substitute to adolescence. The test was set at the level expected of 14-year-olds but the average score among the 39 teachers was just seven correctly spelled words.

Five teachers correctly spelled 10 words, putting their level at 13 years and nine months. One teacher was unable to spell any of the words while two teachers got only two of the words correct. Overall, 22 teachers misspelled subterranean, 17 couldn't manage embarrassing or miscellaneous and 16 had trouble with adolescence.

The test was held during a two-day course conducted by teacher Denyse Ritchie, who has run programs for the past 11 years giving primary school teachers the basic literacy skills to teach reading. Ms Ritchie, executive director and co-author of THRASS (Teaching Handwriting Reading And Spelling Skills), used by thousands of schools around the nation, said the spelling results were typical of the standard she saw.

She said teachers trained over the past few decades had been influenced by the "whole language" method of teaching reading, in which the letter-sound relationship underpinning written language is only one strategy used to teach reading, and not necessarily the first. "Rather than teaching children the 26 sounds of the alphabet, they need to learn the 44 letter-sound combinations that comprise the English language." Ms Ritchie said teaching children the letter 'c' only as the sound in cat made it impossible for them to work out how to read words like chair, chef and face. With the sound 'f', students are taught that the letter f makes the sound but not that the letters 'ph' make the same sound.

Ms Ritchie said the biggest problem was that teachers were not taught how to break words into their composite sounds and so could not explain it to children. "Teachers are ignorant of the 44 sounds in English and all the spelling choices that make up those sounds; they have a very limited understanding of it. "You can learn to read without knowing phenomics (the sounds that make up words), but when you spell, you have to have a good phenomic understanding to help spell words like said. "Unless you're taught that 'ai' as well as 'e' can make an 'eh' sound in words like said and again, you will spell said as 'sed'. "But many teachers don't have that inherent knowledge,"

The teachers' phenomic knowledge was also tested. When asked to break words into the constituent sounds or phenomes - such as how many sounds in 'cat' (c-a-t) - the average score was 4.1 out of a possible 10 correct answers. When asked to identify the third sound in a word like scrunch (r), the average score was 4.5 out of 10 and the average mark for breaking words into syllables was also 4.5 out of 10.

Ms Ritchie said teachers commonly answered that the word scrunch comprised two sounds (scr-unch) when it actually has six sounds (s-cr-u-n-ch). "Teachers and students need to know that letters don't have a sound," she said. "They need to know that letters are only symbols that are used continually in different combinations to represent sounds."

In Britain, the Government has stipulated that from the beginning of this school year, reading will be taught using "first and fast" synthetic phonics, which teaches students the letter-sounds and how they are blended to form words. But the British teachers association persists in arguing that teaching reading using an intensive phonics approach is inferior to an "inclusive reading program" that has children predict words based on the context of the sentence or the type of word it is.

In a position paper on reading and phonics released by the English Teachers Association of NSW in July, it suggests a child reading the sentence "The car drove along the s..... at high speed" could guess it says street because the word starts with s. If the child said road, the paper says, the teacher will "have to weigh up whether to take the student back to the word" to read it correctly. "They may NOT because they recognise that meaning is most important, that we ALL make such mistakes EVERY time we read, and that this mistake shows that the child understands what they are reading," the paper says.


Another new Premier to reform Freedom from Information laws

What a laugh! Believe it when you see it

New Queensland Premier Anna Bligh yesterday set the stage for a more open government than that of her predecessor Peter Beattie, announcing an overhaul of the state's outdated freedom of information laws. Speaking after chairing her first cabinet meeting as Premier, Ms Bligh also announced an independent audit of the state's troubled ambulance system and said she had placed her ministers on a "campaign footing" even though she did not expect to calla state election for another two years.

Ms Bligh said an independent overhaul of the 1992 Freedom of Information Act would be conducted by a three-member panel chaired by David Solomon, a barrister, journalist and former chairman of Queensland's Electoral and Administrative Review Committee. The committee paved the way for the abolition in the early years of the Goss government of the state's notorious gerrymander.

Ms Bligh said she wanted to provide the public with greater accessibility to information and greater transparency. "It is now 15 years since Queensland saw its first freedom of information laws," Ms Bligh said. "Freedom of information was introduced in Queensland at a time when the worldwide web didn't exist, when emails were a completely unknown phenomenon and when text messages were not part of our lives."

Mr Bligh follows in the path of another newly appointed state leader, Victoria's John Brumby, who also announced freedom of information reform as one of his first acts as Premier. The Beattie Government was notorious for its secretiveness and obstruction of freedom of information, though Ms Bligh denied that wheeling documents into cabinet to make them exempt from FoI inquiries was a common practice. Ms Bligh said the aim of the overhaul was to ensure the state Government achieved the right balance between the public's right to information about themselves and the workings of government, and "the privacy of individuals and the need for government at times to conduct its policy-making processes on a confidential basis".

Ms Bligh said she had told herministers that they faced a tough challenge to win the support of Queenslanders at the next election. "I've effectively said to them that ... we are now on a campaign footing for the next two years," she said. "I want them to be working alongside me to earn the respect and the votes of every Queenslander."

FoI expert Rick Snell said last month the planned Victorian reforms should be adopted across the nation. The University of Tasmania law lecturer told The Australian that all of the nation's FoI laws were out of date and needed an overhaul. Mr Snell said restrictions on what information could be made available were particularly severe in Queensland, where FoI requests were viewed with suspicion by public servants.

The report on the so-called "Dr Death" inquiry into Queensland's hospitals by respected lawyer Geoff Davies QC in 2005 found that the Queensland cabinet had a "culture of concealment" in which hospital waiting lists and other material were hidden.

Ms Bligh's other announcement from her first cabinet meeting as Premier was an audit conducted by Treasury officers of Queensland's ambulance system. The state of the ambulance system has become a major political problem over the past few months as it has been plagued by complaints of slow responses and high levels of staff on sick leave and stress leave.


Money for blacks ends up the usual way

A TINY Queensland town which says it must beg for government funding is furious after learning taxpayers' money was handed to a privately owned pub which went bust in seven months. Isisford, 100km south of Longreach, has a population of 100 and two pubs. One of the pubs, Clancy's Overflow Hotel, was financed by the now defunct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, which spent more than $400,000 helping a former bankrupt without proven Aboriginal heritage. The loan was handed out six years ago but has only now come to light, angering locals who had struggled to convince federal and state governments to fund community projects.

Former Gold Coast Council candidate Philip Horne has told The Courier-Mail that ATSIC loaned him $220,000 after he told them "one of my ancestors had helped Aborigines". Mr Horne put up $100,000 alongside the ATSIC money to buy the hotel but he says he was given incorrect financial records and the pub was placed in receivership seven months later. It earned only $1000 a month in revenue, far below the $10,000 a month estimated to ATSIC, he said. Mr Horne says ATSIC spent at least another $200,000 to keep the property in receivership for a year and to sue him before he declared bankruptcy again. He now wants to sue Isisford Shire Council and the Federal Government to recover his $100,000.

Isisford Shire Council CEO Robert Bauer said he was amazed to learn of the loan when contacted by The Courier-Mail yesterday. "It annoys me that they gave him $5," Mr Bauer said. "There's a lot of things we could have done with that kind of money to upgrade facilities and improve the lives of our people and their children."

ATSIC was disbanded in 2003 with former indigenous affairs minister Phillip Ruddock attacking its handling of commercial loans and grants.

Mr Horne said the hotel was a "retirement dream" ruined after he was ostracised by town residents when he evicted patrons using drugs in the pub. "What I should have done was kept my mouth shut and turned a blind eye to everything that was going on and I'd still be there," he said. He blamed ATSIC for not properly checking his loan application, although he admitted he hadn't properly investigated the hotel's business potential. "I'm half to blame for it. I didn't ask for the bank statements. I should have looked at the business traffic. Hindsight's a wonderful thing," he said.

But Mr Bauer said Mr Horne paid a "ridiculous price" for the pub, which was later auctioned for a third of the cost. "Isisford is just a friendly bush town," Mr Bauer said. "Ninety-nine per cent of people didn't like him. It had nothing to do with drugs."

Police reports show Mr Horne was bashed with a club outside the pub in 2002, suffering head and chest injuries. A female friend who also worked in the pub also said she was thrown to the ground by the same man, who was sentenced to community service for the attack on Mr Horne.

Mr Bauer said it was "probably the only assault in the town in the last eight years I've been here". "The beating didn't cause his problems. It could have been worse," he said.

A spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said the bad loan was "a common story during the ATSIC era". Indigenous Business Australia had taken over many of ATSIC's loan functions, with tougher accountability and governance, he said.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moderate Australian Muslims attack $1m Saudi gift to university

Up to $1 million will be pumped by Saudi Arabia into an Australian university, sparking fears the money will skew its research and create sympathy for an extremist Muslim ideology espoused by al-Qai'da. Muslim leaders and academics have attacked Queensland's Griffith University for accepting an initial $100,000 grant from the Saudi embassy, which they accused of having given cash in the past to educational institutions to improve the perception of Wahhabism - a hardline interpretation of Islam. The Australian understands the Griffith Islamic Research Unit will in coming years receive up to $1 million from Saudi Arabia, which has injected more than $120 million into Australia's Islamic community since the 1970s for mosques, schools, scholarships and clerical salaries.

A former member of John Howard's Muslim reference board, Mustapha Kara-Ali, accused the Saudis of using their financial power to transform the landscape of Australia's Islamic community and silence criticism of Wahhabism. "They want to silence criticism of the Wahhabi establishment and its link to global terrorism and national security issues," he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not keep tabs on money from Saudi Arabia to Australian universities, despite having mechanisms in place to monitor official funding from the kingdom to local mosques.

James Cook University's Mervyn Bendle, a senior lecturer in the history of communication and terrorism, said Saudi Arabia would not provide funds to any Islamic initiative without wanting to propagate its own agenda and version of Islam. "Historically, Saudi funding around the world has been used to promote Wahhabism," he said. "It would be naive to just accept on the surface that this is not the case as far as this money is concerned."

Griffith Islamic Research Unit will also receive a "collection of Islamic books and other materials", according to the university's website. But the director of Griffith's key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, Ross Homel, defended the Saudi grant the university received on August 23, saying it came with "no strings" attached. He said the grant - which was not solicited by Griffith but followed "negotiations" between the university and the embassy - would help fund research scholarships at the Islamic centre, promote moderate Islam and supplement the salary of the body's director, Mohamad Abdalla.

Professor Homel said some of the research being conducted at the Islamic centre focused on domestic violence within the Islamic community and "the way Muslims are demonised". He said the Islamic books promised by the embassy were classic texts. "Saudis have indicated that they are prepared to provide substantially more (money)," said Professor Homel, whose department is responsible for the Islamic centre. "They are not controlling the money, the money is very much controlled by us through the university, so they have really no influence over the way we spend our money. "In fact, we wouldn't accept the money if it was for ... hardline (purposes) ... well, I'd like to believe we wouldn't."


Open-door "prison" for dangerous nuts

MENTAL health patients charged with crimes are walking out of Princess Alexandra Hospital due to a lack of secure beds, an ex-psychiatric nurse claims. The registered nurse said the hospital had recently opened 30 of its 36 secure beds, despite the concerns of doctors and staff. "About six months ago, management decided to open the ward on the basis it had been closed for too long," he said. "As a result, there have been fewer aggressive incidents. . . but that's because they're just letting themselves out when no one's looking," he said.

The nurse said those in the now open ward - known as the "west wing" - included forensic and classified patients in trouble with the law. The hospital's mental health division director of nursing, Janice Crawford, confirmed the ward - which houses both voluntary and involuntary psychiatric patients - was opened on March 19 after previously being "intermittently closed". "The open ward policy reflects the Queensland Mental Health Act's philosophy of least restrictive practice," she said in a written statement.

The nurse felt compelled to speak out after reading a report in The Courier-Mail about the problems facing police as a result of what they called a "revolving door" policy for mental health patients. Police complained that patients being arrested and taken to hospital were often back on the streets creating further disturbances the same day. "People are being put at risk but doctors and consultant psychiatrists are not having their concerns listened to," the nurse said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the Government had initiated the Mental Health Intervention Project to train police and ambulance officers to deal with mentally ill people. He said 3500 police had a training session but police yesterday said people with mental illness were also suffering as a result of the shortage of long-term care. A senior officer said a patient who had attempted suicide several times was taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital psychiatric unit, only to be released shortly after. "A few days after being released, he threw himself in front of a train in Fortitude Valley," the officer said.

The Queensland Mental Health Alliance said such incidents highlighted the need for non-government community services for the mentally ill. "Currently patients are going from having everything done for them in hospital, to having to fend for themselves when they're released," spokesman Jeff Cheverton said. "If you're not sick enough to be in hospital, you get nothing," he said. He said less than 2 per cent of Queensland's mental health budget was going to non-government organisations that provided community-based mental health services. "We're not suggesting you need to reduce investment in hospitals, but there is a need to grow investment in community-based services," Mr Cheverton said.


Blitz on coastal dole pay

A fresh round of welfare reform will be unveiled by the Howard Government in an effort to break high levels of unemployment in coastal areas. As John Howard puts the promise of full employment at the centre of his re-election campaign, the Government is considering tightening welfare rules and forcing people to work for the dole earlier. The policy is part of the Government's attempt to construct a policy vision focused on the future after senior ministers acknowledged it had been concentrating on past achievements.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said yesterday there were areas near beaches with "stubbornly high levels" of unemployment, and welfare rules had to be toughened to force people into jobs. "There's the capacity for targeted initiatives in high unemployment areas," Mr Hockey told The Australian. "There are pockets of unemployment. There is an unfortunate tendency for unemployment to be higher in warm coastal seats - it is still stubbornly high in southern areas of NSW, the south coast of NSW and around Wollongong."

Mr Hockey said he was appalled to find that in coastal areas, business owners were desperate to find workers while unemployment stood at staggeringly high levels. "I got very frustrated going to Lismore recently where small businesses were complaining they couldn't get workers. And the unemployment rate is still reasonably high there," he said. "I'm talking about where unemployment remains stubbornly high - I think there's more that can be done there."

The Prime Minister yesterday ramped up his full-employment campaign, arguing that it took more than good intentions to get unemployment down. "You can't just wave a magic wand or give off a few nice-sounding grabs for the cameras and wait for it to happen," he said, attacking Kevin Rudd. "Unemployment is 4.3 per cent. A few years ago, some would have classed this as full employment. People have been weaned off welfare and into work ... These are not accidental outcomes."

Mr Howard said in his weekly column that "we are not resting" and would embrace further policies that created even lower rates of unemployment. "We believe that we can forge a full-employment society. We don't just mean a job for everyone, we don't only mean a job that people can do, but a job that people will want to do," he said.

Mr Hockey said there was room to have more targeted individualised welfare and he wanted an increased emphasis on "mutual obligation". He said options included forcing people to full-time work-for-the-dole sooner. "It breaks the cultural barrier to job readiness," he said. Under the Howard Government, he said, long-term unemployment had been slashed by 66.3 per cent. It was now at 66,700, close to a 21-year low. This was 79.8 per cent lower than the peak of 329,800 recorded in May 1993, when Labor was in office, he said.

Significantly, female long-term unemployment declined by 5600 (or 15.3 per cent) in August to stand at 31,200, the lowest level since the inception of the series in April 1986.

The Government yesterday promised no further industrial relations upheaval if it won the coming election, admitting employees had a poor understanding of its sweeping workplace reforms. Mr Hockey ruled out any major changes to the laws, which took unfair-dismissal protection away from millions of workers and allowed employees to bargain away penalty rates and other award conditions in return for more pay or flexible hours. "We are committed absolutely to the fundamentals of our workplace relations laws," he told the Ten Network. "We're not going to change them. Obviously, it has been a challenge, in the face of the fear campaign, to bed them down. "I have no desire to undertake further structural reform to the workplace relations system for the next three years."

Peter Costello said the Government had the balance right between fairness to workers and what was good for business. He warned that Australia would spiral into another recession if Labor were elected. "I think with the fairness test, we've got the balance right for employees and they're entitled to fairness," the Treasurer told the Nine Network


Oz beats the Poms -- again

The Brits invented most of the world's most popular sports so it is rather a puzzle that they are so bad at all of them. Some understanding of the mysteries of cricket may be required to comprehend fully the report below. I will not try to elucidate them here. The report below -- from "The Times" of London -- is notably good humoured and cricket is in general more good humoured than most major sports -- though you must NEVER mention to a New Zealander the words "underarm bowling"

There have doubtless been stranger cricket matches – but not many. It took place in 43C (110F) heat in the desert of southern Iraq, within sight of the ancient Ziggurat of Ur and birthplace of Abraham, beneath a fluttering Stars and Stripes. The pitch was a strip of concrete in the scorching sand. The visiting team flew in by helicopter, but arrived an hour late because of a rocket attack. Nobody was too worried: the game had already been postponed for a week by lack of beer.

The “Ashes in the Desert” pitted the British Army’s 1 Mechanised Brigade against the Overwatch Battlegroup West 3 from Darwin, Australia. The venue was the US Air Force base at Tallil. And it was played with the same intense rivalry that characterises any sporting encounter between teams of Poms and Aussies – and with the same inevitable result.

The British team flew up from Basra brimming with confidence. They arrived wearing an England one-day cricket strip donated by the English Cricket Board, but with a feature seldom seen at Lord’s – SA80 rifles slung over their shoulders. They had new bats and pads and the same cheery optimism that invariably precedes an English rout. “We’re up for this, and expect to tonk you boys back into the Stone Age,” Lieutenant Tim Moore, the match organiser, rashly informed the hosts. The Australians were entirely unfazed. They had secured the support of a large and vociferous crowd by giving most of their 550-strong contingent the afternoon off and relaxing the rules to allow them two tinnies [cans of beer] each.

England won the toss. Their captain, Major Giles Malec, was bowled first ball and after that it was downhill all the way. There was nobody standing on top of the ziggurat. But if there had been they would have heard constant cries of “Howzat” followed by raucous cheers echoing off its 4,000-year-old walls.

As England’s wickets tumbled Captain Elizabeth McGovney, 26, from Houston, Texas, watched bemused. “We’re trying to figure it out,” she said. “Six pitches make an over and out, is that what it’s called?” The appearance of two streakers delayed another England collapse, but only briefly. The visitors were skittled for 93 runs in 15 overs, and there was no chance of them being saved by rain.

As England’s fielders turned crimson beneath the blazing sun Australia rattled off the runs for the loss of just two wickets. “An Australian battlegroup has smashed a British brigade,” Lieutenant-Colonel Jake Ellwood, the Australian commander, crowed at the prize-giving ceremony. “The cricket today was clearly a disaster,” Brigadier-General James Bashall, the British commander, ruefully conceded. But actually everyone was a winner. The game raised $14,000 for wounded soldiers, and generated a commodity all too rare in today’s Iraq: fun.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Taxpayer money spent funding breast enhancements

If they are mental cases, they shouldn't be in the armed forces

THE Royal Australian Navy is paying for women sailors to have breast enlargements for purely cosmetic reasons, at a cost to taxpayers of $10,000 an operation. Defence officials claim the surgery is justified because some servicewomen need bigger breasts to address "psychological issues".

Darling Point plastic surgeon Kourosh Tavakoli told The Sunday Telegraph the navy had paid for two officers, aged 25 and 32, to have breast-augmentation surgery at his private clinic. Dr Tavakoli said the women had not been injured but claimed to suffer "psychological" problems. "I've had two female officers who have got the navy to pay for breast augmentation for psychological reasons," he said. "I know for a fact two patients claimed it back on the navy. They (the navy) knew it was breast augmentation and paid for it. "I don't know why they pay for it. There's no breast augmentation, that I know of, for medical purposes. You've got to be fair to yourself."

A Defence spokesman admitted cosmetic surgery occurred at "public expense" when there were "compelling psychological/psychiatric reasons", but refused to say how many such cases were taxpayer-funded. Cosmetic surgery was also provided for servicemen or women who were disfigured by work-related injuries, he said. "Cosmetic procedures undertaken solely for the purpose of preserving or improving a person's subjective appearance will be considered only if the underlying (psychological) problem is causing difficulties that adversely impact on the member's ability to do their job. "Operations purely for cosmetic reasons are not allowed."

The Sunday Telegraph asked Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, formerly a GP, how many members of the armed forces had received taxpayer-funded cosmetic surgery. A spokesman said figures would not be available until next week.

Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James defended the practice of taxpayers funding medical procedures such as breast enhancement surgery for psychological reasons. He said young men and women were attracted to defence careers because they offered free medical care. This, in turn, improved the efficiency of the force. "Just as there are in civilian life, there are some females who feel their breasts are too small and if their breasts were bigger, they might be more of a 'normal' woman," Mr James said. "If they were lacking in self-confidence, this might provide the measure of self-confidence that would help them tackle their wider job. "There are privacy issues here for people. It's not as if they keep a record of who has had a nose job in the Defence Force over the past 100 years."

Dr Tavakoli, a member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, said the navy officers had visited him in 2005 and 2006. Each had had $10,000 worth of surgery, which required a recovery period of at least two weeks. Boosting self-esteem was the biggest motivation for cosmetic surgery, Dr Tavakoli said.

The Sunday Telegraph understands Dr Tavakoli is not the usual surgeon used by the navy for reconstructive/cosmetic surgery. "I don't see a lot of them (naval officers) because they have their own plastic surgeon," he said. "I know for a fact they have their own surgeon." Last year, a Brisbane surgeon revealed that an army cook had had a taxpayer-funded nose job.


Useless cops

Too many working as bureaucrats

SEVERE staff shortages have left Queensland police officers struggling to respond to potentially life-threatening incidents. A Sunday Mail investigation has found hundreds of calls for police help are still unattended, or incomplete, at the end of shifts state-wide. Even when assistance is provided, it can take hours to arrive.

An inquiry has begun into why police failed to respond to an emergency call-out to a Southport home on the night of September 3, which came three hours before a woman was allegedly stabbed to death by her 16-year-old son at the same Gold Coast address. The Queensland Police Union says critical understaffing is to blame for the tragedy and the dramatic shortfall in frontline officers has become a major problem across the state. The union says 700 staff have been pulled off active duties and diverted into management positions and many officers are leaving the service to pursue other jobs.

The Sunday Mail found:

* Communications co-ordinators are making "life-and-death decisions every day" because there are insufficient resources to cover emergencies.

* Major 24-hour stations were shut down at night last weekend and during the week due to a lack of officers.

* Emergency calls are being downgraded to lower priorities because police don't have the numbers to attend swiftly.

* Lone patrol cars are regularly left to safeguard large metropolitan areas at night.

* Police were so busy on August 31, it took more than 3« hours to get to a Gold Coast woman who was being held by an ex-partner who had bipolar disorder and a history of firearms offences.

* In another recent case where a man known to mental-health authorities was threatening to kill his wife, her boyfriend and himself, police took more than three hours to attend.

* The night of the Southport fatality, there were nine cars on duty, 60 triple-0 calls and 105 jobs needing response. By end of shift there were still 42 jobs incomplete or unattended.

* Two days later, the Gold Coast's afternoon crews received 83 jobs and still had 27 unattended by end of shift.

* Queensland police have no minimum target-response times, unlike ambulance and fire services, or New South Wales police who set their benchmark at responding to 80 per cent of urgent calls within 10 minutes.

The union says the most critical staff shortages are at the Gold Coast, Mackay, Mt Isa, Ipswich and Rockhampton. "The community deserves to know there's a crisis on the streets, there's a crisis in first response," Queensland Police Union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said. "They need to know that they're going to call police stations and no one's going to answer the phone. "In my view, reported crime is down because there's difficulty getting through to police stations on the phone. "Every day, hundreds of requests for assistance remain unattended at the end of shifts right across Queensland due to poor resourcing in our major population centres."

This week, police sources told The Sunday Mail that Wynnum and Capalaba stations, which both have counters that should be open 24 hours, were shut on some nights after officers called in sick and there was no one to replace them. Calls were diverted to Cleveland, which added extra pressure there, an officer said. "It's a combination of staff shortages, increasing workloads, difficulties with the new computer system and fewer officers wanting to remain on general duties," said a Brisbane police officer.

Opposition police spokesman Rob Messenger said the State Government needed to spend more money on pay and resources for frontline police, and offer greater incentives to officers to stay in general policing. Police Minister Judy Spence defended staff levels, saying Queensland now had a police-to-population ratio of 1:435, which was equal to, or better than, every other state. The Police Service says 8731 of the 9618 officers in the state by June 30 were operational.

But the union says many of those counted as operational are desk-bound administrators. "We call on the Commissioner to reallocate 700 police back into first-response and operational roles," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

Queensland Ambulance officers have a State Government benchmark to respond to Code 1 life-threatening situations in less than 10 minutes, in 68 per cent of cases. Queensland Fire and Rescue Service's benchmark is to arrive at a structural fire within 14 minutes of a triple-0 call to urban and auxiliary stations, in 90 per cent of cases.

A Police Service spokesman said the service provided the "best possible response to calls for service throughout the state, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the incident". Urgent Code 1 and Code 2 jobs in the metropolitan area were monitored by the Brisbane police communications centre and responded to "within a reasonable and appropriate time". It was "not appropriate" to compare the police with ambulance or fire services because calls to police covered a greater range of situations.

But Queensland University of Technology lecturer in justice studies and policing, Dr Colin Thorne, said there should be a minimum response rate to priority calls across all emergency services, including police. "Whether it's in Brisbane or communication centres across the state, for police, for life-threatening cases - as for ambulance officers and fire-and-rescue crews - there should be a benchmark," Dr Thorne said. "People should have an expectation that, when they ring for an emergency response, police arrive within a reasonable timeframe."

Dr Thorne, a Queensland police officer for 20 years until 1991, said that, without a minimum or average response time, it would be hard to monitor how well police were doing. He said more first-response police and 24-hour stations were needed.


Fairfax newspapers' Israel coverage panned

THE Australian Jewish News has attacked Fairfax newspapers, accusing them and their Middle East correspondent of anti-Israeli bias. The newspaper yesterday ran a news story, an opinion piece by Labor's Member for Melbourne Ports, Michael Danby, and two cartoons all lambasting Fairfax titles.

"The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are highly influential newspapers, and their systematic anti-Israel bias has a real effect on public opinion in Australia," Mr Danby writes in AJN. Mr Danby is particularly critical of The Age's editor-in-chief, Briton Andrew Jaspan. "Under its current editor, The Age's liberalism has morphed into a peculiar sort of bitter and twisted extremism, borrowed from UK paper The Guardian."

Mr Danby, who is the only Jewish federal MP, attacks Middle East correspondent Ed O'Loughlin. "There's nothing funny about O'Loughlin's systematic bias against Israel," he says. Jason Koutsoukis, The Sunday Age's Canberra bureau chief, is quoted in the Jewish News pledging to introduce "balanced" coverage when he takes over as Fairfax Media's Middle East correspondent. "There's two sides to every story and I think we've got to tell both sides. Perhaps we've only been telling one side. That's been some of the concerns expressed to me by Jewish community leaders," he is quoted as saying. Koutsoukis last night denied attacking O'Loughlin. "I was not quoted accurately ... and it does not reflect my views."

The editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, Alan Oakley, Jaspan and O'Loughlin did not return calls or emails.


Facebook antisemite out of cricket until 2015

Follow-up to a report here on August 10th. (Scroll down)

THE cricketer who set up a page on a social networking site that sledged the Maccabi Ajax Cricket Club has been suspended from the sport for eight years. Ash Peake, from McKinnon Cricket Club, authored the page "FU Ajax Cricket Club" on Facebook and invited other cricketers from his club and the Beaumaris Cricket Club to to comment on the Jewish team.

A tribunal hearing at the Victorian Turf Cricket Association (VTCA) found Peake guilty of racial vilification and suspended him until the start of the 2015-16 season. Four other players received suspensions ranging from two months to one-and-a-half years at the VTCA tribunal, which was chaired by barrister Tim Walsh.

A sixth player, Beauamris cricketer Alex Strauch, will face the tribunal early next month. He has already issued a public apology and visited the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre since the incident, which was first reported in the AJN on August 10. Walsh also exonerated McKinnon and Beaumaris of any wrongdoing at a club level.

Maccabi Ajax Cricket Club president Jamie Hyams said that his club is satisfied with the tribunal's decisions. "We regard the sentences as harsh but fair," Hyams said. "They show that the VTCA takes this matter very seriously, and we are very happy with the way both the VTCA and the McKinnon Cricket Club have handled these issues."

When news of the website surfaced, McKinnon immediately suspended several players from pre-season training. But threats of funding cuts from Glen Eira City Council forced the club to expel the men.

Following the tribunal's decision, McKinnon has called on the council to revoke any sanctions against the club, including a stop on construction of training facilities at McKinnon Reserve, the club's home ground. A council spokesman said the matter has been tabled for discussion at a council meeting on Tuesday night.

Hyams said that the players have shown remorse and will be involved in education programs.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bipartisan recommendation: Degrees first -- before teacher training

ASPIRING high school teachers should have to complete arts or science degrees before undertaking specific studies in education, an inquiry into teaching standards has recommended. The inquiry's report, tabled in Federal Parliament yesterday, also called for more rigorous teaching of literacy and numeracy to trainee teachers at university. It backed offering "incentives" to teachers as part of a broader push to improve their pay and raise entry standards. Education Minister Julie Bishop has been promoting performance-based pay to improve teaching standards in schools.

Teaching education as a compulsory postgraduate course for aspiring secondary-school teachers would be a significant departure from current practice, where many students simply complete a straight bachelor of education.

The bipartisan inquiry by the Senate's employment, education and workplace relations committee was chaired by Victorian Liberal senator Judith Troeth. The committee said many new teachers had "insufficient grounding in the actual subject content they are teaching". "That is, they do not know enough history, have limited appreciation of literature through not reading enough of it, and are ignorant of, and frightened of, mathematics and science," it said. "This has a direct effect on the quality of educational outcomes because it can impede student intellectual growth." [Surprise!]

Senator Troeth, a former teacher, said she had studied history and geography as majors in an arts degree at Melbourne University, as well as a sub-major in English, before going on to complete a specialised diploma in education. She then went to teach Year 11 and 12 English and history and middle school (junior high school) geography. "So often these days, teachers have the general experience of the bachelor of education degree which teaches them the skills of pedagogy but it does not instil the subject disciplines into them," she said. "We feel there should be a movement back to that."

In its report, the committee expressed concerns about weaknesses in the training of teachers. "Some of these may be the consequence of factors outside the control of universities, namely the academic quality of school-leavers wanting to become teachers, although it might be argued that entry levels should be raised to keep out those whose literacy and numeracy are of doubtful standard," it said. Too many students were reaching Year 6 yet remained "functionally illiterate".


More propaganda from "Lancet"

Fight climate change, cut down on red meat? If you make dozens of unproven and wrong assumptions, what they say is correct

PEOPLE should limit their meat-eating to just one hamburger per person per day to help stave off global warming, according to Australian scientists. That would be their contribution to a proposed 10 per cent cut in global meat consumption by 2050, a goal that would brake greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture yet also improve health for rich and poor nations alike, it says. The paper has been released online as part of a seminar by the Lancet British medical weekly into the impacts of climate change on global health.

Its authors point out that 22 per cent of the planet's total emissions of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, a tally similar to that of industry and more than that of transport. Livestock production, including transport of livestock and feed, account for nearly 80 per cent of agricultural emissions, mainly in the form of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.

At present, the global average meat consumption is 100g per person per day, which varies from 200-250g in rich countries to 20-25g in poor countries. The global average should be cut to 90g per day by 2050, with rich nations working to progressively scale down their meat consumption to that level while poor nations would do more to boost their consumption, the authors propose. Not more than 50g per day should come from red meat provided by cattle, sheep, goats and other ruminants.

The authors were led by Anthony McMichael, professor at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, Canberra.

"Assuming a 40 per cent increase in global population by 2050 and no advance in livestock-related greenhouse gas reduction practices, global meat consumption would have to fall to an average of 90 grammes per day just to stabilise emissions in this sector,'' the paper said.

"A substantial contract in meat consumption in high-income countries should benefit health, mainly by reducing the risk of ... heart disease... obesity, colorectal cancer and, perhaps some other cancers. An increase in the consumption of animal products in low-intake populations, towards the proposed global mean figure, should also benefit health.''

According to a study published in July by Japanese scientists, a kg of beef generates the equivalent of 36.4kg of carbon dioxide, more than the equivalent of driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home.


Doctors for auction in Australia

Yet more of that wonderful government "planning". There are plenty of would be doctors but a very limited number of places in medical schools (Which are all run by Leftist State governments). The result: Much more dangerous circumstances for patients

A CRISIS in public hospital emergency departments has reached the point where they are forced to bid against each other for casual doctors who are already paid as much as triple the award rate. Doctors say patient care is at risk because emergency departments are forced to rely on often inexperienced locums with a "nine-to-five mentality" to plug gaps in the system. The Herald has obtained an email from one large NSW locum agency that describes 26 NSW hospitals as being at crisis point, 21 of them public hospitals, with some unable to fill shifts for senior emergency doctors the next day.

NSW Health estimates it costs $35.2 million more a year for locums than it would for permanent staff, but refuses to fund more permanent senior specialists. Rates for locums generally vary from $90 to $180 an hour depending on experience and type of shift, but can reach $250 for a senior doctor required at the last minute in a regional area or on a public holiday, or when the hospitals bidding against each other push up the price.

The vice-president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Sally McCarthy, said the use of locums was at "phenomenally high levels" and NSW Health did not support more permanent positions. "But the health service is happy to compete against other hospitals for locums, bidding up the price," Dr McCarthy said.

When the Herald contacted heads of emergency departments, they were highly emotional - one even tearful - and some called out of hours or while on holiday to express their frustration and desperation. They all refused to go on the record, fearing repercussions from NSW Health.

On Tuesday, vacancies emailed by Australia Wide Locum Placement included 41 shifts in the emergency department at Nepean Hospital from now to September 25, and 70 shifts at Blue Mountains Hospital to November 30 - 16 of which are in emergency just for this month. Camden Hospital had 85 emergency shifts to fill over the past month, all for senior doctors.

Royal North Shore Hospital needed 20 shifts filled in emergency up to October 14 and Fairfield needed 25 up to the end of next month, 13 of which were for senior emergency doctors to work overnight this month to fill vacancies every few days. Other public hospitals listed as in "crisis" - with shifts needing to be filled within 48 hours - included Concord, Mona Vale, Fairfield, Sutherland, Campbelltown and several regional hospitals.

Locums are often junior doctors, lured by the pay and far less stressful working conditions.

The emergency departments at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals are among the busiest in the state but are understood to have the heaviest use of locums. Of all doctors in Camden's emergency department, about 70 per cent are locums.

The director of Australia Wide Placements, Terry Keenan, said his company would fill "less than half" of the crisis shifts at public hospitals. His agency sought to fill 800 shifts in Sydney public hospitals on any given day. "The demand is enormous," he said. Hospitals are so desperate that they even offer a higher rate than is necessary, he said. "We sometimes get hospitals saying 'we can give up to $140 an hour', and we say we think we can fill it for less." He also said some doctors did not commit to a shift until the last minute, "thinking that if you don't the price might go up".

The use of locums in public hospitals has "increased alarmingly" in recent years, said a NSW Health report published in The Medical Journal of Australia last year. The head of a big Sydney metropolitan emergency department said it spent $1 million on locums last financial year. "It's virtually impossible to check how well they're going to perform, whether they're really as senior as they say they are and whether they can do all they say they can do and . you never have the organisational knowledge or the commitment," he said. "You end up with the more inexperienced, lower-quality employees . we regard it as a bit of a crisis."

A medical registrar at a Sydney public hospital emergency department said the use of locums could be "life-threatening for a patient". "You've got the people who are the least skilled, the least loyal and the least oriented who are the ones that are making more money than even the directors of the department. And you're sending them off to life and death situations." The head of emergency at a big regional hospital said he had to "fight tooth and nail for every doctor" employed there. "They just say no, no money. When you talk about safety they don't want to know about it."

The State Government blamed the doctor shortage on the Federal Government, saying it was not funding enough university places [But the universities are run by STATE governments!]. A spokeswoman for NSW Health said: "Clearly it is better to have full-time medical staff than to rely solely on the use of locums to backfill vacancies," she said.


The medicalization of misery

By Tanveer Ahmed

As a doctor working in mental health and within the public hospital system, I am a regular witness to those living on the bottom rungs of our society. They are the homeless, the drug addicts and those suffering from severe mental illness. More often than not, they are all three at once. I am struck by their amazing uptake of mental health language. They skilfully weave technical psychiatric language into their reporting of symptoms. As a result, comments such as "I'm pretty sure I'm coming down with a depressive disorder" or "I think I'm developing a personality defect" are not uncommon, even from people with minimal education.

This is in part a reflection of wider society and how the language of human distress has been overtaken by psychological terminology. I hear very few people tell me they are unhappy. They are almost always depressed, even if their life choices or circumstances would be perfectly consistent with them being miserable.

Increasingly they no longer suggest they feel depressed, but that they are getting depression, in the same way we may catch a cold. The consultation then moves to the awkward dance modern therapists play. I become the healer attempting to cure their condition, pretending somehow their malaise is one of biology and not of meaning. The result is that it can blind them to the possibility their actions may have played a role in their problems.

Barely a week goes by when we don't hear of the crisis in mental health. Rising depression, worsening drug and alcohol problems and a strained social sector make us think that despite our stupendous prosperity, we remain in some kind of existential abyss. It is a symptom of the market society and individualism that our grievances must be turned on to the self.

This is in spite of psychiatry remaining a hazy field, an arena where diagnosis and treatment are poorly correlated and where clinical energies focus on symptom relief. It is reflected further in the tremendous amount written about happiness studies. If being dissatisfied with life is pathological and health is a right, the implication is that happiness is also our birthright.

The use of psychiatric terminology is also more and more colloquial. During the Andrew Johns saga and his eventual secular confession, bipolar disorder was used widely in the press as a synonym for erratic behaviour. The former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, a tireless campaigner in raising awareness for depression, openly admits he uses the term not in its medical context, but as a synonym for emotional distress.

But just like fashion and baby names, language eventually filters down the social ladder. The dominance of mental health language in projecting our distress is of dubious value when applied to the most disadvantaged groups. Indeed, it may be complicit in helping them to maintain lives of dependence and misery, the sick role curing them only of their autonomy and personal responsibility.

Bureau of Statistics figures from 2005 show about a third of the 700,000 people receiving the disability pension have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This is a critical group because the vast majority are young and otherwise physically able. Many could be in the prime of their lives. Forty years ago, fewer than in one in 30 working-age adults relied on welfare payments as the main source of income. The figure today is one in six. In particular, the proportion of the population on the disability support pension has doubled since 1981.

An important player in this debate is the doctor, for they determine if someone meets the criteria for disability. Patients who are on the margin of receiving the pension or Newstart will often ask to receive the pension. The disability pension is more generous than the unemployment benefit and there is little mutual obligation.

The sick role, however, comes with an obligation to seek and comply with treatment. The patient's compliance with treatment is the priority for a doctor. There are many times when giving in to a patient's wishes elsewhere can ensure their compliance with medication. The pension is often one such compromise. The flipside is that 90 per cent of those receiving disability pensions never return to the workforce. This is not a fact well known to professionals determining disability. Colleagues working in mental health were flabbergasted when they heard the figure.

For many on the margins of eligibility, there is an incentive to remain sick. The welfare market operates like any other - a better price will increase demand. This lack of incentive to take a more active role in society can strip them of meaning in their lives and perpetuate what may have started as mild mental illness. A feedback loop of disability, welfare and worsening mental health is created. This is a hidden factor straining both Australia's mental health and welfare systems. They are operating in a kind of pathological symbiosis.

This cycle describes many people who are said to be in a state of deep poverty. They are hardly poor in a historical sense, for they have enough money to eat and are housed, educated and medically treated by the state. In formulating their situation, poverty in this sense is more like a psychological condition than one determined by socioeconomics.

While the middle classes debate their happiness and psychiatry acquires a cultural prestige well beyond its powers, the poor inherit the new straitjacket of psychological language. It not only costs the taxpayer billions of dollars, but encourages recipients to wallow as victims of passive circumstance, stripping their lives of meaning and purpose.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

PM plans back to basics for nurse training

JOHN Howard has moved to dramatically overhaul nursing education, with a $170 million plan to build 25 privately operated nursing schools in hospitals. The radical shake-up, which will increase the number of nurses by 500 a year, involves a return to a traditional model of hospital-based training to supplement university-based degrees. The Prime Minister will reveal the plan in Sydney today in the first of a series of back-to-basics policy announcements aimed at battlers, the elderly and the bush, and designed to peg back Labor's huge poll lead.

The plan emerged last night with the news that the Government would also consider reviewing all pensions and offering retirees up to $30,000 in taxpayer-funded bonuses if they returned to work to help ease critical labour shortages.

The policy shifts came as the International Monetary Fund yesterday warned the Government against populist election initiatives, saying there should be no new government spending this year. In its annual review, the IMF praised the federal Government's handling of the economy as world-leading but cautioned against further stimulus to a stretched economy.

Coalition MPs were yesterday regrouping after a week of damaging leadership speculation that had many flirting with the idea ofdumping the Prime Minister and replacing him with Peter Costello. Having discarded the option of leadership change, the Government refocused yesterday, with senior ministers confirming Mr Howard would seek to turn the Labor tide by returning to his electoral roots with a large-scale policy revamp.

The new nursing schools will be modelled on the Government's 24 Australian Vocational Training Colleges, built by the commonwealth but run by community groups working with employers. The trainee nurses will provide immediate relief to hospitals suffering staff shortages. The courses will run for three years and students will emerge with a nationally recognised TAFE qualification - equivalent to university-based study. While they study, the commonwealth will subsidise their wages and also pay bonuses in the middle of their courses and at the end of their studies, to encourage their completion. Doctors, hospital administrators and private hospital employers will have input into the training programs to ensure the nurses emerge with skills sought by their industry.

According to a 2004 Australian Health Workforce Advisory Committee report, Australia will need up to 13,500 new registered nurses each year to meet the demand for nursing services over the next 10 years. In 2004 only 5631 nurses completed their training. Despite the shortfall, 2408 eligible applicants were turned away from university nursing courses last year because there were not enough places.

The Government's move is likely to be welcomed by the medical community because university training is often criticised as producing book-trained nurses with inadequate practical experience. The Government has already raised the plans with some hospitals and its announcement will come as the Australian Nursing Federation launches phase two of a four-week TV advertising campaign outlining the negative impact of the Howard Government's industrial relations laws on nurses working in aged care....

The new Government policy proposals followed heavy pressure from Labor yesterday. Kevin Rudd used parliamentary question time to pepper Mr Howard with questions aimed at convincing voters that the Prime Minister had no new policy ideas.


A modest proposal: Government-funded health "Trainers" for all

The Fascist writer below recognizes that people mostly ignore "health" messages so "make people behave" is the proposed solution. That people have any right to eat what they want is not recognized. Nor is it recognized that "health" wisdom often goes into reverse.

THE idea that taxpayers should subsidise weight loss programs sparked an outcry this week, but it is the first solid policy proposal we have seen to stem a health problem that is costing Australia billions. It comes on the back of calls for cartoon characters to be banned from food packaging, for a tax to be placed on high sugar breakfast cereals and as some hospitals ban surgery on obese people and smokers. Unlike a weight loss program, none of these proposals does anything to change behaviour. That's why both sides of politics say they are seriously considering the weight loss subsidy.

Sixty per cent of our population is overweight. The problem - in defiance of government advertising campaigns to eat more fruit and vegetables and do more exercise - is, like Australians, only getting bigger.

A study in the Medical Journal of Australia has found these public health messages are being absorbed by the public. But it also found this knowledge does not readily translate into behavioural changes. We know what's good for us - but we won't do it.

Every year our public hospitals treat 500,000 people for preventable illnesses. Every year over 50,000 people die from illnesses caused by their poor lifestyle. It's time we asked whether scarce public health dollars should be spent fixing up health problems that are caused by our own unhealthy habits. We're making the unemployed take some responsibility for the public funding they get by working for the dole. In Aboriginal communities bureaucrats have taken control of welfare payments so they can't be spent on alcohol and drugs. The health system is the next area ripe for the new responsibility agenda.

Why should taxpayers fund repeated heart by-pass operations unless the patient receiving them signs a contract agreeing to give up smoking, do 30 minutes of exercise a day and lose weight? What's the point of the public subsidising diabetes or cholesterol tablets if the patient won't exercise and continues eating fatty foods?

A National Heart Foundation study estimates that seven lifestyle factors - obesity, low fruit and vegetable consumption, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, low physical activity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure - cause 52,738 deaths in Australia every year - 39 per cent of all deaths. If we don't start heeding these public health messages (and it doesn't seem likely we will) that number is bound to get even worse.....

The answers aren't necessarily expensive or difficult. We all know what we've got to do to address these health problems: eat healthier food, eat less food overall, quit smoking, take up regular exercise, and control our alcohol intake. But knowing isn't doing. That's why we need to consider a more interventionist approach to preventive health.

The health fund Australian Health Management, which runs an intensive diet and exercise preventive health program, has found spending $600 a year on a personalised health management program for its chronically ill members saves the fund $1800 a year per person. This health fund has found a much more intensive personalised coaching approach to preventive health does pay off.

Instead of spending millions kitting out our ambulances, hospitals and morgues with beds and stretchers that can cope with the morbidly obese, perhaps we should be spending the money on personal coaches that help the chronically ill reinvent their lifestyles. This health fund shows why a subsidy for weight loss programs is worth a trial. The doctors group proposing the plan wants to keep its costs down to $27 million by restricting it to obese people at risk of a chronic illness . But the extra expense of extending it to all overweight Australians could save us much more than it costs.

Telling people what's good for them hasn't worked. If we want cheaper health insurance and lower taxes, it's time to make people take that 30 minute walk and cut down on their calorie intake.


Unify health systems to free up $4 billion

A reduction in bureaucracy is a commendable aim but abolishing health bureaucracies altogether would be much better. The many high-quality private hospitals show that no government bureaucracy at all is needed to run hospitals

AN extra $4 billion could be available to spend on patient treatment across Australia if duplication and inefficiency in the health system were fixed. The Australian Institute of Health Policy Studies argues that the nation's health services are not just financially inefficient but they also place Australians in physical danger. "Our healthcare system is unnecessarily dangerous and causes needless deaths and injuries, most of which we never hear about," said Monash University professor of public health Brian Oldenburg, a member of AIHPS. "(And) $4billion could be transferred into treating people without an added cent of taxpayers' money if we improved the productivity of health services."

Professor Oldenburg said there were large differences in healthcare efficiency among the states and territories. "The gap between the most efficient state (South Australia) and the least efficient (the Northern Territory) delivering healthcare (per patient) in public hospitals is 35 per cent."

The AIHPS will today release a paper calling for business to become more involved in efforts to reform the health system. "They are just beginning to realise how important it is to the economy and that the more a consumer spends on health, the less discretionary spending they have elsewhere," Professor Oldenburg told The Australian. As well, he said, "business leaders know how to get things done and that's what we need to have in this debate."

The AIHPS points to a report by the Productivity Commission, released in February last year, that identified billions that could be saved across the health sector. "It's the duplication, the unnecessary tests being conducted. It's no communication between hospitals and doctors on the one hand and community services on the other. It's also people being in hospital when they should be either supported in the community or in the aged care service." Early intervention programs for health problems such as diabetes should also be encouraged, as they had the potential to save thousands of hospital hours.

Despite strong recommendations contained in numerous previous inquiries, virtually none had been acted upon, said Peter Brooks, executive dean of the Health Sciences faculty at Queensland University. "Every opinion poll indicates that health is one of the most important issues for consumers in who wins their vote in federal elections," he said. "It's time for both major political parties to give the public the detail on how they will reform the health system."


Forced adoption for kids of addicts

THE forced adoption of infants and toddlers should be the first response of child protection authorities dealing with at-risk children whose parents are drug addicts, according to a federal government report. The parliamentary committee on families said children under the age of five whose parents were drug addicts would be better off being permanently adopted out rather than being "shunted" between foster carers. Children adopted under the scheme would never be returned to their parents, even if the parents stopped using drugs, although the proposal would not preclude contact visits, committee chairwoman Bronwyn Bishop said yesterday.

Ms Bishop said making adoption the default response put the onus on parents and departments of community services "to show why adoption shouldn't be an option". Ms Bishop said an "anti-adoption attitude" permeated Australia's child protection bureaucracy and that the report aimed to put the spotlight on the "collateral damage" caused to children by drug use. "There was so much need to look at the rights of the child - not the rights of the mother, not whether giving the child back to the parent is going to help them get better," she said.

Ms Bishop repeated her criticism of the "drug industry" of treatment services, counsellors and research organisations, accusing them of not wanting to put themselves "out of business" by eliminating drug addiction altogether. The "drug industry" had captured the term "harm minimisation" and given it the meaning of "reduction of drug use but not with the aim of having an individual made drug-free". "We find that that's an unacceptable way to go," she said. "The aim should be to make the individual drug-free. We have found those in the drug industry take an amoral stance; they say that by harm minimisation the question of morality is out of the equation and they make no judgment as to whether drugs are good or bad."

The 31 recommendations of the Winning It For The Kids: Protecting Families From Illicit Drugs report include adding controversial detox drug naltrexone to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and cutting funding to organisations that don't aim to make drug users drug-free. It also called for a review of the methadone program and recommended parents be banned from receiving takeaway doses of methadone if they were caring for, or had access to, their children.

Ross Fitzgerald, who advises the federal and NSW governments on illicit drugs, said he supported the report's effort to focus policy on abstinence rather than controlled or moderate use, but said suggestions such as forced adoption were "absolutely over the top". Despite delivering a minority report, the Labor Party did not issue responses to the individual recommendations, saying only that it would consider them if it formed government.

Brian McConnell, president of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, which made a submission to the committee, said the report was a "road map to disaster" that ignored evidence and research. "It is a disgrace that a committee of our national parliament should display the ignorance that it has done and close its mind to science and reason," he said. "The course of the inquiry has been a scandal, with the committee refusing to consider a mountain of scientific evidence that is out there in support of existing drug policy."

Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and director of the alcohol and drug service at Sydney St Vincent's Hospital, said the report was "very disapointing" because it favoured moralism over science. He said the forced adoption would be "wanton cruelty". [As if the present policy is not!] "It would be totally counterproductive," Dr Wodak said. "Drug users would never go near a doctor or a nurse or a counsellor then because they would be worried that their kids would be taken from them


Friday, September 14, 2007

Foreign doctors 'avoiding security checks'

OVERSEAS trained doctors are avoiding police security checks and assessments of their medical skills because of holes in the system. And more than 1000 doctors employed as trainees in NSW public hospitals are being used to plug workforce gaps before they have been properly trained.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Migration last night exposed serious concerns about the scrutiny applied to the 2500 overseas trained doctors entering Australia each year. The committee found hospitals had been using the 457 visa to get doctors into the country quickly because a police security check was not required under this visa. And it called for urgent action to improve both the security and skills checks on doctors entering the country.

Alarm bells were first raised with when Dr Jayant Patel was accused of causing patient deaths in Queensland. Fears grew when the Federal Government this year cancelled the visa of Dr Mohammed Haneef who was related to UK terror suspects. A state and federal plan to improve the checks has foundered because not all states have agreed to them. The parliamentary committee also said the number of occupational overseas trainee doctors employed in NSW hospitals had doubled from 725 to 1326 between 2001 and 2006.


Federal government housing pitch to counter Rudd surge

This should have been done long ago

PETER Costello will attempt to cripple Kevin Rudd's campaign on housing affordability by promising to release large parcels of commonwealth-owned land during the election campaign. Treasurer Peter Costello in Canberra after the decision that he will play a bigger role in the election campaign. The Treasurer has also vowed to defuse Labor's attack on the Government's Work Choices industrial relations laws by convincing Australians concerned about the laws that they have been duped by a union-backed advertising campaign.

Mr Costello outlined his stratgegy in an interview with The Australian last night in which he said the Opposition Leader was beatable, despite his lead in opionion polls, provided he was confronted on policy.

The Labor leader has campaigned hard on industrial relations and on his claim that the Government has been asleep at the wheel while the cost of housing and rental properties had grown out of the reach of many people. Mr Rudd has announced a series of proposals, including grants for councils to meet the cost of housing infrastructure such as sewers, greater rent subsidies for people paying more than 30 per cent of their income in rent and incentives for superannuation companies to invest in affordable rental property.

Asked what he proposed to do to make housing more affordable, Mr Costello stressed that land supply remained the key, rejecting the concept of using tax reform to boost investment in the low-cost housing sector. "If you get further investment into the housing market, you could actually push housing prices up," he said. "You have got to get supply-side measures in place - land." He said he had completed an audit of commonwealth-owned defence and CSIRO land and had indentified "substantial blocks" around cities that he hoped to release soon. "We are now looking at planning and environmental restrictions to see if we can get them on to the market," he said. "We are looking at these blocks to see if we can do our bit. We are appealing to the states to do their bit." Voters could expect to hear more during the election campaign, he said.

The Treasuer said Labor's battle against the Work Choices laws could be countered if the Government concentrated on bridging the gap between union advertising about Work Choices and the actual on-the-ground experience. He said he understood that the man on the street did not want to be ripped off. "I also think the man in the street is much more likely to have a job and a higher wage than under previous systems," Mr Costello said. "There is a conflict between what they are being told to fear and what they are actually experiencing. I think that as time goes by experience will win out over fear."

He also rejected Kevin Rudd's attempt to paint himself as a leader who could end the blame game between states and the commonwealth over services such as health and education. Mr Rudd was attempting to obscure the fact that state Labor governments were responsible for the poor services. Mr Costello said problems in service delivery almost universally originated from areas of state government responsibility, such as hospitals, transport and law and order, while people were satisfied with commonwealth-run services like social security, employment services and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. "Rudd is just patsying for the premiers," he said. "He doesn't want people to think for themselves and contrast the delivery of services by a federal Coalition government and the delivery of services by state Labor governments. If they did they wouldn't want a federal Labor government."

He said the commonwealth had provided the states with the growing revenue from the Goods and Services Tax and that the answer to poor state services was to press the states to use the money more wisely. "It's about $40 billion between them per annum," he said. "We want them to use that revenue to produce good services. If people don't like the state government, instead of getting rid of the federal Government, get rid of the state government."


Pregnant women with diabetes refused treatment

You can rely on your government to look after you

A Ballarat University study has found some rural doctors are refusing treatment to pregnant women with type one diabetes. Doctors are reportedly worried that rural medical services would be insufficient to deal with diabetic complications during pregnancy.

The seven women interviewed as part of the national study say there's a lack of information on managing blood glucose levels during pregnancy. They say they rely on websites for information.

Ballarat University lecturer, Associate Professor Rosemary King, says the woman are deflated by the attitudes of some health professionals. "Being told that they might miscarry or the baby might die or they might have abnormalities... particularly when you're pregnant or you're wanting to be pregnant you're pretty vulnerable to those sorts of messages," she said. "[The women] really thought that people were being not very helpful and more judgemental and negative than constructive," Associate Professor King said.

She says the results are not surprising given the shortage of specialists in country areas. "We probably need to be thinking about how to have accessible information available both for professionals and for the women... how do we go about sort of finding out what it is that people want to know, how do we make the information available?" she said.


There is no conspiracy

By Andrew Bolt

MATTHEW Ricketson until last year headed RMIT University's school of journalism, teaching tomorrow's reporters how the media "really" works. Now The Age's media writer, Ricketson is flogging his views to a wider audience of the Left that's always up for conspiracy theories. Last weekend they got fed a ripe one, with Ricketson warning "something is afoot among columnists on Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspapers: "Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun and, yesterday, Janet Albrechtsen of The Australian, have abandoned their longstanding support for John Howard's prime ministership." Ricketson said: "Other News Limited columnists, such as Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of The Australian, and Steve Lewis of the Herald Sun have already jumped ship".

True enough, several News Ltd columnists - and not a single Fairfax one, strangely - have indeed seen the resignation of John Howard as inevitable and have said so. So, how does Ricketson interpret all this? He suggests only two options, both of which assume Murdoch gave his columnists orders to ditch Howard: "Is Murdoch creating public opinion, as is often alleged, or trying to catch the horse as it bolts from the PM?"

There is, of course, a third and obvious explanation, which Ricketson fails to mention: that Murdoch columnists simply write what they really think, reacting to events that are obvious to anyone with eyes to see and the courage to report. But Ricketson's preference for a conspiracy over reason is rampant among the Left and is even taking hold in the Right, too, as Howard's future now sinks with his polls.

Take Richard Farmer, Labor strategist and writer for an internet gossip site of former Fairfax editor Eric Beecher, who claims: "Murdoch tabloids (are) becoming friendlier to Labor" because "continuing with an anti-Labor campaign dominated by columnists Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt, only for Labor to still win, would put an end to the illusion of power, which Rupert Murdoch uses to his advantage so ruthlessly".

This theory that Murdoch orders his writers to speak his own mind is peddled by many of the usual suspects, from radical propagandist John Pilger to RMIT's journalism graduates. But here's the hitch: if Murdoch has dictated an anti-Howard line to his columnists, why did two of them, The Australian's Dennis Shanahan and Christopher Pearson, persist this past week in saying Howard should stay? Why was the Daily Telegraph's Piers Akerman - another Murdoch man - on the radio just yesterday, backing Howard and whacking me? Why was his colleague Malcolm Farr counselling Howard to stay? And why did it take until last week for Albrechtsen to argue what I've said for months? Boy, some conspiracy, when half the plotters are attacking the other half.

I know you can't change Ricketson's mind with facts, but I'd love to hear him explain why Murdoch's columnists, allegedly all singing in their master's voice, include such loud Leftists as Jill Singer, Phillip Adams, Paul Syvret, Jim Soorley and's Tim Dunlop. Or have him try to work out why I keep fighting our global warming hysteria, when Murdoch says we must give the planet "the benefit of the doubt".

Sorry, Matthew, but Murdoch figured long ago that debate sold papers - and readers were adults with the brains to hear both sides of an argument and decide for themselves. That's why there are more Left-wing columnists on Murdoch's Australian papers than there are Right-wing presenters on the ABC. If Ricketson really has a nose for conspiracy, why won't he sniff at Aunty instead?


Thursday, September 13, 2007

"The Never-Never Declaration - An APEC Reality Check"

A press release below from Australian group, "The Carbon Sense Coalition" ( -- in the wake of the strong climate focus during the recent APEC meeting of heads of government in Sydney

The Carbon Sense Coalition today called for a Royal Commission of Enquiry [an independent but government-funded judicial enquiry with wide powers] into the scientific evidence for man-made climate cvhange. The Chairman of "Carbon Sense", Mr Viv Forbes, said that the Sydney APEC Declaration was a clear signal that most APEC nations are not going to swallow the pseudo-science and economic poison being peddled by Dark Greens from yesterday's states like Europe and New Zealand.

The APEC nations told Australia, as politely as possible "You may commit economic suicide if you wish, but we are not going to put our feet on the sticky paper." This "Never-Never" declaration is a warning call that Australia should re-examine the basis for its enormous waste of money on "Global Warming".

China and India recognise clearly that "Global Warming" is just another European plan to hobble economic competition from Asia. The Global Warming Scam would deny cheap clean power to millions of energetic Asians.

France closed its last coal mine in 2004 and is now heavily dependent on nuclear power. German coal mines are no longer economic, and even in Britain, fewer than 5,000 coal miners work the mines that once fuelled an empire. Thanks to their Dark Greens, Europe is now dependent on imported coal for steel production and gets its power from imported uranium and gas piped in from Russia and beyond.

France has always envied and feared the cheap and abundant coal of the Anglo American world. The world dominance of Britain and then America in steel, manufacturing, metals, steam, railways, electricity and naval power was fuelled by coal, supported later by oil. China and India are about to tread the same road. The Dark Greens of Europe, secretly supported by their decaying industrialists, fear the growing power, energy and competitiveness of these emerging giants.

This is not about climate - it is about using public hysteria to benefit certain countries, business interests and ideologies. There was no declaration of carbon emission targets from last week's Russian delegation to Queensland. Russian scientists are not sucked in by distortions, exaggerations, half truths and poor science being peddled by the likes of Al Gore and Bob Brown.

The Russians, the Arabs, the Indians and the Chinese cannot believe the apparent stupidity of the English speaking world. They have no intention of adding to their energy costs or forcing their businesses to waste money on dreamtime research such as carbon sequestration - they are cynically planning exploit the declining competitiveness of western industries and to milk stupid westerners of any "carbon offset credits" they can find or invent.

There is already a groundswell of opposition from well informed scientists, engineers and individuals all over the world to the lack of evidence supporting the Greenhouse Religion. A recent scientific conference in Melbourne organised by the Lavoisier Society drew scientists and delegates from all over Australia and South Africa. Even the PM's own backbench contains well informed climate sceptics, and the ranks of scientific sceptics are growing all over the world.

A Royal Commission taking evidence from more than a few government or United Nations hacks would soon establish the facts that:

* 1934 was the hottest year of the twentieth century.

* There was no global warming from 1940 to 1980, a time when CO2 emissions grew strongly.

* There has been no global warming since 1998.

* Current temperatures are not extreme or unusual.

* Past records and scientific evidence show that changing surface temperature is more likely to be a cause (not a result) of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

* CO2 and water vapour have always been essential components of the atmosphere. Neither is toxic, both tend to retain some of the sun's warmth, and both are absolutely essential and beneficial to all life on earth.

* The most likely causes of variations in surface temperature are connected with solar cycles, variations in the heat output of the sun and eras of volcanic activity.

* More CO2, water vapour and warmth in the atmosphere would be a boon to most of humanity.

* There is empirical evidence to suggest that earth's temperature is more likely to fall than rise - ice ages are more normal than today's balmy climates.

* There is significant scientific opposition to the proposition that man's emissions of CO2 are causing global warming or any other harm.

Earth's climate is always changing and we must do what every generation of our ancestors did - "adapt to whatever nature has in store for us". Our ability to adapt is severely reduced by crippling our economy and misdirecting billions of dollars of research funds into nonsense like carbon sequestration or rich man's toys like windmills and solar panels.

While billions of dollars are being spent on na‹ve attempts to build ever more complex computer models of atmospheric heat circulation, our oceans are largely unexplored. The vast deposits of methane under our oceans are both a threat and a promise for future generations, but too little research is being done in this field. And the hundreds of thousands of undersea volcanoes, which may hold the key to past and future climate change, remain largely unmapped and un-monitored.

Australia, an island almost alone in the Great Southern Ocean which circles the globe, should take the lead in ocean research instead of letting scheming politicians from abroad mis-direct our research priorities to spurious questions.

The depersonalization of government medicine continues apace

HOSPITAL patients in Queensland are to be stamped with barcodes in a move to prevent operations being performed on the wrong body parts. Last financial year 31 mistaken procedures were performed, including three cases of the wrong tooth extracted and two operations on the incorrect part of patients' spines. In another instance, a person's left tonsil was removed in error and a separate patient had botox injected into the wrong body part.

Queensland Health's Patient Safety Centre senior director John Wakefield presented the figures to a Royal Australasian College of Surgeons state meeting near Cairns. They represented a huge increase on 2005-06 numbers, when six such cases were recorded, but Dr Wakefield said the centre had been actively encouraging public hospital staff to report incidents. "You might think: 'Oh gosh, how do these things happen?' " he said. "But as medicine has become more complex and we get people through the system quicker, there's more opportunities for mistakes to be made. "It usually happens in very busy hospitals. A major Brisbane hospital when I was working there three years ago had 22 operating theatres. That's a surgical factory."

Dr Wakefield said although the mistakes were rare, with more than 800,000 patients admitted to Queensland public hospitals in 2006-07, they were all preventable. "For the vast majority, there was very little harm but we regard all these errors potentially as leading to serious harm," Dr Wakefield said outside the meeting. "We're unearthing a problem, a risk in our system, which we've got to fix."

An analysis of the cases found patient misidentification was a significant cause of the problem. Dr Wakefield said Queensland Health planned pilot projects to eliminate the problem, including a study into the benefits of barcoding patients. "In the US veterans' health system, basically every patient has a barcode on the normal hospital wristband as well as their name and date of birth," he said. "It's a big technical investment but we'd like to explore that. "It doesn't just protect against patient misidentification, it protects against the wrong drug being administered as well."


Australians to be paid to lose weight?

Many Australians who have recently been through what now passes for an Australian education will probably be unaware that the quote in the above cartoon is from a much-loved Australian poem by A.B. Paterson, called "The Man from Snowy River". Zeg appears to think that money might get results

TAXPAYERS should subsidise 12-week weight loss programs for overweight Australians, a leading doctors group says. The Australian General Practice Network also wants $40 million spent on a national program to teach good parenting techniques. And it is pushing for general practice nurses to visit nursing homes and carry out home visits to check on elderly and frail patients.

The network is calling on major parties to commit in this year's election to pay 75 per cent of the cost of a 12-week weight loss program, such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. The $170 subsidy would be triggered by a doctor's referral. Doctors would get feedback about a patient's progress six weeks into the program.

Subsidising weight-loss courses would cost taxpayers $27 million a year. The GP Network says evidence shows obesity is linked to low-income status. "Effective weight management programs do exist but access to them can be difficult," it says. "Fees to attend can be prohibitively high."


Feds support private universities

THE latest round of higher education place allocations cements a plan by John Howard for private providers to be as important in tertiary education as they are in school education. Of 375 new teaching places announced by federal Education, Science and Training Minister Julie Bishop yesterday, more than 50 per cent went to Christian institutions including Avondale College (NSW), Tabor College (Adelaide and Melbourne), the University of Notre Dame (Sydney and Perth) and the Christian Heritage College (Brisbane). These colleges won just over 10 per cent of the 2300 new commonwealth-supported places, or 260 places, including 200 for teaching and 60 for nursing. Last year private colleges received a lower proportion, just 6 per cent of 4600places. Ms Bishop defended the allocations, saying they were for places in accredited courses in areas of national priority.

In contrast with recent years, when regional and outer metropolitan campuses subject to low student demand have been favoured in the allocation of new places, Group of Eight universities featured prominently this year. The University of NSW, Sydney, Adelaide, Monash, Melbourne and the University of Western Australia all were granted more than 100 places each.

Ms Bishop said allocations were based on national and state priorities and fields of workforce shortage. There are more new places in engineering than any other discipline, at 560, followed by nursing (395) and science (390). Ms Bishop said all institutions that applied and were eligible had been granted places. An unprecedented number, 15, did not apply. "This is strong evidence that we have now created as many commonwealth-supported places that are needed to meet eligible student demand," Ms Bishop said. These were the last places to be allocated under the Backing Australia's Future plan for more than 39,000 places over 10 years.

Alan Robson, vice-chancellor of the UWA and incoming president of the Group of Eight research intensive universities, said it was not surprising that Go8 universities had applied for and received more places. "I think the Group of Eight mainly are the universities of first choice for students and hence, when there is a weakening of demand, it filters less into the Group of Eight," he said.

Among regional universities, only Sunshine Coast, Charles Darwin and Ballarat applied for 2008 places. Last year several regional universities including Southern Queensland and James Cook struggled to fill their places, as did Edith Cowan University in Perth. The Government has also revealed figures showing private providers are blitzing public universities in the market for full-fee paying domestic undergraduate places.

Contrary to a recent erroneous media report seized on by the Australian Labor Party and National Union of Students, the number of domestic full-fee paying students in award courses at public universities has risen a modest 6.9 per cent, comparing enrolments for the first half of 2005 with the first half of 2006. That category of enrolments increased by 24 per cent for the private universities, Bond and Notre Dame, during the same period. Among other private higher education providers accredited for the FEE-HELP student loan scheme, domestic full-fee paying enrolments rose by 95 per cent to more than 8000.

Ms Bishop said this showed students were discerning in their choice of educators. "No eligible student is forced to take a place at a private university because there are now sufficient commonwealth-supported places. This is evidence that students are making choices based on factors other than (the availability of government places)." Quality, flexibility in course provision and the availability of niche courses might be among the factors, she said.

University of Adelaide acting vice-chancellor Fred McDougall said the institution was very happy with the additional 235 places, which fit with the university's strategic plan to increase student numbers from 16,000 to 20,000. He said most of the courses targeted areas of high demand such as engineering and mining as well as nursing and other health sciences. "Clearly, given the mining boom, it was important to get extra places in engineering," Professor McDougall said. He said the extra federal funding also allowed the university to establish South Australia's first veterinary school. "We know there is unmet demand nationally for students wanting to study veterinary science," Professor McDougall said. "A new school will help to slow the brain drain of students from South Australia who are leaving to study at vet schools interstate or overseas." ...


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Learn from Asia

THERE is much to learn from successful overseas systems, but some Australian educationalists argue that all is well and we need not change. Education, especially in the classroom, in countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea is characterised as inflexible, outdated and conservative. Not so. Research published in The Chinese Learner, edited by David Watkins and John Biggs, as well as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study-related videotapes of Japanese classrooms demonstrate that Asian classrooms are interactive and lessons deal with concepts and skills as well as facts.

APEC has a role in strengthening education, a source of prosperity, in member economies, including ours. Beginning in 1993, the APEC Education Network has met regularly to collect information describing the education systems of members and to research topics such as mathematics and science education, the place of information and communication technologies in the classroom and ways to achieve an increase in the number of multilingual citizens. Australia has much to learn from members' education systems that achieve world's-best results in international tests such as the TIMSS. Held every four years, the TIMSS tests measure student performance in mathematics and science curriculums at middle-primary and lower and final years of secondary school.

Since the tests began in 1995, Australian students have performed above average, but we are in the second XI when it comes to results. While we like to win in sport, in education we are consistently beaten by students from Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. In the 2003 TIMSS test, out of 49 countries, Australia was ranked 14th in Year8 mathematics and 10th in science. At Year4 level, our students were placed 16th in mathematics and 11th in science. Of concern, when compared with Australia's results in the 1999 tests, is that countries we once outperformed now achieve better results. Indeed, notwithstanding the millions spent on curriculum development and the changes forced on hapless teachers, such was Australia's relatively poor performance that Geoff Masters, the chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research and a strong supporter of outcomes-based education, has admitted that all is not well.

"During the 1990s, considerable effort went into the reform of curriculums for the primary and middle years of schooling in Australia, resulting in new state curriculum and standards frameworks," he says. "In the same period, education systems introduced system-wide testing programs to monitor student and school achievement. It is not clear that these efforts have improved levels of mathematics and science performance in Australian primary schools."

Some other APEC-member education systems are able to get more students to perform at the highest level when compared with Australia. In the 2003 test, only 9 per cent of Year8 students reached the advanced level, compared with 25 per cent from Taiwan and 15per cent from Japan. In mathematics, only 7per cent of our Year8 students achieved the advanced level, compared with 44 per cent of students from Singapore.

It also needs to be noted that while Australian students are in the second XI -- as a result of OBE's focus on nurturing self-esteem rather than telling children when they have failed -- our students regard themselves as highly confident and successful. By comparison, students from Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, even though they perform at the top of the table, do not feel as confident. Why are Australian students underperforming? One reason is that, since the early 1990s, Australian states and territories, to varying degrees, have adopted an OBE model of curriculum. With this model, the focus is on teachers facilitating rather than teaching information. Students are described as "knowledge navigators"' and essential content gives way to new-age generic competency and skills.

As noted last year with Tasmania's so-called Essential Learnings and the debacle represented by forcing OBE into years 11 and 12 in Western Australia, it is also the case that the types of syllabus documents given to Australian teachers are second-rate. Not only are OBE curriculum documents full of jargon and edubabble, but what students are expected to learn is couched in hundreds of vague, confusing and vacuous learning statements that drown teachers in useless detail.

Stronger-performing education systems within APEC never experimented with OBE. More formal approaches to teaching are emphasised and, as a result, students have a clear idea of what is expected of them. There is less disruption and students, given regular testing and feedback, know where they stand in the class. The curriculum is academically based, competition is valued and students are rewarded for success. Teachers are also given clear, concise, year-level syllabuses that detail what needs to be taught. The last point is critical. Unlike in Australia, where teachers are supposed to be curriculum experts and each school has to reinvent the wheel in terms of mapping out what is to be taught, overseas education systems make more time available for teachers to mentor one another and to strengthen classroom practice.

The federal Labor Party and the Coalition Government have both announced that Australia is to have a national curriculum. One approach is to rely on those responsible for Australia's adoption of the OBE model to do the work, in particular the Australian Council for Educational Research and the Curriculum Corporation. As an alternative, given those APEC systems that consistently achieve results that place them at the top of the table in the TIMSS mathematics and science tests, why not look internationally and evaluate any new model of curriculum against overseas best practice?


Amazing claim: School counsellor says pedophile "loved" schoolgirls

A SCHOOL counsellor employed by the Government to help teenage girls has supported a pedophile in court, describing Gary Faux as caring and loving to his victims. Heatherhill Secondary College student welfare co-ordinator Robyn Hughes appeared in the County Court on behalf of Faux, who admitted sexually abusing two schoolgirls. "He cared about them and he loved them," Ms Hughes said during a pre-sentence plea hearing before Judge Jeanette Morrish. Ms Hughes, who also sits on the Heatherhill school council, is a friend of Faux and told the court she was not concerned he may have been manipulating the girls.

The County Court was told Faux took sexually explicit videos and photographs of himself having sex and performing indecent acts with the 16-year-old girls, who did not attend Heatherhill school. Some were taken while one of the girls was wearing her school uniform. The court was told Faux, who was 48 at the time, gave one of the girls alcohol, cigarettes, compact discs, concert tickets and money, and performed sexual acts after encouraging her to wag school. She told police Faux would give her $50 to take photos of her.

Ms Hughes told the court "in normal relationships you buy gifts for each other". She agreed with prosecutor Kevin Doyle the relationship was completely inappropriate, but said Faux had not seen it as "a normal non-sanctioned relationship". "He shared things about himself with the girls, personal things about himself that he wouldn't share with anyone he didn't care about," she said. Ms Hughes told the court she thought Faux believed he was "having an equal relationship with the girls". "I didn't think he felt he was in a position of power in that relationship. I think he cared for them as any relationship does," she said.

Ms Hughes told Judge Morrish that dealing with young people's problems was her specific role at Heatherhill Secondary College, where she was acting assistant principal when she gave evidence.

Judge Morrish sentenced Faux to five years' jail with a minimum of three years. Faux had earlier pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual penetration and eight counts of indecent acts with a 16-year-old under care, supervision or authority. Police believed the offences started when the girls were 15, but could not prove the dates. Judge Morrish was told the charges had been resolved after negotiation and involved rolled-up counts of more than one incident in each charge.

The mother of two girls sexually abused by Faux said yesterday she was horrified Ms Hughes was still counselling girls. "I'm appalled. She shouldn't be dealing with kids," the mother said. "She doesn't even know my girls. She's never met them yet she's made that sort of outrageous assumption. "I just can't believe that the Education Department is turning a blind eye to someone with that attitude being in that sort of position".

Both the education department and the principal of Ms Hughes' school have told the Herald Sun her comments were none of their business. Ms Hughes hung up when contacted by the Herald Sun and asked to respond to criticism of her behaviour. Heatherhill principal Heather Lindsay also refused to comment. "It's purely a matter for the individual concerned," she said. An Education Department spokeswoman, Anna Malbon, also failed to address parents' concerns about Ms Hughes. "The teacher acted as a private citizen. In no way was she representing the school or the department," Ms Malbon said. She said the department had "no role in this case".

Faux denied taking sexually explicit photographs or videos of the girls until police found them when his unit was searched. Police also found two lists describing sexual positions and activities, which Faux later admitted during an interview were ideas he had for one of the girls. The Crown case was that Faux was guilty of a profound breach of trust and was motivated by lust. Prosecutor Kevin Doyle said there had clearly been a degree of grooming of the girls before sexual activity began. He said Faux regularly told one of the girls he had given her so much she should give something back.

Defence counsel Reg Keating told the judge Faux had been addicted to gambling and marijuana but was now being treated. He said Faux had suffered enormously during his life through the loss of people for whom he cared. Psychologist Sharon Groch said Faux's behaviour was not predatory. The court was told Faux suffered a stress-related heart problem caused by a blood clot last February and had been on sick leave since.


Stupid Australian consumer watchdog hates Google but doesn't quite know why

Blind Freddy can see that search results and advertisements are separate. If the ACCC cannot, it suggests that they still live in the fountain pen era

The consumer watchdog suffered a blow in its mammoth court case against Google Inc, when a judge said yesterday its court documents were almost "incomprehensible", "opaque" and "somewhat repetitious". The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was ordered to write out summaries of its key allegations against various Google companies to clarify its case.

The ACCC launched court action against Google and its subsidiaries in July, alleging misleading and deceptive conduct. The watchdog claims Google does not clearly distinguish between "organic" search results and "sponsored links", which are advertisements. Google says it is clear that the wording "sponsored links" and coloured shading indicates those listings are advertisements.

In a further blow yesterday, the judge hearing the case, James Allsop, said correspondence between the parties made it "tolerably clear" the ACCC did not have a misleading and deceptive case against subsidiaries Google Ireland and Google Australia as their pleadings currently stood. The parties were in court yesterday to ask the judge for separate orders. The watchdog asked the judge to give it permission to serve court documents on Google Inc and Google Ireland, which are outside the Australian jurisdiction. Google Ireland and Google Australia asked the judge to rule the case against them be thrown out of court, because there was no evidence they had engaged in any of the alleged conduct.

Justice Allsop said he would reserve his decision on those matters but made several comments on the documents he had seen so far, in which the ACCC had provided numerous definitions of internet-related concepts, some of which required further definition. "It becomes very difficult to succinctly and precisely explain matters using this technique and with respect it had caused many of the problems identified by (Google's barrister) Mr (Tony) Bannon as to lack of clarity," Justice Allsop said. "Very often an inability to express a proposition with the clarity (required) reflects something wrong with the proposition."

Earlier, Justice Allsop asked the ACCC's barrister, Christine Adamson, to give further details to back its claim that members of the public had been misled by Google. "These representations would have been made where?" Justice Allsop asked? "To the world you say. "Let's narrow it down to the Australian public. Where are those representations made?" Ms Adamson replied: "By Google itself but also in quite a lot of websites."

The ACCC's barrister also cited Google's annual report as a place where customers were told that search results were given by relevance to a user's inquiry. "This is evidence you need to identify in a pleading, how it is the representation has arisen," Justice Allsop said. Justice Allsop ordered the ACCC to file two-page summaries clarifying its position against the various subsidiaries.

Google Australia spokesman Rob Shilkin said the company had said from the outset that the case was wrongly based.


Victorian Leftists defend selective schools

LABOR has launched an assault on the Greens for their policy to phase out selective government high schools such as MacRobertson Girls High. The ALP has funded a mail-out highlighting Greens education policy ahead of this weekend's Albert Park and Williamstown by-elections. Labor's claims have been branded a lie by the Greens.

Former MacRob student Sue Loukomitis yesterday said she approached the ALP to assist after hearing of the "kooky" Greens policy. The policy states that the Greens would work towards "phasing out selective schools, streaming and other models in the government system".

Ms Loukomitis is a former Labor member who works for Auspoll, which is the party's pollster. She does not live in the Albert Park electorate where the letter was distributed. ALP candidate Martin Foley said education had emerged as one of the key issues in Albert Park. "People want to see a good-quality public school option in their community," Mr Foley said.

Labor state secretary Stephen Newnham yesterday compared the Greens' education blueprint with their now-abandoned policy of decriminalising drugs. "The letter is completely accurate. They actually want to shut these schools," Mr Newnham said. The letter does not mention the ALP or Mr Foley, and the only indication the letter is from Labor is fine print declaring it was authorised by Mr Newnham. Labor made a dramatic U-turn on selective schools just before the November election last year, promising two new schools for talented students.

Greens MP Greg Barber dismissed Labor's interpretation of its education policy. "This is a lie. The Greens won't shut down any school," Mr Barber said. Voters this Saturday will choose replacement MPs for former premier Steve Bracks and his deputy, John Thwaites.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A man with one blind spot (apparently)

The writer of the excerpt below is Clive Hamilton, executive director of the Leftist Australia Institute. He starts by acknowledging how baseless political scares usually are so the naive reader might think him plausible when he says that global warming is the exception. It's a clever approach from a diehard warmist but when he gets to the point of hinting at the need to "suspend" democracy, I hope most people can see the Stalinist behind the mask.

His lack of intellectual seriousness can also be seen in his reliance on the pronouncements of chief climate hysteric James Hansen -- who in typical Stalinist style relies of fudged statistics to make his case. If his statistics are not fudged, why will he not release the raw data on which they are based? It's a gross breach of normal scientific procedure not to give open access to your data so Hansen's refusal speaks for itself. It shows he has much to fear from independent examination of his work. Even with the roadblocks put up by Hansen, McKitrick recently found glaring errors in Hansen's statistics so the unreliability of what Hansen says is more than mere suspicion. Hamiliton should know all that but his aim is obviously propagation of panic, not the propagation of truth

POLITICAL actors typically engage in exaggeration to advance their agenda, and in the case of climate change the situation is no different. The Labor Party exaggerated the likely damage due to the introduction of the GST, despite the fact that Paul Keating wanted to introduce just such a tax. The Coalition is exaggerating the economic effects of Labor's industrial relations policy. Social-welfare campaigners often overstate the extent of poverty, hoping that appreciation of the magnitude of the problem will spur the public or politicians into doing something about it. Environmental campaigns are no different. Environmentalists have often overstated the effects of environmental decline.

The risks of nuclear power, though considerable, have been exaggerated. The dangers of urban air pollution have been inflated. The threats posed by DDT, lead pollution and pesticides, while significant, have usually been presented as much scarier than they actually are. And the likely effects of genetically modified crops have been blown out of proportion. The purpose of political exaggeration is to stimulate stronger emotional responses, usually fear, and make us more likely to act in the way desired. When your opponents are busily exaggerating the other way, the pressure is almost irresistible.

Yet there is one area where the opposite is the case, where the protagonists on one side have for years systematically understated the dangers. Climate scientists have been afraid to talk about the true extent of the dangers of global warming. Those who have looked closely at what the scientists are concluding believe that the truth is so frightening that, if told, it will stop people from acting, rather than stimulate them to do more. There is a cavernous gap between the urgency of the warnings from science and the political response to it. The concern among the public is way ahead of that of our politicians but it remains true that the public simply has no grasp of the magnitude of the disaster that looms ahead of us.

Nowhere in the rich world, except perhaps in the US, is this radical disconnect greater than in Australia. In June the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics carried a paper by James Hansen and others clarifying the danger of human-induced climate change. Hansen is widely recognised as the world's most eminent climate scientist. The authors concluded that an additional warming of 1C above the year-2000 level will have effects that "may be highly disruptive", using expected sea-level rise as the best indicator of danger. A 1C increase above the 2000 level means an average temperature increase of about 1.7C above the pre-industrial age average. The authors' analysis suggests that this "tipping point" is almost locked in.

They acknowledge that avoiding this danger point is "still technically feasible" but in practice keeping global temperatures from rising by less than 2C is now beyond us. As industrial activity in China and India increases, the effects of global warming will be intensified. In short, we are already past the point that locks in 2C of warming, and will without question go well beyond it. Even a 3C rise is looking very hard to avoid. Very few people, even among environmentalists, have truly faced up to what the science is telling us.

This is because the implications of 3C, let alone 4C or 5C, are so horrible that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of "emergency" responses such as the suspension of democratic processes.

More here

A thug "protester"

The Stalin types are ever with us

AN APEC protester threw a dart into a police officer's skull before attacking other officers with a metal pole, a court heard yesterday. Gavin George Begbie, 40, is facing 12 charges over the alleged attack on police in Sydney during Saturday's demonstrations. Mr Begbie was one of the five people arrested and kept in custody following 18 arrests. The group yesterday faced Sydney's Parramatta Bail Court via audio visual link from the Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills.

Two of the protesters, including Marcelea Fabiola Olea, 31, from Victoria, were granted bail. Police allege Ms Olea, who was filming the rally, punched a policeman in the face. Three others, including Mr Begbie, were remanded in custody by Magistrate Kevin Flack.

Mr Begbie, a part-time farmhand from Pimlico in northern NSW, allegedly threw a dart at Chief Insp Mark Death about 11.30am on Saturday. It is alleged the metal-tipped dart pierced the officer's baseball cap and the point lodged in his skull. According to police documents tendered to the court, when other officers tried to arrest Mr Begbie, he swung a metal pole covered in newspaper at them and then struck Constable Michael Nolan in the forehead, causing him to bleed profusely.

Police allege Mr Begbie lashed out at two other officers, allegedly striking one in the thigh and arm and the other in the nose and back, before he was restrained and taken into custody. Police allege he said: "I didn't even get the guy in the eye. What's the big deal?"

Police prosecutor Andrea Rodriguez strongly opposed bail. "There are multiple assaults on multiple police officers ... throwing of a metal dart, embedding someone's skull and hitting a police officer with a metal pole requiring four stitches," Sgt Rodriguez told the court. Mr Begbie faces four counts of assaulting police, five of resisting arrest and one count of throwing a missile.

The five accused were not arrested in restricted APEC areas and face charges including assaulting police, resisting arrest and hindering police.

Mr Begbie, Andrew Edward Pearson, 37, of the Sydney suburb of Balmain and Stephen Martin, 25, of Queensland, were refused bail and were remanded in custody to appear before Sydney's Central Local Court today. Daniella Olea said she was with her sister Marcelea at the protests and that they were both independent filmmakers. She said she witnessed the entire incident with police and said her sister did not assault police. "We were filming and they (the police) basically wanted the camera. That's what they wanted and that's what they were trying to get," the 25-year-old said.


$30 a fortnight extra promised for veterans' affairs

Smart move

LABOR stands to gain the backing of the veterans' community after unveiling a $55 million plan to increase pensions for former Diggers and war widows. In a pre-election pitch to the 175,000 services community, Kevin Rudd will tomorrow promise to increase pensions by up to $30 per fortnight for all disabled war veterans.

The promise, to be made by the Opposition Leader during a keynote speech to the RSL National Congress, follows a strong campaign by veterans to have pension increases pegged to a higher annual rate. Labor's plan will affect nearly 140,000 disabled war veterans who have served in some of history's bloodiest conflicts, including World War II and the Vietnam War. But it will also flow to veterans injured during more recent conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan and the UN-led peacekeeping efforts in East Timor.

"Veterans have sacrificed so much for our nation and they deserve more than having this Government tell them they have never been better off," Mr Rudd said. "This announcement is a further step by Labor on the road to ensuring that our veterans and their widows receive the compensation that they so richly deserve."

The RSL and other veterans' groups have been lobbying the Government for years to index all disabled veterans and war widows pensions to the higher rate, known as MTAWE. Mr Rudd said the increased pension payment would see veterans earning up to $30 extra per fortnight. "Our veterans and their widows have paid a very high price for their service to our country. This is about fixing an injustice," he said.

Last night, the RSL national president Bill Crews said war veterans would be thrilled by the Labor announcement. "Currently there is an inequity because these pensions have been falling behind the cost of living," Mr Crews said. He expected Labor to win plaudits from the RSL. "We'll tell our members that Labor has signed up to it (the higher pension plan)," he said. "But we are not playing favourites here."

Labor's veterans affairs spokesman Alan Griffin said the commitment on pensions would take effect from September 2008. "We have listened to our nation's veterans and their widows and we have responded to their concerns," Mr Griffin said. He said veterans from recent conflicts were already needing assistance as a result of their injuries. "The Howard Government has steadfastly refused to index the domestic component of the war widows' pension."


Amazing defence of false allegations

With constant false allegations against teachers by vindictive girls, it is minimal justice for all allegations to be shielded from publicity unless and until a guilty verdict is reached

A PARENTS' group has attacked union calls for teachers accused of misconduct to be spared being named and shamed.

The Australian Education Union said teachers who were hauled before disciplinary hearings, including those being investigated for sexual misconduct with minors, should remain anonymous unless found guilty. The union suggested the ban in its submission to a government review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching. AEU state president Mary Bluett said the VIT's practice of naming accused teachers who were found not guilty was ruining careers. "Anyone can make an accusation to the VIT and the VIT must investigate it," Ms Bluett said. "For a teacher who is not guilty, simply being named can be enough for some schools to avoid employing that teacher."

Gail McHardy from Parents Victoria said the ban could make a teacher think twice about the consequences of making a wrong choice. "Why should teachers be treated any differently than any other professional or member of the public?" she said.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Treaty tightens US military ties

AUSTRALIA'S defence co-operation with the US will be significantly upgraded under a new treaty that gives unprecedented access to the latest American military technology and equipment. The deal will provide lucrative opportunities for Australian companies to tap into leading US defence projects, including the $15billion Joint Strike Fighter project. The treaty will also ease restrictions on the purchase of Australian-made defence equipment by the US. The treaty was among several new measures, including more joint training and military exchanges, announced yesterday by John Howard and US President George W.Bush.

The measures usher in a new era of defence co-operation between the two allies, who have already forged closer links in recent years through their shared military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Bush described the new Treaty on Defence Trade Co-operation as an important step for the two countries. "It helps cut through the bureaucracy so that we can transform our forces better, share technology better and, frankly, enable our private sectors to work together to develop new defence capabilities to defend ourselves," he said.

The Prime Minister said the new defence initiatives were a significant enhancement of an already close relationship. He said the treaty would clear the red tape that had previously hampered Australian companies from acquiring US technology. Australia would now enjoy the same privileged access to the US market as British defence companies had.

Mr Howard said other measures included more joint training and operations with US forces. Joint training capability would be enhanced by the provision of additional support for training by US and Australian forces in Australia, and further co-operative efforts to develop access and capabilities for international surveillance and reconnaissance.

He also said Australia and the US would increase co-operation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to better cope with regional disasters such as the 2004 tsunami. This could involve the stationing by the US in Australia of equipment and stores that would be readily available for use in disaster relief in our immediate region, Mr Howard said.

The new defence trade treaty will allow the licence-free export of defence equipment, technology and information between Australia and the US, removing the logjam of delays caused by the slow licensing processes. It would also provide for greater access and sharing of equipment, technology, information and services between the twocountries, a Defence spokesman said.

Raytheon Australia, the country's leading missile systems integrator, said the treaty represented an important step forward insecurity co-operation with theUS. "It is a real plan for real jobs," said Raytheon Australia managing director Ron Fisher. "By giving Australia's emerging defence industry greater autonomy and enabling easier technology transfer, the agreement removes a big roadblock to the growth of jobs."


Aspirational climate goals needed - APEC

Tokenism is probably the safest electoral strategy at the moment

APEC leaders have agreed to the need for long-term aspirational goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Prime Minister John Howard said today, but they have not set any specific targets. "(They agreed) the need for a long-term aspirational, global emissions reduction, goal," he said in a statement read to camera.

After the conclusion of the first day of the APEC leaders' summit, Mr Howard released the so-called Sydney Declaration, which also requires all nations to be part of the solution to the global warming problem. "(It also includes) the need for all nations, no matter what their stage of development, to contribute according to their own capacity and their own circumstances to reducing greenhouse gases," Mr Howard said. The third component of the declaration is specific goals for the 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies on energy intensity and forestry, Mr Howard said.

The lack of specific greenhouse reduction targets was widely expected after a draft of the statement was leaked last month. "This is even worse than the low expectations people had because it doesn't even set a long-term aspirational goal, there's no figure like 50 per cent by 2050, or 20 per cent by 2020," Greenpeace's Ben Oquist said.

Mr Howard said the Sydney Declaration emphasised the "relevance of APEC". "It demonstrates that APEC is very much alive and kicking. It does illustrate again the strength in consensus-based diversity and informal meetings and this declaration does transcend a number of international divisions." The declaration affirms the primary importance of the United Nations framework to deal with climate change, a point China's President Hu Jintao indicated was critical to any agreement on the statement.

Mr Howard said APEC would add to the momentum on climate change, particularly a meeting of major economies dealing with the problem in Washington later this month and a UN forum in Bali in December. "The Sydney Declaration ... is very important in the march towards a sensible international agreement on climate change which recognises the need to make progress but also recognises that different economies bring different perspectives to addressing the challenge of climate change," he said.

In the statement, the APEC leaders declared their recognition that "economic growth, energy security and climate change are fundamental and interlinked challenges for the APEC region". "The dynamism of APEC, underpinned by open trade and investment, has reduced poverty, improved living standards and delivered economic and social development," the Sydney Declaration said. "Our success has relied in part on secure supplies of energy, the use of which has also contributed to air quality problems and greenhouse gas emissions. "We are committed, through wide-ranging and ambitious actions, to ensuring the energy needs of the economies of the region while addressing the issue of environmental quality and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions."

Mr Howard said it was a major international challenge to meet energy needs and development priorities while at the same time addressing the problem of climate change. "In the Sydney Declaration, the leaders have moved to forge a new international consensus," he said. "We are serious about addressing, in a sensible way compatible with our different economic needs, the great challenge of climate change. "Each of us comes to the APEC table with different perspectives, reflecting both our diversity and strengths. "And yet in the Sydney Declaration we have agreed on three very important and quite specific things."


More encouragement to have babies?

HISTORIC legislation will be introduced to the Senate this week that aims to make all working women eligible for 14 weeks' Government-funded maternity leave at the minimum wage. Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, the Australian Democrats' spokeswoman on the status of women, will introduce the Private Senator's Bill on Thursday.

She said a national scheme of paid maternity leave was long overdue. "Australia lags miserably behind the rest of the world. We are one of only two OECD nations, along with the United States, that don't provide it," she said. "There's been a clear lack of political will on both sides of politics, and a continual under-estimation of the needs of working women in this country. "The fact we have a gender pay gap as bad as it was in 1978 suggests to me that women and work issues have fallen off the agenda."

Senator Stott Despoja, who became a mother in 2004 to Conrad Stott Smith, said this was a serious election issue. "We need to hear from Labor and the Coalition about what they will do for working women generally, and their commitment to paid maternity leave." Only about a third of working women receive paid leave.

A Newspoll survey in June found more than 75 per cent of Australians supported a national paid maternity leave scheme. The Workplace Relations (Guaranteeing Paid Maternity Leave) Amendment Bill 2007 updates Senator Stott Despoja's 2002 Private Senator's Bill for paid maternity leave, to reflect changes to the Workplace Relations Act.


Don't have an accident on the weekend

MATTHEW Lawson was a code one patient who died at the scene of his accident near the Gold Coast. Despite his urgent need for medical treatment, it took ambulance officers 25 minutes to reach the father of two young daughters. Records obtained under Freedom of Information laws also reveal ambulance officers pressed the "on-scene button" more than five minutes before they actually arrived, a practice the Queensland Ambulance Service Commissioner has vehemently denied is used to falsify response-time records.

As concern continues to build about the state of our ambulance service, Mr Lawson's family desperately wants to know whether he could have been saved if medical treatment had been delivered sooner. Mr Lawson, 35, of Ormeau Hills, died about an hour after his motorbike collided with a car on August 26 last year at Ormeau, just a few minutes away from the closest ambulance station.

An ambulance spokeswoman said that station was closed on the weekends and the nearest operating station was about 10km away at Beenleigh. "At the time of the call, ambulance teams in the area were responding to a number of life-threatening cases, including two patients with chest pain and a patient with breathing problems," she said. Mr Lawson's family said they were told by a Queensland Health official that he might have been saved if medical help had arrived sooner because he most probably bled to death from his multiple fractures.

A coroner is investigating his death. An autopsy found he died of "multiple injuries due to a motorcycle accident". Mr Lawson's sister, Michelle Lawson, said the QAS was endangering lives with its lengthy response times. "It's just not fair. Matthew bled to death on the side of the road and I feel that the ambulance service and the Government as a whole are responsible for his death.," she said. "I think if the ambulance did get there within a certain time frame he probably could have survived."

Ambulance records show the first officers reached the scene at 6.19pm but treatment did not begin until 6.26pm after a second crew arrived. A statement from QAS said the time recording of 6.19pm was a mistake. "The Woodridge unit pressed the on-scene button at 6.19pm when adjacent to the incident but the crew then realised that they were unable to cross the Pacific Motorway at that location and had to proceed down the motorway to an exit and return along the service road to the incident," the statement said. The service also lost an electrocardiogram strip the family had requested.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Loosen curbs on our liberty

Comment from the publisher of "The Australian"

DAVID Marr's essay "His Master's Voice: The Corruption of Public Debate Under Howard", weaves such a tapestry of alleged lies, deception, censorship, intimidation and persecution that, if we believed it all, Australians should be in a state of despair. While I agree with Marr some of the time, I can't accept much of his reasoning (in his article, published in Quarterly Essay Issue 26). Debate in Australia is vibrant and intense at all levels of society and through all media: newspapers, radio, television, at public meetings, through the internet and in journals like this.

The problem I see is the degree to which the flow of information that generates or fuels informed debate has been stifled. When information is suppressed, our right to know how we are governed and how our courts dispense justice is diminished. Our democracy loses some of its spark. Unlike Marr, I think there are many underlying causes and I am optimistic (they) can befixed.

Marr's passionate analysis of life during John Howard's 11 years as Prime Minister is undermined by the zeal and doggedness of his ideology and jaundiced by his dislike of the man. The problems we now face have occurred at the hands of Australian governments of all political stripes and at federal, state and local levels. Many hundreds of statutes, some federal, some unique to different states, have cumulatively created a wall of prohibitions (that hampers) what Australians can know about how our governments and courts function. It is, quite frankly, unhelpful to lay all the blame at the gates of the Lodge.

Some of the worst examples of the erosion of free speech can be seen in the adoption of spin at all levels of government and business. Debates on issues as important as this should be conducted with a view to achieving change rather than polarising positions so that problems simply become entrenched. Government decision-makers are unlikely to be swayed by rhetoric describing Howard as an evil object of derision. For example, Marr's statement: "After being belittled for most of his political career, Howard came to power determined public debate would be conducted on his terms." Belittled for most of his political career? Really? Only by his political opponents.

Marr applauds actor Terry Servio's "devastating" portrait (of Howard) in the stage show Keating! The Musical that made him "a figure of fun, but strangely unfunny". Do these observations advance the cause of free speech? Marr accuses the Government of discrediting its critics to undermine their arguments. Isn't Marr guilty of the same? Howard may well have come to power determined public debate would be conducted on his terms, but show me the politician who doesn't. There is no doubt he has deliberately built a public relations machine that ensures the "correct" spin is applied to stories affecting his Government. It rivals the propaganda machines of previous governments.

But it is disingenuous to suggest the erosion of free speech has come about as a result of a Machiavellian blueprint carefully implemented over just the past decade and by just one man. The erosion has been gradual, over at least three decades, and has occurred at the hands of commonwealth and state governments of all colours. Still, an event that happened halfway through Howard's tenure significantly compounded the problem: the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Marr contends that 9/11 was just one of a string of events, including the internet, that "changed everything". I believe 9/11 differed immensely because it was an attack on democracy and capitalism and on innocent human life that until then was inconceivable. The 9/11 attack created the climate of public acceptance that strong measures had to be introduced to counter the terrorist threat, and this was heightened in Australia by the Bali bombing and our participation in the coalition of the willing in Iraq.

These events led to a string of anti-terrorism laws that gave rise to intrusive surveillance, holding of suspects without charge and curbs on the security matters that journalists could report. While the Government regards this as a practical approach to extraordinary events and the public generally (sees) it as a necessary evil, there must be balance between security and preservation of civil liberties and the public's right to know. The recent Haneef saga is proof enough that even in times of heightened security, there must be an open process.

If citizens are to effectively participate in a democracy, form opinions freely and to protect their rights and interests, they need access to information directly or via the media on theirbehalf. But across all levels of government, this balance has shifted away from the people to governments, which makes today's freedom of information laws unworkable.

The incidents are numerous. Just recently in NSW, despite repeated attempts, access was denied to an Education Department report on violence in schools. We were also not allowed to know which pubs have the highest levels of alcohol-related incidents of assault and robbery. These surely are things that the public should be allowed to know.

At the commonwealth level, News Limited is still smarting from our costly two-year battle between The Australian and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, for the release of details of the effect on taxpayers of bracket creep, and the first home buyers scheme. Costello believed release of this information was not in the public interest. The High Court agreed his decision should be final, but I believe the media's role is to lift the veil on exactly this kind of information.

Over the 25 years the commonwealth's Freedom of Information Act has been in place, decisions like this have chipped away at the integrity of the act. An entrenched culture of resistance to disclosure of information has developed and technological changes render it at odds with the way the modern media operates. It's time for a wholesale overhaul of the act.

Another way in which debate is stifled can be seen in the recent conviction of Herald Sun reporters Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey for refusing to divulge the identity of someone who embarrassed the Government by leaking information about the workings of Veterans Affairs policy. It has become commonplace for federal police to investigate journalists to identify leaks and to relentlessly pursue public servants suspected of being informants, even when the information they have leaked is patently in the public interest. The man charged in the Harvey-McManus case was convicted and later freed through lack of evidence, but he lost his job. This could be perceived as deliberate intimidation to demonstrate the consequences for any other public servant who might consider leaking.

Perhaps the worst case of trying to gag an issue followed The Australian's disclosure of lax security and organised crime at Sydney airport, which was found by an inquiry to be chillingly accurate. But rather than fix the problems, the Government unleashed the federal police to seek and destroy the whistleblower. It's my view that in a healthy democracy there would be no need for whistleblowers because governments would be transparent when it came to matters of genuine public interest. Unfortunately, there are times when governments get things very wrong and exposure is necessary. The security issues at Sydney airport were serious and exposure of them led to an inquiry and a $200 million upgrade. Was the decision by the whistleblower to expose the problems, or the work by The Australian to publish them, in the public interest or not?

Across all Australian jurisdictions, there must be a process and protection for public servants to make public interest disclosures. But given that, even with sound protection, some public servants will not use the process, it needs to be accompanied by laws that allow journalists to protect the identity of their sources in cases of public interest.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's recent tinkering with the Evidence Act to give judges the discretion to decide whether to force journalists to give up their sources is inadequate. The new act does not provide real protection for journalists as the burden of proof remains on the journalist to show why they should not be compelled to reveal their source. It should be the other way around, where the prosecution must show why disclosure is necessary.

Judges must also take some responsibility for the lack of transparency. An important issue overlooked by Marr is the propensity for judges in all jurisdictions to close access to courts and suppress details of cases, often with scant reason. Our media is buckling under more than a thousand court suppression orders preventing publication of certain facts from court cases. Some of these, for example protecting the identity of an undercover police operative, are clearly justified, but many are not. For example, is it fair that a public figure may be protected from embarrassment by having his identity in a court case suppressed? And should an entire anti-terrorism trial be closed even though not all the information is related to national security?

It seems our courts increasingly view the media as a nuisance. No doubt we are sometimes, but shoving us away and denying us access to the workings of our justice system is dangerously short-sighted. Democracy relies on the fact justice is not only done but is seen to be done.

Recently the mishmash of Australia's defamation laws were made uniform. While not perfect, the defamation laws have improved vastly, and this leads me to be a much more optimistic man than Marr is. The significant progress made shows how, with leadership at the commonwealth level, improvement and consistency could also be achieved in areas such as suppression orders.

So how did the erosion of public debate happen? Marr believes it happened because Howard in 1996 set out on a deliberate campaign to cower his critics, intimidate the ABC, gag scientists, silence non-government organisations by threatening their finances, neuter Canberra's mandarins, curtail parliamentary scrutiny, censor the arts, ban books, criminalise protest and prosecute whistleblowers. I'm less paranoid.

I also have trouble accepting Marr's analysis of the Australian character. He believes Australians project themselves as easygoing larrikins with contempt for authority, when in reality he says they passively accept it. He traces this to the mood of the British settlers from whom most of us descend. He says those who settled America did so to secure freedom in a time of repression, hence their preoccupation with freedom. Meanwhile, those who settled Australia were content with British law and customs and compliance with authority. But then he makes the extraordinary claim that Australian children are taught not to speak. "It's a big part of our upbringing, learning to shut up, to listen, to wait until we're spoken to," he says. "Somehow the habit of holding back has been drilled into the character of the nation." He continues: "Perhaps at some obscure level we still think keeping quiet will do us good when Canberra tells us what we can say, what we can know, when we can speak."

I grew up in a different Australia. The one I see encourages children to think and talk and develop self-confidence and be part of a vibrant open multicultural and prosperous society. And the evidence of this is everywhere. In Australia we talk, we question, we read, we listen to dissenting views and we work for change. We're doing it now: three months ago, an unprecedented coalition of Australia's major media organisations formed to work for improvements to free speech. I'm proud that News Limited is part of that coalition and I'm confident that we really can effect change.

Of course, freedom comes with responsibility and we must continually strive to ensure that our media deserves to represent the public in its right to know. I accept that we haven't always been as careful and responsible as we should be in our reporting. But errors by the media should not allow us to lose sight of the far bigger issues at stake and we should all accept that a healthy democracy is also a place where people argue, disagree, criticise and speak out fearlessly when they believe it's important to do so.


The know-nothing generation

This is a pretty clear proof that the educational system no longer teaches the basics

The last time Neville Wran sued The Sun newspaper it was over a picture that cast him as Adolf Hitler. The news shot, circa 1982, captures the then NSW premier with dark, slicked hair and square-rimmed glasses, speaking from a lectern with a bulbous black microphone. The microphone looms over Wran's upper lip like a Hitler-style moustache. The accompanying story speaks of Neville Hitler and Adolf Wran and a matter of rising interest rates. Back then it caused outrage on Macquarie Street. It also cost the now-defunct Sun some serious cash.

These days it makes a humorous case for students of media law. Yet each time I show the clipping to a university class, I have to explain who Wran was. I choose not to explain who Hitler was, but it would not surprise me if some students needed reminding.

For centuries universities have been held up as hallowed halls of light and learning. Even in this country, where a decade of budget cuts has crippled classics departments and left research funding pools in drought, universities are valued for their contribution to intellectual debate. They are also seen as a salve for unemployment and social disharmony. But Australian educators face a serious problem: how to enliven a student body that thinks googling a wiki is a serious academic endeavour. In a world swamped by information, many students have little interest in accessing it. We have law students who have never read a case, English students who do not read books and journalism students who do not buy newspapers. Don't laugh, it's true.

Each semester I ask my students how many of them buy newspapers. Five at most raise their hands. The showing is even more dismal when it comes to listening to radio. Television and online news sites are more popular. But when I ask how many get their main news from headlines on their Yahoo! webmail there is a round of sheepish laughter. For journalism students in particular, the past month has been a great time to be following the news. First there was Rupert Murdoch's controversial take-over of The Wall Street Journal. Then there was the biggest ethical issue since the cash-for-comment debate, when the ABC journalist Michael Brissenden broke an off-the-record agreement with the Treasurer, Peter Costello. The sad reality is that many students do not know who Murdoch is. Let alone Brissenden and Costello. Cash for comment, huh?

When the information technology revolution crashed onto our shores, educators were excited about the possibilities of online learning. They saw the internet as a way of moving learning into the 21st century and online forums as a way of bolstering flagging classroom discussions. Instead, what we have experienced is an information tsunami. Too much data is as dangerous as too little data. We're drowning, not waving. And students have simply tuned out. One NSW lecturer recalls asking a class of second-year law students to name a radio station on the AM band. Not one could. Another law faculty lecturer recalls how her discussion about Nixon and Watergate drew a blank. No one had any idea about either. A health sciences lecturer recalls how she played her students a YouTube clip of geriatric musicians covering the Who's My Generation. "My students had no idea who the Who were," she says. "And no idea why it was significant that the single was recorded at Abbey Road."

In my classes, eyes glaze over when I talk about Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus and the case for journalistic shield laws. There are yawns when I question whether Fairfax journalists should have pounced on the Kevin Rudd strip-club scandal first. And when I argue the importance of leaks in the Mohamed Haneef case, I see the worried brows before me. Mohamed who?

Recently, ABC TV's Media Watch took issue with a Today Tonight story in which Chinese students were interviewed about Australian values. The story, dubbed "Passing The Pavlova Test", featured two young women who admitted they had never eaten pavlova and did not know Don Bradman. Sadly, it is not only international students who admit a gaping lack of general knowledge. Spelling among local students is atrocious. Plagiarism is rife. Academic references include wikis and lecturers' notes. Cut-and-paste technology has made libraries redundant. Many students do not know where the library is and some leave their laptops only reluctantly to attend classes. Some academics believe that in an industry worth almost $10 billion, as many as one in two students are cheating.

It must be said, this is not a criticism of students. Students for the most part are doing it tough. Most full-timers work part-time jobs and all part-timers arrive straight from work. International students are grappling with homesickness and language barriers. What must be addressed is the ideology of the ignorance. Students know what needs to be done and they'll be damned if they'll do any more. One colleague pointed me to the book Age of Extremes, in which the historian Eric Hobsbawm recalls a student asking whether the description "World War II" meant there had also been a first world war.

Contemporary curriculums must move with the times. Completing the assessment and working through the required readings is not enough. If we require students to consider the past, we must also allow them the opportunity to consider the future. Neville Hitler and Adolf Wran would both probably have something to say about that.


Antisemitism was once accepted worldwide -- including Australia

Recently I was involved in one of those conversations most parents end up having. I had to try to explain to a young person how the Holocaust could have occurred. For me it involves not just what was unique about Nazi Germany, but what was not unique about it. It seems to me that unless you realise just how widespread anti-Semitism once was around the world, it's almost impossible to comprehend the road to the death camps. Of course it existed in Australia, too. The problem is that it's very hard to explain this today, because we've done a pretty good job of removing anti-Semitism from our society. It's so remote from most young people's experience that it's difficult to make it real for them.

But there are traces of the way things used to be, and a while ago I came upon a striking example in an old copy of this very newspaper. It was a letter to the editor, published on October 16, 1940. It's not a letter that would be published today, and the fact it was published then says a lot about the different public values of the time. The writer was the artist and critic Lionel Lindsay, and it was inspired by a visit he'd just made to an exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society. Lindsay, who like his good friend Robert Menzies had traditional tastes in art, was ropable. "The Australian public is perhaps yet unaware," he wrote from Wahroonga, "that modernism was organised in Paris by the Jew dealers, whose first care was to corrupt criticism, originate propaganda . and undermine accepted standards so that there should be ample merchandise to handle. It was Uhde, the Jew art critic, who proudly boasted that three-fourths of the art dealers, critics and collectors were Jews." Lindsay claimed that one-third of the artists in the exhibition had foreign names, due to the "influx of refugees", and observed that "true art grows like a tree from its native soil, and not from the sludge of decadent civilisations".

That the letter was published at all is a sobering indication of the extent to which anti-Semitism was tolerated by many of our ancestors at the same time Europe's Jews were about to be murdered. The good news (and this is part of the picture the young need to see) is that not everyone shared Lindsay's prejudices. There was a vigorous response in the Herald the next day from Peter Bellew, honorary secretary of the Contemporary Art Society. He wrote that Lindsay's letter "is unlikely to achieve any more than an enthusiastic 'heil' from the inmates of our internment camps, and maybe an autographed watercolour from Hitler".

He noted that Lindsay's maths was out, and only 17 of the 72 exhibitors carried foreign names. And most of them were not refugees, but had been born in Australia. Unpersuaded, Lindsay went on to write a book called Addled Art, published by Angus & Robertson in 1942. The book's cover showed a monkey, drawn as a caricature of a Jew and dressed as an artist, throwing rotten fruit at the Venus de Milo. The fact that a book like this could be put out by Australia's leading publishing house at such a point in history is worth pondering. Naturally each of us likes to think he or she would have been appalled by the publication. But on the whole our ancestors, people much like ourselves, weren't.

Lindsay was a conservative who believed modern art (by which he meant the work of most of the big names after the impressionists) was caused by "the age of speed, sensationalism, jazz, and the insensate adoration of money". Like many conservatives, he was incapable of admitting that lots of people had enthusiastically embraced the art that grew from these developments, so he assumed they must have been duped. This is where the Jews came in, for Lindsay shared the common belief that they were unusually interested in money. He believed the Jews, "the shrewdest race in the world", had seen the opportunity to promote an art that matched this new spirit, and Jewish dealers had forced it on a "defenceless public" by paying critics to praise it.

Like many a true conservative, Lindsay was not at ease with 20th-century capitalism, including advertising. He thought advertising had been given a big boost by the propaganda efforts of World War I, which showed just what could be done on a grand scale. Postwar the Jews, he said, applied this new expertise to art at a time when the public craved novelty, another manifestation of the spirit of the age. They did it well, in the process debasing public taste. "Now every kind of folly flew from the asylum cage," Lindsay wrote. "Cubism, purism, constructivism, neoplasticism, vorticism, expressionism and surrealism - to name but the leading creeds . how proverbially shrewd was the confraternity of Jewish dealers, who added the pleasure of 'taking down the Goysher' for immensely overpriced works of ultimate questionable value to forcing the painters of their race on the credulous Christian."

We tend to remember only those ideas from the past we find inspiring, or which seem to have contributed to the way we think today. But there is an argument we should also teach the young about some of the bad old ideas. After all, like smallpox, they're still out there somewhere.


"Protester" update

Seventeen protesters were arrested and two officers left injured after clashes between police and demonstrators during today’s anti-APEC rally. Police said one officer suffered a head wound when hit with an iron bar while another was hit in the head with a dart during the protest which attracted about 5000 demonstrators.

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said that it was unfortunate that a few people decided to become violent. “I am extremely happy with the police operation and the fact that the majority of protesters complied with the wishes of police,” Mr Scipione said. “That said, I am not happy that police were targeted and assaulted in such a violent manner.” The 17 protesters arrested will face charges of assaulting police, offensive behaviour and resisting arrest. witnessed two men being slammed onto the ground after police spotted them in the middle of the angry, vocal mob as it headed along Park St towards Hyde Park. However, the majority of the thousands who took part avoided any violence, and the gathering took on a carnival atmosphere upon reaching Hyde Park North. Police had feared a full-scale riot could break out and riot squad officers were out in force, fanning along the entire march route. Police dogs and the water cannon were stationed on side streets.

As the arrests were made, other protesters began shouting, "The whole world's watching, the whole world's watching." In the first arrest, a shout of "Watch out for that man" was heard before police sprinted nearly the entire length of a city block to crash-tackle him into the gutter. Other protesters rushed over to watch the action. In the second arrest, police again rushed into the crowd, dragging a tall man wearing a black mask from the middle of the road and slamming him heavily onto the footpath. He was then marched to a waiting police van. A third man - wearing nothing but a nappy - was also arrested and taken away.

Another four arrests took place at Town Hall station, while another was person was arrested by plain-clothed officers near the southern exit of Hyde Park. The protesters gathered at Sydney's Town Hall from about 9.30am (AEST) before proceeding along Park Street on the route approved by police following a court action banning access to Martin Place.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Rudd presents a friendly face to China

China is already hugely important to Australia so this can only be good. Being myself Sinophilic, I am delighted that Australia will be so well-represented by our future Prime Minister. My only hope is that Rudd understands economics as well as he understands Mandarin. His Arts degree does not augur terribly well for that but former Labor PM Paul Keating developed a good understanding of economics despite no formal background in it so there is hope

MANDARIN-speaking Kevin Rudd stole the show from John Howard on the day Australia secured a $45 billion gas deal with China. The Labor leader stunned President Hu Jintao with a two-minute recounting of his personal history at an APEC lunch attended by a "who's who" of Australian business. Mr Rudd spoke of his life as a diplomat in China, his love for the booming country, and his family's close ties to the region. Just a day after Mr Howard tied his fortunes to George W. Bush and the US, Mr Rudd made it clear that the rising Asian superpower was the focus of his affection.

Speaking fluently to the Chinese leader in his own language, Mr Rudd upstaged Mr Howard's announcement of Australia's single biggest export contract. A former diplomat with many years' experience in Asia, Mr Rudd gave President Hu a personal history of his links to China, drawing on the experiences of his wife Therese, his daughter Jessica, and sons Nicholas and Marcus.

The speech began in English. Then, breaking into Mandarin, Mr Rudd said: "Together with my wife and little daughter, I went to work in Beijing in the 1980s. "My wife and I have a particular love for Beijing. We love the feeling of Beijing. We love the people of Beijing, and of course, its culture. "Twenty years later, the little girl that we took to Beijing this April married a young man from the Australian Chinese community. "My son has already been to Shanghai's Fundan University to study. I also have a little boy, our youngest, who is in his early years of high school. He is really, really naughty -- he doesn't like doing his homework. But he has already begun his study of Chinese."


US relationship still at core for Australia, says Rudd

AUSTRALIA'S strategic relationship with the US would remain core despite the growing relationship with China, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said today. Mr Rudd, who met United States President George W. Bush yesterday and is to meet China's President Hu Jintao today, said today the relationships were important in different ways.

He said China was emerging as a key economic partner. "Our core strategic relationship will remain with the US. I am a life-long supporter of our alliance with America and that will continue into the future," he said on Southern Cross radio. "Our defence co-operation with the US is absolutely central to Australia's long-term national security. Intelligence sharing arrangements, defence procurement arrangements, joint exercising, combined with the fact that our respective defence forces have spent so many joint operations together over the years."

Mr Rudd said that at an economic level, China had been emerging over the last decade as a huge partner in Australia's future development. Both relationships could be managed well. "If we are elected to form the next government of Australia, I look forward to developing further not just a strong robust relationship with Washington but also to continue to expand our dealings with Beijing," he said.

Mr Rudd again declined to reveal the substance of his talks with the US president. But he made it clear Labor's policy for a staged withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq would not change and the relationship with the US would survive. "I am confident that our alliance with the US is old enough, broad enough and strong enough to sustain having disagreements from time to time," he said. Mr Rudd said he could work with Mr Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice despite their friendships with John Howard. Mr Howard had been prime minister for 11 years and it would be surprising if he had not developed some personal friendships around the world. "If we are elected to form the next government of Australia then, of course, we would seek to develop relationships around at that personal level as well," he said. "I would look forward very much to working with the US administration, if I am elected, on a whole range of areas where we have common interests to pursue, particularly here in east Asia where there are continued challenges."

Mr Rudd said that included North Korea's nuclear weapons, China and Taiwan, tensions between China and Japan, and militant Islamism in South-East Asia. "These are all of great concern to Australia. They are areas where we would want to work in partnership with our American ally because I believe overwhelmingly that the US is a force for good and stability in the world," he said.


China loves Kyoto -- new climate plan sunk

I wonder why?

CHINA has dashed John Howard's hopes for an APEC deal on climate change, saying any new pact should be based on the Kyoto Protocol. Australia refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol. [Because Kyoto gives China free rein].

Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday rejected John Howard's call for developing nations to shoulder tougher greenhouse emissions targets. "Climate change is an environmental issue. But, ultimately, it is a development issue," Mr Hu said. "We should, within the context of sustainable development, uphold the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol as the core mechanism and main avenue of co-operation." The Kyoto Protocol allowed developing countries greater leeway on emissions targets, placing a higher burden on developed nations.

Australia and the United States - the only major polluters not to ratify Kyoto - want developing nations to shoulder tougher emissions reduction targets. Climate change was the key subject in talks between Mr Howard and Mr Hu. The Prime Minister had hoped to make concrete progress on climate change at the Sydney summit, ahead of a federal election campaign. However Mr Hu said that he supported the differing responsibilities allowed under the Kyoto pact.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer admitted it would be hard to bring China - one of the biggest polluters in the world - into a new emissions reduction system. "It's one of the great challenges of diplomacy; I'm not too pessimistic about it, I think we can at least make some progress here," he said.

The impasse means any APEC statement on climate change is likely to be a general statement of intent, rather than a detailed action plan. Mr Hu said he hoped the Sydney declaration would "send a clear signal to the international community to show their strong will and common resolve in tackling climate change".


Totally dishonest "protesters" in Sydney

ARE these shouty protesters - and their sock puppets in the media - sure they've got the right guy in their sights? Let me check again what tomorrow's big Stop Bush 2007 rally outside Sydney's APEC meeting is demanding. Hmm. Foreign troops out. Defend workers' rights. Stop global warming.

And, indeed, at the APEC meeting is a president who really does occupy a foreign country, really does trample workers' rights and really does lead a country that now belches more greenhouse gases than any other. What's more, this president also runs a gulag, bans free speech, stacks courts, jails dissidents, executes crooks and leads a government even he admits is too corrupt. That's surely enough to tick the box of every protester in Sydney.

So here's the puzzle: why isn't tomorrow's protest called Stop Hu Jintao 2007 instead? Why do the protesters shout abuse at Bush, the elected president of democratic United States, but not boo Hu, the unelected president of communist China? Why did students this week stage a Walk Out on Bush, but stay at school for Hu? And why is the big-city media so savage against Bush, while writing headlines yesterday declaring "Hu is Australia's main man" and "Big welcome for China's leader"? None of it makes sense. What's Bush done that Hu hasn't done worse?

Under Bush, the US last year actually cut its greenhouse gases. Hu's China, though, is now the world leader, belching out more carbon dioxide every year, with no sign of slowing. Under Bush, US troops have liberated Iraq from a tyranny and are staying temporarily on the invitation of that country's elected government to keep that democracy safe.

Under Hu, China has just tightened its grip on occupied Tibet, this week demanding Beijing now approve all of Tibet's spiritual leaders. It has meanwhile propped up mad Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe and the genocidal one in Sudan and has threatened democratic Taiwan with war.

Bush isn't even a starter in any spot-the-tyrant game that includes Hu, whose country runs as many as 1000 forced labour camps, refuses to let even the Catholic Church operate openly, and last month even sent blogger He Weihua to a mental hospital for criticising local officials. So tough is Hu's regime on even foreign reporters that CNN's Beijing staff were last month stopped from reporting on media freedom in China. You'd think the media, at least, might conclude from this which of the two governments is its better friend.

Yet it's Bush, not Hu, who gets the mockery and open contempt of journalists and who is made out by protesters to be the Hitler of our times. Here's how weird is this cognitive dissonance. The Sydney Morning Herald, in its campaign to make Bush seem the nuisance who on his own whim forced a security shutdown of central Sydney, last week sought out the views even of the Communist Party of Australia. The CPA naturally obliged, huffing: "The APEC security fence that stretches through Sydney's CBD is a 'wall of shame' and undemocratic." That's brazen. You'd think anyone so upset by walls and keen on democracy would actually never have been a communist in the first place.

And you might also wonder why the Herald didn't at least note that this temporary fence to lock out violent protesters was being attacked by a party that once endorsed the Berlin Wall, built by a communist despot to lock up an entire population. But it's unfashionable even to mention "communism" as though it was a bad thing, or to note America was right to resist it then as it is right to resist Islamist fascism today.

That is a history that's erased from polite talk, and rarely taught to the children now wearing the bandannas of the Marxist Resistance group and chanting fierce slogans against capitalism and Bush. ("I pretty much disagree with everything that George Bush, like, represents," babbled one student on the ABC's PM show.)

Instead of holding old communists to account, our institutions honour them. Sydney University last year gave the CPA president, Hannah Middleton, a "community peace award" for working so hard to stop Australia from defending itself. Hu, too, is getting the warmest of welcomes. On his last visit, you'll recall, he got to address our Parliament in respectful silence, while Bush, in his own address the day before, was heckled by Greens leader Bob Brown. This time he has enjoyed a lavish dinner thrown for him by NSW Premier Morris Iemma and attended by every former Labor prime minister still alive. How grateful he was at being so honoured by the Left, saying: "I want to thank in particular Mr Whitlam, Mr Hawke and Mr Keating for attending tonight's dinner."

And how grateful he must be that journalists didn't feel such an aching desire to ridicule him that they inspected even his plate for something they could throw at his head. Contrast that with Bush having to watch his every mouthful at a barbecue held by the Prime Minister. The Sydney Morning Herald not only sent a snarky writer to check how he loaded his plate -- "I'll help you out, he told the reporter, "Here's your first sentence: 'The President takes a spoon. . .' " -- but got a health expert to whack him for eating so much meat. At a barbecue. Of all things.... so much of the rage against Bush is fundamentally insincere -- an affected hatred of much that the protesters actually would hate to go without. Like a teenager's rage against his parents.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Rudd, Bush talk troop withdrawal

Labor leader Kevin Rudd has met US President George W Bush, who is in Sydney for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Yesterday Mr Bush gave a hearty endorsement to Prime Minister John Howard and said he should not be counted out, despite trailing badly in the opinion polls. But Mr Rudd could be the prime minister soon, with an election due very shortly. Mr Rudd has made his case to Mr Bush about why he believes that Australian combat forces should be withdrawn in stages from Iraq.

Meanwhile Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile says he does not know whether Mr Bush's enthusiastic endorsement of Mr Howard will help the Government in the coming federal election. Mr Bush yesterday said he believed Mr Howard could come from behind to win the election. Mr Vaile says the impact of Mr Bush's endorsement will be different on different voters. "At the end of the day, that's a decision that voters will ultimately make, whether the relationship between our two countries and our two governments has been a good thing or a bad thing," he said.


Tasmanian police sue Greenie protesters

FORESTRY Tasmania will continue to seek compensation from protesters who cost it money. Yesterday, the Government-owned company said there was nothing unusual or unprecedented about its claim for compensation from "Weld Angel" protester Allana Beltran for blocking access to the Tahune Airwalk. Forestry corporate relations general manager Ken Jeffreys said that, while the company had no specific policy to pursue costs, action had been taken before and, if necessary, would be taken again. "We retain our rights to use whatever redress is available to us. Who else is going to pay for it?" Mr Jeffreys said. "Nobody should be above the law; the law should apply equally whether you are a forest protester, a forest contractor or angelic artist."

In March, Ms Beltran blocked access to the Airwalk, sitting on a tripod in the road to protest against logging operations in the area. On Tuesday, Tasmania Police lodged an application for Ms Beltran to pay $2870 to compensate police for lost time spent at the protest. They also filed a claim for almost $6200 in lost revenue on behalf of Forestry Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Greens yesterday asked Police Minister David Llewellyn to explain why Tasmania Police were attempting to recover costs from Ms Beltran, but did not take such action against other offenders. "There are plenty of criminals who have been convicted of heinous crimes in Tasmania, yet have not been billed for police costs, while someone who did not harm a hair on anyone's head has been singled out, how can this be fair or reasonable?" Greens deputy leader Nick McKim said. "Can Tasmanian motorists who pay a speeding fine expect to receive a bill for police time, and if not, why should a forest defender?"

Mr Llewellyn said: "Prosecutions and claims of this nature are matters for the Commissioner of Police." Police prosecutor Insp Julian Whayman said all victims were eligible to claim for compensation for financial loss suffered as a consequence of the actions of a convicted criminal or offender. "There must, of course, be made a distinction between opportunistic crimes/offences, spur of the moment offences and offences caused by inadvertence/inattention by persons, as opposed to deliberate and planned offences designed to make a statement," he said. "It could be suggested that the person concerned was aware that significant wastage of financial and physical resources may result."

It was now up to the Police Commissioner to decide, he said. Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie declined to comment yesterday.


Lazy cops again

They are "too busy" so often that they are of very little use in general. A pity someone has to die to draw attention to that

A TOP-LEVEL probe is under way into why police failed to respond to an emergency call from a Gold Coast home where a teenager allegedly later murdered his mother. The police Ethical Standards Command launched the investigation after the death of a woman, 36, at her Southport home late on Monday night following two violent arguments. It is believed her 16-year-old son telephoned three hours earlier threatening to kill his mother but police failed to respond - a failure Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson last night said was "of great concern".

A Queensland Police Service spokesman last night confirmed the police communications centre at Broadbeach received a call at 8.21pm on Monday, requesting that police attend the Southport address. "It is also clear that no police officers attended as a result of that call," the spokesman said in a statement. "A further call was subsequently made from the house at approximately 11.28pm and police attended soon after and located the deceased 36-year-old woman."

Mr Atkinson said the matter was being investigated by the Ethical Standards Command and would be monitored by the Crime and Misconduct Commission. "Appropriate action will be taken in due course and as soon as possible," he said. "The full circumstances of the Queensland Police Service lack of response will be made available at an appropriate time. However, those details are also likely to form part of the legal proceedings in this matter."


Etiquette queen less than impressed

Men are misunderstood, women treat men badly, Germaine Greer is old and sad and we eat like animals. That's the word from etiquette queen June Dally-Watkins who told The Daily Telegraph basic manners were in "total, total decline".

Miss Dally-Watkins, who has four children and seven grandchildren, started her deportment school in 1950 after a successful modelling career took her from the state's northwest to mixing with the Hollywood A-list, including a romance with Gregory Peck in Rome. More than 300,000 Aussies have passed through her doors and undergone gruelling lessons in how to be a lady or a gentleman, including Channel 9's Catriona Rowntree and Seven's Sonia Kruger.

But Miss Dally-Watkins, aged in her early 80s, was yesterday scathing in her assessment of where we are heading. "There is a total, total decline in manners," she said. "It is a great sadness, we are back to the barbarian age. It is the 'me generation' which interestingly, is across all age groups." She said the rise of the working parent had contributed to the decline, with schools being left to pick up the slack and teach children the basic do's and don'ts in surviving elegantly in a modern world.

Acid-tongued feminist author Germaine Greer also copped a serve for giving women the idea they don't need a man to change a lightbulb or open the car door. "Women don't understand men are very sensitive and very deep," Miss Dally-Watkins said. "Women need to show more understanding to their men.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Not letting facts disrupt the protest

APEC has made a great contribution to easing poverty

It has long been fashionable for otherwise well-educated and affluent people to exercise their liberal democratic right to protest at gatherings of world leaders, no matter how worthy the objectives of those attending the meeting may be. For some protesters, APEC represents little more than a resistance day picnic complete with water cannons, riot shields and a ring of steel that makes sure their activities have little hope of disrupting the people at whom they are directed. Proof that fashion dictates the nature of protest is clear from the fact that, prior to the arrival of US President George W. Bush last night, actions so far have centred on attempts by Greenpeace in Newcastle to demonise Australia's coal exports. This is despite the fact that as host nation of this year's APEC leaders' summit, Australia has put the quest for an international climate change response at the top of the conference agenda.

The war in Iraq will no doubt be another target for protest action but the last time we looked, Iraq was not located in the Asia-Pacific. In reality, Mr Bush's attendance is enough in itself for the noisy few to voice their well-known, anti-American beliefs. Targeting the US confirms that many who take part in protest actions are really interested only in continuing what is now a tired and old-fashioned campaign against capitalism per se. By using the rhetoric of defending the Third World's exploited poor, these protesters display their complete misunderstanding of the role played by globalisation in helping to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Nowhere is this trend-for-good through globalisation more evident than in the work of APEC.

Since it was founded by Australian prime minister Bob Hawke on a visit to Seoul in 1989 and upgraded to a leaders' forum by US president Bill Clinton in Seattle in 1993, APEC has been the key trade grouping in what is recognised as the frontline region for future world growth. The economic rise of APEC nations has given life to the rhetoric of the dawn of a Pacific century in which, over the decades ahead, nations in the Asia-Pacific will outpace the economic advances of Atlantic-centred nations that drove world prosperity through the industrial revolution and on to the 20th century. Together with the rise of India, the economic transformation of China that is now under way has the potential to lift more than two billion people out of poverty. In addition to the obvious environmental challenges this rapid growth presents, it has already delivered real advances in areas that those who protest loudest against the APEC gathering and globalisation claim to care about the most. In the first decade of APEC's existence, the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index for lower income APEC economies improved by nearly 18 per cent. Poverty in East Asian APEC economies fell by one-third, representing 165 million people. Almost 200million new jobs were created, including 174 million in lower income economies. Infant mortality fell and life expectancy rose as sanitation improved and spending on public health and education grew.

APEC has played an undeniable role in helping to improve dialogue between nations and remove barriers to trade. For Australia, the economic dividend from APEC has been enormous. APEC member economies account for eight of Australia's top 10 export markets and 61 per cent of world growth between 1989 and 2003. APEC countries take 95 per cent of Australia's beef exports, 89 per cent of our medicinal/pharmaceutical product exports, 84 per cent of our petroleum exports, 82 per cent of our iron and steel exports, 77 per cent of our non-ferrous metal exports and 64 per cent of our coal exports. They represent eight of the top 10 sources of international visitors to Australia and provide more than 70 per cent of international students studying here.

Mutual prosperity through closer economic ties will always be APEC's core challenge. For this reason, the Howard Government must temper expectations that it can achieve a dramatic breakthrough on a new deal to combat climate change if it wants the Sydney gathering to be judged a success. And while a new bilateral security pact may be announced between Australia and the US during Mr Bush's visit, APEC is poorly equipped to deal with the detail of the complex bilateral security issues faced by member nations.

Outside the domestic political context in Australia, the Sydney APEC meeting will be judged by history on what it does to advance APEC's 1994 Bogor Declaration to achieve free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies. This declaration recognises that economic liberalisation, not the end of capitalism, will always be the best way to deliver on the concerns being voiced by protest groups.

Ultimately, it remains a perverse feature of demonstrations that so many of those who take part have such little understanding of the detail of what they are complaining about. APEC is much more than an opportunity to whinge about disruptions to Sydney city traffic or the poor takings by local coffee shops because of heightened security. Such concerns only highlight the insular and parochial thinking of the comparatively well-off in regional terms. Just as unruly demonstrations predominantly highlight the prejudice and misunderstanding of those who take part.


Special treatment for Muslims in Australia too

HALAL food and prayer rooms should be adopted at all universities to help Muslim students meet their religious and educational obligations, a conference heard yesterday. The religious needs of Muslim university students were addressed at an inaugural conference launched by the University of Western Sydney. UWS Director of Equity and Diversity Dr Sev Ozdowski said they wanted to develop national standards for Muslim students which could be incorporated by other universities.

The "Access, Inclusion and Success - Muslim students at Australian universities" two-day conference is covering issues relating to gender, discrimination and how to meet the fundamental religious needs of Muslim students. Dr Ozdowski told The Daily Telegraph the aim of the forum was to raise awareness and to find a way to make sure Muslim students can meet obligations to their religion as well as the university. UWS already has prayer rooms and halal food at a majority of its campuses for its 2000 Muslim students - the largest tertiary Muslim student population in Australia.

"There is no model or national standard to guide Australia's universities on how they can best address the varied cultural, ethnic and religious needs of their diverse student populations," Dr Ozdowski said. "It's important that all people, including those from Muslim backgrounds, have the ability to fully participate in higher education so they can gain good employment and strengthen their place in society. "We also need to address the practical realities that Muslim students face every day, such as providing prayer space and cafeteria food that is halal, to ensure university campuses are welcoming of all cultures and faiths," he said.

About 150 people are involved in the conference including representatives and speakers from universities and TAFE, the government and local muslim communities. Muslim student Najwa Hussein - who is completing her post graduate diploma in psychology at UWS - believes the conference is a positive step forward for Muslim students. "It is part of our obligations to fulfil these religious duties, to pray and to ensure we eat halal meat," the 21-year-old from Guildford said. "These small things are part of our daily life so if the universities adopt such facilities, that would be awesome," she said. The conference, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Parramatta, concludes today with practical workshops.


Workers can stay on old agreements: Gillard

JULIA Gillard has admitted that workers currently on the Howard Government's individual employment contracts could continue onthose conditions indefinitely under a Labor government. The Deputy Opposition Leader's comments will fuel union concerns that Labor plans to dump the Howard Government's Australian Workplace Agreements in name only - despite having claimed they disadvantage workers. But Ms Gillard told The Australian yesterday that Labor could guarantee no worker need be worse off under its industrial relations policy.

Following protests by Unions NSW chief John Robertson, Ms Gillard said that even workers who traded away award conditions in return for individual contracts offering increased hourly pay rates need not be disadvantaged. Under Labor's policy released last week, the Howard Government's AWAs would be abolished as part of plans to dump Work Choices. After a two-year transitional period, all workers would be employed on award conditions, collective agreements or individual contracts under common law. Workers would be guaranteed a legislated set of 10 minimum conditions, plus a further 10 conditions for award employees.

While common law contracts normally use awards to determine minimum conditions, Labor plans to exempt employees earning more than $100,000 a year in response to calls from employers for maximum flexibility.

Academics who have studied Labor's policy claim the party has abandoned a long-held commitment to collective bargaining and provided almost complete flexibility for employers to negotiate individually with award workers earning less than $100,000. Industrial lawyer Ron McCallum and workplace researcher John Buchanan say Labor has accepted the underlying philosophy of Work Choices laws by emphasising that employers would have the power to change conditions for individual workers using "flexibility clauses" in all awards. The pair said Labor's collective bargaining rules appeared weak, and employers would be given freedom to introduce "individual flexibility" within awards.

Ms Gillard confirmed Labor would introduce flexibility clauses, giving employers and employees flexibility to craft mutually acceptable work conditions, provided the workers were not disadvantaged when compared to the award.

Asked whether there was any chance of a worker being worse off under Labor, Ms Gillard agreed that some people on AWAs could face lower rates of pay under Labor's system. This might arise, she said, if an employer who used an AWA to eliminate award conditions in return for higher pay rates had to return to arrangements underpinned by award conditions. The prohibition under Labor would be the creation of new AWAs. "Beyond its (the AWA's) nominal expiry date it persists - that happens now," she said.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday attacked unions for backing Labor's flexibility clauses - accusing them of hypocrisy - despite last week accusing Labor of a policy that pandered to unions.


That good ol' government "planning" again

With just three enrolments so far, a primary school will be ready to open next year in a housing estate that boasts just 30 homes. Financed with private investor funds, the development south of Wollongong is proving a growing embarrassment for the State Government. It is one of 10 schools the Government is building using public-private partnerships - and all are due to be opened by early 2009. The primary school being built at Tullimbar, west of Albion Park, can cater for 300 children, with facilities for up to 525 students. Children living further afield are now expected to be sent to the school by bus in in an attempt to boost enrolment numbers and meet the Government's contractual commitment to the investors in the school.

When Tullimbar was planned, it was to cater solely to children in the new housing estate, said Nicholas Cole, president of the Parents and Citizens Association at nearby Albion Park primary school, which is facing declining enrolments even before Tullimbar opens. "The department won't confirm now whether it is planning to transfer children from other areas to the school," Mr Cole said. "We already have an educational system working well in this area. We have five primary schools within a four-kilometre radius."

An organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, Gary Zadkovich, said: "There has been a planning mistake. They've gone ahead with a property development and built a new school. At the very least their demographic analysis has got it wrong since the nearest primary school has declining enrolments." Under the same contract, using private investment funds, schools are planned for Rouse Hill, Hoxton Park South and at Ropes Crossing, in the former ADI site near St Marys. This estate has just 100 people living in it, raising concerns only a few children will attend the primary school which opens next year.

Miltonbrook, the developer of Tullimbar, says when the estate is completed in about 13 years it will have about 5000 residents. "Progress with the development has been a little slower than we anticipated," a spokeswoman said.

A spokesman for the Minister for Education, John Della Bosca, said the development of Tullimbar Village has been delayed by rising interest rates and the housing downturn. She said while it was not unusual for new schools to have very small initial student enrolments, it was estimated that delays in the housing development would mean lower than estimated enrolments for the first two to four years.

The NSW Opposition education spokesman, Andrew Stoner, said the Government should explain why it was opening schools where there was no community demand, while it was closing Macquarie Boys High in the growing Parramatta region. He said it should say how much it will pay private contractors to run schools for just a few students. Mr Zadkovich said: "If the Government wants to defend the Tullimbar development by saying it will remove demountables from Albion Park primary school, then why didn't it build the new classrooms where they are needed in the first place?"


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Aha! Rudd bows to the need for flexibility in workplace laws

A RUDD government would allow any worker to give up award conditions such as overtime, shift penalties and allowances in return for higher wages, drawing union accusations that Labor's policy is little different to WorkChoices. Its plan for trade-offs between employers and individual workers emerged yesterday but was slammed as a "sop to big business" by the Unions NSW secretary, John Roberston.

Mr Robertson, who was campaigning against WorkChoices in Bathurst yesterday, said the award flexibility plan made it much less clear that Labor opposed individual contracts. "I addressed a meeting of 60 prison officers this morning and they were raising questions about what is Labor's real position and how different is it from WorkChoices," he said.

A Newspoll out today shows Labor has increased its two-party preferred lead over the Coalition to 59-41. But the Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, said Labor's industrial relation shift exposed its hypocrisy and would give employees less protection than the Government's legislation. There would be no umpire "checking to ensure that people get their full award entitlements. Under our laws you are guaranteed to get the award with full monetary compensation for any trade-offs."

The Deputy Opposition Leader, Julia Gillard, said last night such deals would provide flexibility for employers to pay more than the award but not make workers worse off. Her spokeswoman confirmed that flexibility clauses would allow "all up" pay rates to replace award conditions for workers on less than $100,000 a year. Conditions which could be traded off for pay under the mechanism for individual agreements include overtime; penalty rates for public holidays, weekends and unsociable hours; travel and tool allowances; the 17.5 per cent annual leave loading; meal and rest breaks and rostering rules. As revealed in the Herald yesterday, Ms Gillard confirmed that 10 planned legislated national employment standards - such as annual leave and sick leave - could not be negotiated away under the mechanism.

Labor's latest policy move comes despite an intensive political campaign by the ACTU against the use of individual workplace agreements under WorkChoices to negotiate changes to conditions such as overtime and penalty rates. But the ACTU president, Sharan Burrow, said there was still "a world of difference" between the individual negotiations allowed under WorkChoices and Labor's plans. "To the extent that there is a flexibility provided [by Labor] then it would have a genuine no-disadvantage test underpinning it," Ms Burrow said. "By contrast, you can drive a truck through the Government's fairness test."

But Mr Robertson said: "They need to be emphatic about saying we are not having individuals being expected to negotiate . with their employers. These sorts of things . create confusion in the minds of working people." The Housing Industry Association welcomed Labor's move. The flexibility clauses would be inserted into all awards. They would allow individual workers and employers to reach agreements on how to apply the award. A survey of small business has found that only 20 per cent believe they will be hurt by Labor's plans to reinstate protections against unfair dismissal. The Sensis Business Index, out today, found about 70 per cent thought reinstating the laws would have no effect on their business.


"Protests" as hot air

The APEC juggernaut has finally hit Sydney. 21 world leaders and their entourages will descend on the harbour city, while protesters from various groups are determined to make their voices heard during the week-long summit. But is there a point to all these protests?

Sydneysiders are gearing up for traffic chaos and restricted movement as security measures such as a 5km fence, public transport shutdowns and clearways are implemented in the city for the conference.

According to Prime Minister John Howard, it is the potential for violent protests rather than the visiting world leaders that has led to these severe security actions. He has stepped up his rhetoric against the potential protesters, calling them hypocrites who undermine the very values they campaign for.

So what's it all for? Protest groups say that these demonstrations help to raise awareness for issues on climate change, the war in Iraq, the rights of workers - issues that they say APEC does not support. APEC delegates however, argue that these protests are pointless and do not make a real difference. Mr Howard called on protesters to "stop for a moment and consider that if they really are worried about issues such as poverty, security and climate change, then they should support APEC and not attack it".

The protesters undoubtedly add colour to these economic and political summits. Remember the 1999 protests in Seattle during the WTO summit, or the S11 demonstrations in Melbourne in 2000 when the World Economic Forum was held? What do you remember them for - the trade issues discussed or the demonstrations? Is it fair to make such a comparison when APEC comes across as a dour multilateral organisation that sets long-term aspirational targets rather than deadlines.

So the question remains - did these protests really make a difference? Did they at least create awareness among the general public on issues such as globalisation, war, poverty, climate change and the rights of workers? Or like the international summits that they campaign against, more a symbolic talking shop, all hot air and no real action?


IQ tests rediscovered in Australia

Although he was shy, overweight and pushing 40, Paul Potts somehow summoned the nerve to perform on the show Britain's Got Talent. He appeared on stage in a wrinkled shirt and cheap, ill-fitting jacket and trembling like a leaf. You could see the three judges looking at each other, wondering what this mobile phone salesman was doing there as he prepared to sing Puccini's Nessun Dorma. But he went on to win the competition and was signed by a record company. People who do not appear to have ability sometimes go on to achieve great things. We need a university entrance system which takes this into account.

Our tertiary admissions system is like a footrace. The first students to cross the finishing line - those with the highest entrance scores - gain entry to the most popular courses at the most prestigious universities; those who run a bit slower get to study less popular courses, and so on. It sounds fair, but is it? In most races, the runners begin at the same starting line, which is rarely true in life. Some students have the advantage of private schooling while others struggle in under-resourced schools; some help out their families by working part-time while others may use the time for extra tutoring.

A fair system should take unequal starting points into account. There are two ways to do this. One is to use special "access" schemes to allow students from deprived backgrounds to enter courses they would not get into under the competitive admissions system. Because these students may displace students with higher entry scores, access schemes face substantial political resistance from those with higher entry marks. In addition, many academics worry that students admitted just because they are socially or economically deprived may lack the necessary motivation or the academic potential to succeed.

This is where admissions tests, such as the one we intend to introduce at Macquarie University this year, can help to uncover hidden talent among educationally disadvantaged students. I expect that those who will be most interested in taking the test will be students whose entry mark has been adversely affected by illness, family problems or poor schooling. This test is already being used by the Australian National University and Monash. No test is perfect, but the UniTest, at least, makes no assumptions about schooling. For example, students may be asked to read and answer questions about a paragraph. All the necessary information is contained in the paragraph, so the test assesses only reasoning, not knowledge.

Tertiary admissions tests had their debut at Harvard University 60 years ago, when the university was the preserve of wealthy students whose families could afford to send them to the best preparatory schools. James Conant, the president of Harvard at the time, believed talented students were missing out because their poor schooling did not prepare them for the curriculum-based achievement tests that Harvard used to select students. He wanted selection to be based, at least in part, on a general "aptitude" test that was not linked to any particular school experience. In Conant's view, such a test would produce an even playing field in which working-class and middle-class students could compete in a contest of brains rather than bank accounts. The test he chose was the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

By the 1990s the test was producing revenue of about $US200 million a year. But critics questioned its status as a test of innate ability. Studies found that coaching improved performance, although how much was debatable, and certainly good schooling helped students achieve higher scores. This doesn't mean the Scholastic Aptitude Test is not useful. The test predicts first-year university performance - the reason it is still widely used to select students.

Although the admissions test may help make the system fairer, it is important to remember that no test can be guaranteed to uncover every Paul Potts. There is no perfectly objective selection device and there never will be. All examinations are influenced by social and economic factors and by life experiences. The best we can hope for is that universities will use test results as part of a holistic assessment. University admissions will always be more of an art than a science and the playing field may never be completely flat, but we can make admissions fairer by using admissions tests.


Now dams cause global warming!

Between cow farts and dams, how will we ever survive? Greenies have always hated dams, of course. In the circumstances, it would seem in harmony with their beliefs to cut off the town-water supply to all Greenies. They might actually discover where town water comes from then: DAMS

THE world's dams are contributing millions of tonnes of harmful greenhouse gases and spurring on global warming, according to a US environmental agency. International Rivers Network executive director Patrick McCully today told Brisbane's Riversymposium that rotting vegetation and fish found in dams produced surprising amounts of methane - 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

"Often it's accepted that hydropower is a climate friendly technology but in fact probably all reservoirs around the world emit greenhouse gases and some of them, especially some of the ones in the tropics, emit very high quantities of greenhouse gases even comparable to, in some cases even much worse than, fossil fuels like coal and gas," Mr McCully said.

He said when water flow was stopped, vegetation and soil in the flooded area and from upstream was left to rot, as well as fish and other animals which died in the dam. They then released carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the air. "Basically they're factories for converting carbon into methane and methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas - it's less known than carbon dioxide but it's actually about 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere."

Mr McCully said global estimates blamed dams for about a third of all methane emissions worldwide. The Brazilian National Space Agency estimated that was about 104 million tonnes of methane each year, or 4 per cent of the human impact on global warming, he said.

Mr McCully said that was a lot for such a small sector. But he said it was an area that was under-researched so a clearer picture of how dams were contributing to global warming was not known. The only Australian research that had been done was on Tasmanian dams, which found emissions were around 30 per cent of a natural gas plant - a much higher reading than US dam emissions, Mr McCully said. Those readings would be higher in hotter parts of Australia, especially northern Queensland, he said. Mr McCully said greater energy efficiency needed to be researched to overcome the problem, including technology that could produce energy from the methane from dams.

The 10th annual Riversymposium, Australia's largest river management conference, brings around 500 delegates from 40 countries to Brisbane this week to discuss river health, damming practices, drought and climate change.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labor Party to restart illegal immigration?

Labor has already promised to close the detention centre on Nauru and has previously stated that if people smugglers make it to Christmas Island with their human cargo, then entry to the mainland is guaranteed. Even if they don't make it to Christmas Island, Rudd has promised to take them there in the first instance. On the Alan Jones show (July 12, 2007) Rudd said that under a Rudd Labor government illegal boat arrivals would be "processed in the normal way and probably taken to Christmas Island for processing purposes". Such an equivocal response demonstrates that Labor is unfit to protect Australia's borders and maintain the integrity of our immigration program. This will simply give the green light to people smugglers that their repugnant criminal activity will be tolerated by a Rudd Labor government.

More disturbingly, Rudd makes no distinction between illegal and legal migrants. Labor's policy of "come one, come all", is further evidence that it does not have any policy to deal with illegal arrivals.

There will always be criticism of the Government's tough stance on protecting our borders from illegal boat arrivals. Regardless of where this criticism comes from, it will not deter the Howard Government from implementing its policies and ensuring that they are a success, and by any reasonable measure they have been.

More here

'Crippled' Left wrecking hope: Pearson

INDIGENOUS leader Noel Pearson holds little hope for the future of indigenous culture unless the political Left and Right can work together to tackle communities' dependence on the welfare state. "We are so crippled in our thinking that I don't hold out a great deal of hope we are ever going to get there," he told a packed crowd at the Melbourne Writers Festival last night.

Mr Pearson, chairman of the Cape York Institute, lashed out at the political Left, demanding its supporters rethink their views on the welfare state as it relates to indigenous policies. "Unless leaders of the cultural Left pull their heads out, I think it's going to be very hard for leaders of the indigenous community to do so," he said. The Left had "been the greatest justifiers of this state of affairs and we have never counted the costs. We just believed these things needed to be done".

Referring to drug and alcohol abuse in many Aboriginal communities, he added, "the facts have plainly spoken otherwise". "Giving handouts at the very bottom of society is a horrible thing that produces serious dysfunction," he said. When the Left "insists the blackfellas hold up the bottom end", Mr Pearson said, there was little hope the cycle of dependency would change. "The huge infrastructure of government, the parasitic infrastructure of welfare, has grown ... The minute you intervene in a person's life, inevitably you displace someone else's responsibility," he said. "The individual's responsibility. The mums' and dads' responsibility. The community's responsibility."

Mr Pearson's model for withholding part of Aborigines' welfare payments to ensure it is spent on food, child-rearing and other essentials rather than alcohol and drugs has been adopted by the Howard Government as part of its emergency intervention in the Northern Territory.

Mr Pearson told the audience of nearly 1000 people that one of the reasons he had worked closely with the Government was to bring on board Australia's conservatives, and to help them understand the plight of Aboriginal people. "Speaking to cheering crowds in Glebe and Fitzroy and West End in Brisbane might make indigenous leaders feel good," Mr Pearson said. "But you've got to do the hard yards with the hard people." Finding common ground with people on the political Right was vital, he said, adding that there was a "fundamental decency" within everyone.

Mr Pearson said the optimism and success of the Jewish community to secure a future after the Holocaust had given him great insight. He said Melbourne's Jewish community had shown him it was possible "to be victimised but not to become a victim", adding that the Jews had never forgotten or denied their history but had been able to continue and to thrive despite it. "This is what we have to do, to wake up and realise we are the guarantors of our destiny."

He recalled meeting the late Ron Castan QC, a civil libertarian and prominent member of Melbourne's Jewish community who died in 1999. In 1998, Castan connected Mr Pearson with conservative and right-wing thinkers so there could be a greater understanding of Aboriginal issues. This allowed Mr Pearson an insight into the potential for compassion and action among the political Right. "The starting place must be ourselves," he said. "The history of indigenous families tells us that the whole history of Aboriginal survival is not a history of government handouts."


Government schools not so "free"

STATE schools have been warned not to use debt collectors to recover "voluntary" fees from parents. Draft regulations, obtained by The Australian, say parents should not be harassed or children humiliated because of a failure to pay materials fees or make voluntary contributions. The Victorian government policy follows controversy over what parents are expected to pay at state schools. There have been claims of parents being forced to pay up to $1000 in subject charges and students being humiliated if their parents could not pay. Other instances included students not being allowed to take home finished artwork, students being banned from excursions and others being embarrassed because they were not allowed a school diary until fees were paid.

The draft policy states that the Government only provides funding for "free instruction -- which is defined as the resources, materials and teaching of the "standard curriculum program". It says schools may charge fees to parents for "goods and services provided by the school". This can include textbooks, excursions and extra materials that students "consume" or take home, such as artwork. The draft regulations state that a school can charge a "voluntary" contribution but parents are not to be forced to pay it. "Payments and contributions are to be obtained without coercion or harassment," the document states. "It is not acceptable to send repeated requests for voluntary contributions beyond the initial notice to all parents." The regulations replace a 2004 policy which also instructed schools not to use debt collectors, threaten parents or humiliate students.

Victorian Council of School Organisations president Jacinta Cashen said the new regulations were much more explicit about what fees could be charged. "But the concern for us is the policing side," she said. "We know that previously schools have flouted the guidelines ... and in the past some have used debt collectors." Ms Cashen said the Victorian Government had failed to address the key issue. "If schools don't legitimately have enough money for free instruction, we should put more pressure on the Government for more funding," she said.

Victorian Association of State School Principals president Brian Burgess said he was pleased there had been an attempt to clear up confusion about fees. "There has been some lack of clarity about some of the issues regarding school materials charges," he said. Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said schools struggled to provide everything for students. "The system isn't funded at a sufficient level not to have to ask for charges," he said. "The books won't balance without a co-contribution from parents."


Muslim plot thwarted by their own stupidity

THEY bragged of "owning the world starting from Lakemba", but a gang of young men who police say plotted to bomb ATMs seemed most concerned with not blowing themselves up. The young men from Sydney's south-west have been refused bail on charges of conspiring to use nitroglycerine explosives to attack safes and cash machines. Fadi Bassil, 20, from Lakemba, Elias Taouk, 19, from Kingsgrove, and Badawi Nassour, 20, of Greenacre, faced Sydney's Central Local Court yesterday. Linley Desire Jose Anthony, 20, of Yagoona was refused bail in the same court on Tuesday.

The men sparked a counter-terrorism operation when one, calling himself "Freddie", allegedly ordered 23 litres of chemicals from the Northern Territory on August 10. Australian Federal Police forensic experts said the batch of three chemicals could have been used to make up to 40 kilograms of high-powered explosive. Tipped off to the unusual order, police substituted dummy chemicals and monitored the men's phone calls and internet use, the court heard yesterday.

Police allege the men "googled" bomb recipes and tips, including searches on "how to blow up ATM machines" and "how much money is kept in bank ATMs". Phone taps revealed the men's dreams of criminal infamy and how they would spend their loot, the police version of events revealed. Taouk had said he "couldn't wait to be on video" and "couldn't wait until he parked his Porsche in front of Roxy's [nightclub in Parramatta]", the court heard. Police said Bassil asked a girl what she would do if her rich husband told her his wealth had come from robbing banks. When she asked him why, he replied that he was "just wondering". A text message said the men would "own the world starting from Lakemba".

The court was told other discussions involved the delicate process of bomb-making. "The mix is very sensitive and decomposes, anything, dropping or drying, it may explode," one man said. Another advised using "bungers to light it up", but cautioned they would need to "run away, straight away". Police allege that when the fake consignment arrived on August 24, Bassil and Nassour took the chemicals to Anthony's house in Yagoona. Faced with a room full of "explosives", Anthony was unnerved, and was recorded saying he was too scared to turn on his heater in case the house blew up.

Soon after, Bassil was taped revving up another of the gang to try out their new purchase. Surveillance teams later saw two men carrying ice and an esky to a table in Bicentennial Park in Glebe. They were then followed to a park in Georges Hall where they left behind gloves, eye droppers and 15 used sparklers, police said.

The men were arrested in police raids on Tuesday. Refusing bail, Magistrate Paul Lyon cited the strength of the police case and the need to protect the community. The "sheer magnitude of the quantity of substance that was bought brings it into a very serious category", he said.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Class war campaign comes unstuck

LABOR leader Kevin Rudd has been accused of running his own "dirt" campaign after a Labor advertisement wrongly targeted a Liberal candidate's "family home" as evidence of her wealth. Mr Rudd was forced to immediately withdraw the offending television advertisement. The ad, screened repeatedly on local TV in the Victorian seat of Ballarat, features pictures of the home of the Liberal candidate Samantha McIntosh. After pointing out that Ms McIntosh had defended the recent interest-rate rise, a voiceover says: "But I suppose when your own house is up for sale for $2.2 million, it's easy to lose touch." The ad shows the home's entrance, along with the verandas and furnishings, with the words: "McIntosh's mansion up for sale. Only $2.285 million. Liberals aren't in touch with working families. Makes you angry, doesn't it?" The ad also shows a Mercedes-Benz car, apparently parked in Ms McIntosh's driveway. But the "home" is a bed-and-breakfast business, and the car is not her vehicle.

Federal Liberal director Brian Loughnane said the advertisement confirmed Liberal Party fears that Labor and ACTU operatives in seats across the country were trawling the private affairs of Coalition candidates ahead of a negative election-campaign blitz. "I call on Mr Rudd to pull the advertisement and dismantle the dirt unit," Mr Loughnane said. Prime Minister John Howard's parliamentary secretary, Tony Smith, who visited Ballarat last week, said the McIntosh family's cars were a 1990s model Ford station wagon and a ute.

Ms McIntosh, a former nurse, bought the property with her husband when it was a disused psychiatric hospital. They carried out renovation themselves. Mr Smith told The Sunday Telegraph: "It's wrong to attack someone personally. But for (Labor candidate) Catherine King, it demonstrates mass hypocrisy. "If she really believes that, she's saying Kevin Rudd isn't fit to be in Parliament. "Kevin Rudd's a millionaire. Peter Garrett is a millionaire." Mr Rudd is wealthy, courtesy of his wife, Therese Rein. Her international employment placement business had a turnover of more than $160 million a year.

Mr Loughnane said the advertisement showed that, despite the "cosmetics" of Mr Rudd's leadership, the ALP hadn't changed its true colours: "They're still fundamentally driven by misplaced class envy and envy of people who set out in life to achieve something off their own initiative in small business." Mr Loughnane accused the ACTU of being complicit in a looming election "dirt" campaign, noting that the union movement had installed long-term campaigning officials in more than 20 marginal seats across the country.

Told of the advertisement by The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Rudd immediately ordered that it be scrapped. "Mr Rudd and his office had not been aware of this ad," a spokeswoman for the Opposition Leader said. "Mr Rudd's office today instructed Ms King the ad was to be withdrawn immediately. That has now occurred. "Mr Rudd does not tolerate in any way the class warfare that was once a feature of Australian politics."


Western Australia: Trivial sentences for serious crime

CRIMINALS can expect to serve just two years in jail - sometimes less - for some of the most serious offences, latest figures show. The Department of Corrective Services data, released to The Sunday Times, shows the time spent in WA jails for crimes. In many cases, criminals serve as little as a fifth of the time they would have had maximum penalties been imposed. Sexual assault and robbery, for example, carry maximum terms of 14 years, but perpetrators served an average of just more than two years. Those convicted of assault walked free after a year. Extortionists served an average of two years, drug offenders one year and traffic offenders eight months.

On the whole, criminals are spending longer in jail, but the state Opposition says it is not good enough. Shadow attorney-general Sue Walker yesterday revealed she was preparing a Private Member's Bill to ensure longer sentences were served. She said the granting of parole and the fact judges slashed maximum terms by a third, in some cases, meant criminals were not locked up for anywhere near long enough.

"I feel that there is a general sense of lawlessness in WA. The community feels that,'' Ms Walker said. "People generally know that sentences imposed by the courts aren't as high as they should be. "People are sick and tired of criminals getting a slap on the wrist for serious crimes. "We need to ensure criminals serve the time they are meant to serve.''

But Attorney-General Jim McGinty said WA had the second highest rate of imprisonment in Australia. Nationally, the average daily imprisonment rate is 151 prisoners for each 100,000 adults. The Northern Territory has the highest rate with 521 prisoners for every 100,000 adults, followed by WA, with a rate of 201. "The figures tell me that we already have the toughest sentencing regime of any state in Australia,'' Mr McGinty said. "Sure, you can go down the American path and lock people up even more, but I don't think that's necessary. How much harsher can you be?''

Ms Walker said Mr McGinty had missed the point and his argument simply suggested we had more crime. "This is not about how many people are going to prison,'' she said. "This is about not having adequate penalties. "People are not frightened of committing crimes because they believe the penalties they receive will be minimal.''


Greenie fiction about the planned Tasmanian pulp mill

HAS anyone bothered to ask Tasmanians if they really want to be "saved" by mainland "celebrities"? But what would Tasmanians know about their own island, right? That's why more than 100 kinda-famous people from nowhere near Tasmania have signed a petition to stop the island from building itself a $2 billion pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. Led by millionaire Sydney businessman Geoffrey Cousins, they are campaigning against another mainlander, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, warning that if he doesn't stop this satanic mill he could lose his Sydney seat.

Stop Tasmania's mill, demand playwright David Williamson from the Sunshine Coast; tennis star John Newcombe from Sydney; actor Rachel Ward from near Coffs Harbor; radio host Wendy Harmer from Sydney; Fairfax executive Mark Burrows from Sydney; TV chef Kylie Kwong from Sydney; film director Phillip Noyce from Hollywood; A-list ex-headmistress Rowena Danziger from Sydney and arts critic Leo Schofield from Sydney. Hear them cry from their concrete haunts: Stop those Tasmanians from building their forest-murdering, planet-choking, water-fouling, wine-tainting pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, that Garden of Eden, or face ruin by people who live nowhere near the place.

That's quite some bullying, and by people who have little on their side but more cash and cachet than the average voter. Certainly more cash and cachet than the workers who'll get a job at this planned mill, or a cut of the taxes on its earnings. It's odd that these far-away celebrities can so easily assume the right to block a project in Tasmania that's been backed by that state's Government, checked by its environment experts and approved by its parliament with the support of Labor, the Liberals and independents. What kind of patronising is this?

But out of this celebrity intervention comes both a lesson and laugh. The lesson is in the hazard of green dreamers making a cause of some project far away, of which you and they know little and thus imagine much. For instance, from all the hype and the soft-focus pictures, you will by now think - as these celebrities seem to think - that the Gunns pulp mill will be built in a valley as pristine and beautiful as the day Gaia made it.... see the lingering footage on the ABC's 7.30 Report this week of misty fields, babbling brooks and serene hills, all with a soundtrack of dreamy music - a vision of paradise soon to be torn to shreds and blackened by A STINKING LOUSY PULP MILL.

Ah, the advantages of a little local knowledge, rather than some long-distance Dreaming. Attention: the mill is not going to be built in Eden, or in any of the 40 per cent of Tasmania that's now national parks and reserves, but in the Bell Bay industrial precinct. Its neighbours there will not be fauns and woodsprites, but heavy industries of the kind that have been in this zone for many, many years - a steel smelter, an aluminium smelter, a wood chip mill, a fibreboard plant, a power station, a fuel depot, and a few other factories of a kind to give a green believer the vapors. Shocking, I know, that such grunting, clanking, sweating businesses are allowed to exist, even with their emissions cut to negligible - as the emissions of the pulp mill most certainly will be.

But I have a newsflash for the denizens of Sydney's smartest cafes: man cannot live on green fundraising calendars alone. It's in fact industries such as these that give Tasmanians the cash that allows them, too, to enjoy the shows a Schofield recommends, the films a Noyce directs, the dinners a Kwong cooks, the private schools a Danziger runs, the plays a Williamson writes, and the health cookies of the nearby bakery which Cousins part-owns. Who knows, they might even choose to spend their dirty dollars on the high-minded paper that Burrows publishes.

Oh, did I mention paper? That reminds me of the laugh in this campaign to stop a mill that pulps wood for paper. How are the celebrities fighting this plant? Not just by running ads in a newspaper published in Turnbull's electorate. Cousins is also stuffing 50,000 letterboxes in Sydney with copies of the endless and emotive essay of author Richard Flanagan, which he says inspired him to go on his crusade. Wow - 50,000 copies of this booklet? That's quite some paper these anti-mill campaigners are using. Tasmania will need a new pulp mill to cope.


Little recourse against bad teachers

Jim Taylor is not the name of the primary school principal who approached me after a recent column, but it will have to do because he's not supposed to talk to the media. I'd written that it was easier to dismiss poor teachers from the state system these days and he was on the phone to tell me that it's still far too difficult. Since then I've talked to other principals and teachers about this, because it's an issue of concern to many parents, including some of those who transfer their children from the public to the private system. I don't claim to have the final word on the situation, but in at least some places it's a festering issue.

In state schools, teachers' performance is reviewed annually by their principal or a senior teacher. The review cannot include any observation of the teacher in the classroom unless the teacher agrees. In Taylor's experience, most underperforming teachers don't. Therefore the review is usually a paper exercise, conducted with different degrees of rigour in different schools. What this means is that teachers, once they finish their probationary period, can go through their careers without ever being observed and assessed in the classroom by a senior person. Some principals and teachers who talked to me say the annual performance review was a joke and poor teachers could easily make themselves look adequate on paper. One teacher says her principal doesn't even do the review, but just signs the forms and sends them off.

If a teacher is doing a really poor job this will eventually be noticed by colleagues. Her or his pupils might start to display behavioural problems in the playground and the low standard of their work will be apparent to the unlucky teacher who takes them next year. Once this is brought to the principal's attention, he or she usually tries to help the teacher informally. If this fails, the Department of Education and Training is informed and the teacher is put on a 10-week formal support program. This can be extended by six weeks if considered necessary. At the end of the program, the teacher is dismissed if there is inadequate improvement. According to the department, 600 teachers have been put on programs in the past five years, with 270 failing to meet the necessary standards and leaving the department. That's fewer than 60 a year out of 50,000 teachers in primary and secondary schools and the interesting question is whether it's enough.

Taylor believes we need a public debate on the current procedures, because they don't work all that well. He says the teachers involved nearly always take stress leave, which can be paid by WorkCover, so it doesn't affect the teacher's accumulated sick leave entitlement. He says that when the teachers he's put on a program returned from stress leave, the department told him the 10-week period had to recommence, dragging the process out for much longer. (Other principals I talked to had received different advice on this point.) As well as stress leave, teachers can claim they are being victimised or harassed by the principal, which can trigger a messy mediation procedure. In some cases the teacher will be transferred to another school during the program, which then lapses.

One senior teacher said to me: "The process gets extended and then it gets complicated and sometimes it falls over for various reasons. It drags in other staff members, even parents, for and against the principal. In a really bad case some teachers stop coming to the staff room for lunch and the school becomes a factionalised place where you just don't want to work." I have been told of some principals who retired because of the stress created by this process. Others won't initiate support programs in order to avoid the problems they bring on themselves and the school. "You can sympathise with them to a point," one teacher says. "But the other teachers can get resentful about carrying a colleague who's just coasting, and that affects staff morale. It just takes a bit longer to happen."

The present system is an improvement on the past. Geoff Scott, the president of the NSW Primary Principals Association, says: "There used to be two 10-week programs plus a five-week review. It's much shorter now and I think we've got it pretty right." Jim McAlpine, the president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, is also generally happy with the present system, although he would like to see the program always finish in 10 weeks. "At the moment," he says, "it's often drawn out when the teacher involved takes leave for stress or other reasons."

Angelo Gavrielatos, the deputy president of the NSW Teachers Federation, acknowledges the need for the procedures and says: "They have been in existence for a long time. They're the result of negotiations between the department and the federation, with the exception of the withdrawal of some appeal rights last year, which we opposed." He is concerned that "focusing on this issue detracts from the fact that the overwhelming majority of teachers exhibit a very high level of professionalism every day". I'm sure this is true. But anyone who's talked to many parents about this knows that, far more in public schools than private ones, there's a smattering of poor teachers who stay in their jobs year after year. After talking to Jim Taylor, I can understand why.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bills of rights do not protect freedoms

By Andrew Bolt

As American judge Learned Hand said: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it."

Just when it seemed safe to be openly proud of Australia, the cultural cringers are at it again. This time we need to be ashamed of ourselves because Australia does not have a bill of rights. Forget the fact Australia is one of the world's oldest and most successful liberal democracies. Forget the fact bills of rights did nothing for enslaved African Americans or those persecuted in Stalinist Russia. No, we need a bill of rights to "keep up" with the rest of the world. The cringers are the same activists, lobbyists and lawyers unable to secure political objectives at the ballot box. Some Labor states, and the Labor Party's national organisation wing, are in on this as well.

Now there is a new voice in the chorus: Geoffrey Robertson, QC. Fresh off the plane he argues that Australia needs a bill of rights for two reasons: first so that we can become an "advanced" democracy; and secondly so that our High Court and other judges can make more of an international contribution than they do now. According to Mr Robertson, the High Court has lost some of its standing because a few overseas human rights lawyers tend not to quote its reasons for judgment. I think that says more about the human rights lawyers than it says about our own court.

The High Court of Australia is a formidable institution, of which all Australians should be proud. Current members of the High Court enjoy a very high international standing. From among the current justices two had enormous international and local practices as barristers (one was acknowledged as the best advocate in the common law world since Barwick); one was a law professor at 30, the youngest dean of an Australian law school and is an undisputed academic powerhouse; and all have studied, practised or lectured overseas.

The truth is that Australia is one of the most advanced democracies there is. Our constitutional order came about, not through war or other violence, but as a result of various popular processes in Australia in the 1890s. Even those who did not have the vote back then were often involved informally. Since federation, Australians have been at liberty to amend the constitution, and we have done so from time to time.

Bills of rights do not protect essential freedoms - all they do is present the very real risk of having judges imposing personal opinions as law, leaving everyone to guess about what the law might be. In Canada, for example, without direction from the parliament, judges have decided that all asylum seekers are entitled to an oral hearing, that there should be gay marriage, that persons awaiting trial must be released after eight months on remand, no matter how serious the crimes involved (this position was later reversed), and that tobacco advertising is free speech.

In Britain last year a suspected car thief climbed onto the roof of a home and threw bricks and tiles at police. Officers provided him with Kentucky Fried Chicken and cigarettes, just to be sure that his "human right" to sustenance while being "detained" could not be called into question. In 2001 the European Court of Human Rights held that certain tenants who were behind in their rental payments could not be evicted because of their "right" to "their" home. In 2006 the House of Lords followed and applied that decision.

I doubt that many Australians would welcome these outcomes. I would also doubt that many Australians would want our High Court to reduce itself to this kind of decision making. In a proper democracy, it should be the people's elected representatives, not an unelected elite, who make these kinds of social and economic decisions. I have no doubt that if there were a national bill of rights, Australian judges would approach questions relating to rights in good faith. However, they would become involved - even if unintentionally - in making policy.

I suspect that those advocating a bill of rights in Australia have a different view from the Australian Government on difficult issues such as responding to terrorism and people smuggling. I also suspect that they do not have the courage of their convictions to put this to the electorate. As one activist in the United States was quoted as saying, "We have to look to the courts to create new rights that we won't be able to get from the legislature." That is anything but democratic.


A Bill of Rights for Australia?

Tim Blair has some more facetious comments

Posh lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC - previously prominent during the Republican debate when he argued in favour of severing ties with the British, using a British accent acquired during many decades living in Britain - believes Australia needs a Bill of Rights. "Australia is the only country without a Bill of Rights," Robertson said this week, Britishly. "We are alone among advanced liberal democracies in not having a Bill of Rights which has a presumption in favour of freedom of expression."

A fine idea, Geoffo. But who would compose such a Bill? Ideally we'd be able to go back 150 years or so, grab four or five normal middle-class citizens and put them to work: "Pay attention. You've got 30 minutes to come up with a list of rights held by all Australians. You there, top hat - take notes."

A sensible charter would result. Trouble is, in 2007 any Bill of Rights project would be captured by panic lobbyists and grievance shriekers and other types generally confined to asylums in enlightened 1857. You'd end up with a legal document enshrining the rights of bisexual SBS employees to state-funded vegan heroin, or something that allows people to vote via YouTube. Full human status might be granted to sugar gliders. Or Greens senators.

No. That won't do. As one of the few mid-19th century throwbacks currently employed in the Australian media - you may recognise us by our monocles and refusal to recognise any post-partition maps of India - the responsibility for an Australian Bill of Rights clearly falls to me. So, let our rights now be upheld:

1. Australia shall have a free press. That is to say, it shall not have a press funded without the consent of taxpayers, who otherwise might be compelled to hand over some $750 million every year for a load of commie bull on the ABC.

2. Should a person decide to open an establishment in which citizens are welcome to enjoy a cigarette with their drink, no law may prevent this.

3. Were a person to advocate a Australian population limit of between six and 12 million, as Tim Flannery did in 1995, Tim Flannery shall be prevented from having children. Of which he has two, the ridiculous hypocrite.

4. If an intruder unlawfully enters a house and is confronted by an armed homeowner, all bets are off.

5. Those who sneer at tabloid newspapers, because news printed on smaller pages is somehow inferior to news published on larger pages, shall retain the right to admit at any time that owners of massive plasma televisions receive higher-quality news than owners of smaller televisions.

6. Artists may attack Islam with the same vigour they attack Christianity. Please, go ahead. Try it right now. Good luck with all those changes of address.

7. Any wealthy environmentalist living in a coastal property shall place said property on the market at half its estimated worth the moment they make public any fears that Australia is threatened by rising oceans.

8. The right of singers, actors, dancers, cartoonists, sculptors and other practitioners of the emotional arts to proclaim on serious social, scientific or military matters shall be balanced by the right of audiences to mock them to the point of breakdown.

9. Any opponent of nuclear power shall be granted the right to never visit France, the US, Japan, the UK, or any nation where nuclear power is used. This right will also extend to a ban on them buying or consuming any goods sourced from those nations.

10. Protesters at events such as APEC will retain the right to be treated gently by police, as has become customary, despite incendiary provocation. Except for one event per year, not to be indicated in advance, during which police may respond as they wish with absolutely no fear of prosecution.

11. Any Australian citizen may at any time write a book, present a play, make a film, or complete an art work of any type, entirely free of any government intrusion. Including intrusion in the form of grants.

12. Upon the death of any Australian listed among our National Living Treasures (especially Phillip Adams, Julian Burnside, Peter Garrett, Jennie George, Marcus Einfeld, Bob Brown, Tim Costello, Robyn Williams, Pat O'Shane and Michael Leunig), citizens may help themselves to all their stuff.

13. The right - no, the responsibility - shall exist for media commentators who complain about the gap between rich and poor to immediately request a substantial pay cut.

14. To preserve the right of Australians to be protected from toxic waste, radioactive metals, noxious gases and deadly biological agents, all such materials should be stored in Adelaide, where they will have the incidental side-effect of boosting property values.

There. That's enough for Robertson QC to chew on during his next series of Hypotheticals. By the way, do you think Robbo's author wife Kathy Lette speaks at home in the same pun-swamped manner we see in her books? If so, all mockery is withdrawn. The poor bloke has suffered enough.


Addle-headed literature curricula

By Imre Salusinszky

Last month's Australian Literature in Education Roundtable, organised by the Australia Council for the Arts, came up with many suggestions for raising the profile of our national literature, past and present, within the education system. And on the eve of the roundtable, federal Education Minister Julie Bishop took one great leap for mankind by announcing the Howard Government would endow a new chair in Australian literature at whichever university put forward the best proposal. At a stroke Bishop increased the number of such chairs by 50 per cent.

But while the state of Oz lit received a decent airing, there was much said at the roundtable that applied to the teaching in our schools of literature generally. As university specialists have ceased to be included on the state boards of studies, which shape curriculums and reading lists, two related developments have occurred. First, the cart seems to have overtaken the horse, with assessment and outcomes assuming precedence over content. Second, curriculums have come to be couched in a formidable bureaucratic jargon, an edu-babble that is inaccessible to mere mortals including, I suspect, most teachers. Here is a passage from the introduction to senior English in the South Australian curriculum:

"Through the study of English, children and students learn that language transmits cultural perspectives, including gender, ethnicity and class; and who or what is or is not important as they think, imagine, challenge, remember, create and narrate.

"They learn how language shapes meaning and reality, what this means for issues of identity and interdependence, and how it is used for a range of purposes in different contexts. Learners need to know how language is constructed and how it is used by different groups in society to shape power relations."

And this, from Western Australia's senior literature curriculum:

"In the literature course students develop skills and understandings of textual production and reception through reading practices that foster the close analysis and interrogation of textual languages and constructions. In addition to expanding their imaginative and intellectual experience, students develop and extend their social, cultural and textual knowledge through a greater comprehension of cultural meaning-making systems.

"Through critical engagement with a range of text types and cultural and historical contexts, students develop their understanding of different approaches to reading texts. This enables them to ask questions about the nature of literary text and how literature is defined by, and functions within Western cultural history.

"Such questions include the reasons why cultural value is assigned to one kind of text and not another; the changing nature of what is valued as literature at different times and in different historical and cultural contexts; and the ways particular social groups are given or denied the power to define what is 'literary' and what is 'not literary'."

It would appear, to put it bluntly, that senior-level courses in English expect students to be able to theorise the process of reading before they have done any. The sorts of inquiries outlined in these documents are perfectly appropriate to the graduate seminar room, but to place them at the beginning of a literary education is like starting arithmetic with advanced calculus.

It seems a particular style of literary theory that enjoyed its historical moment in universities in the 1970s and '80s has returned as farce in the curriculum prescriptions of the Australian states and territories. I am reminded of the way the Finnish system of dexterity training known as Sloyd got taken up in Victorian state schools in the '50s and ended up being plain old woodwork.

There are a couple of significant verbal giveaways in the documents quoted above. One is the use of interrogation, a word that spread through the humanities in the '80s and '90s like privet. When you interrogate a text you are apparently doing something far more important that simply reading or analysing or asking questions about it: you are standing in the middle of the road of ideas, raising your hand as some benighted Western cultural juggernaut rolls towards you, and announcing: "No further!"

The other giveaway is the grammatical slippage evident in "the nature of literary text". It suddenly appears as if literature has become indivisible, like milk. The view implied is that the particularities of author, style and imaginative vision, which arguably distinguish literary texts from each other, are secondary to an ideological impulse that unites and transforms them into an undifferentiated porridge.

The first point to be made about these kinds of curriculum statements is that they are, in all likelihood, harmless. I have little doubt teachers in high schools largely ignore such guff and simply get on with introducing their students to set texts without too much cultural theory clogging the gears.

However, it is the extent to which the texts are chosen to illustrate the frequently tendentious statements in the syllabuses that is a worry. As my friend Peter Holbrook asked in The Australian last month, would there be a glaring lack in a syllabus that simply declared students would be "introduced to some of the most rewarding and influential writing of the 19th and 20th centuries in English"? Such a syllabus would generate a reading list based on notions of quality, or at least canonicity, rather than illustration of appropriate contexts. My fear is that we have become so devoted to interrogation that we are embarrassed by concepts - sorry, constructs - such as genius or greatness.

Senior secondary studies in English enjoy an advantage right now that is unprecedented and may not last: the reading bonanza among younger children being driven by their enchantment with Harry Potter. We will not leverage this advantage by making disenchantment the object of high school literature courses.

What should that object be? Quite simply, literary experience, for its own sake. Until students have undergone at least the beginnings of an inductive survey of poems and stories, they are substantially under-prepared for the deductive assertions of literary theory that await them at university. And only such a survey can form the beginning of an appreciation of specifically literary attributes such as style, structure and influence.

By beefing up the literary content of secondary English courses and elbowing some of the more noisy curriculums out of the way, we would leave students and teachers freer to go wherever a dialogue with the text - which is very different from an interrogation - may lead.


Moderate Muslim says not to appease the radicals

UNIVERSITIES must resist politicised Muslim groups seeking special treatment on campus, a commentator has warned. Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatric registrar and a graduate of the University of Sydney, said it was now clear that British universities had inadvertently lent support to the growth of home-grown radicalism by giving in to this kind of campus pressure. "(These groups) are very assertive, very quick to cry racism, they've taken advantage of the impression among some academics that they're a marginalised, victimised minority,'' Dr Ahmed said.

On Monday he will address the first national conference on Muslim university students, being held at the University of Western Sydney. He said overseas Muslim students, appreciating the freedoms of Australia, often become less religious. But local Muslim students, who had suffered "social deprivation'' tended to be attracted to an Islamic identity of opposition to the wider culture. "University is often the beginning of their path to greater religiosity and at times radicalism too,'' he said. Politicised Muslim groups might seek to build their profile by pressuring a university to allow a certain speaker on campus, for example.

Dr Ahmed said another pattern was for these Muslim groups and leftists to ally themselves. "I remember going to a protest (in Sydney during the recent Hezbollah-Israel conflict in Lebanon) and seeing environmental groups going Allah Akhbar (God is great) in harmony with some Lebanese groups,'' Dr Ahmend said. "The God is great line wasn't about religion, it was about social protest.''

Also on Monday Hass Dellal, executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, will report on a series of Muslim youth summits held around the country. About 200 university students were among those involved. Mr Dellal said feelings of isolation and not belonging were common among the students. "But a lot of these young people didn't want to bury their heads and say, poor me. They wanted to get out there and do things -- one of the ways was by volunteering,'' he said.

He said Muslim students overseas sometimes felt they were not welcomed even by their own communities within Australia while local Muslims were troubled by the anti-terror laws. "They didn't understand what these laws meant,'' Mr Dellal said. "They were worried they were going to get locked up for saying something or doing something or looking like something.'' He said students also expressed their anger and frustration at the violent actions of extremist Muslims overseas and felt they had done everything they could to demonstrate their loyalty to Australia.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sacked hardline Muslim preacher forces his way back

A HARDLINE Islamic cleric who was sacked by moderate Muslims for praising jihadists has forced his way back into Canberra's only mosque to preach anti-western messages. Mohammed Swaiti used his predominantly Palestinian and Jordanian support base to topple the Islamic leadership in charge of Abu Bakr Mosque, allowing him to continue preaching Wahabbism -- a fundamentalist strand of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden.

Islamic Society of ACT president Sabrija Poskovic, whose organisation is in charge of the mosque at Yarralumla, said yesterday he was forced out after receiving threats from Sheik Swaiti's followers. He told The Weekend Australian that the imam and his admirers would see his return as a win for extremist Islam in Australia. "They took over the mosque by force, by argument, by screaming, by calling us names," said Mr Poskovic. "There is no point arguing and fighting with him and his supporters any more."

Canberra's Muslim leadership fears the return of Sheik Swaiti -- who is being investigated by the tax office for allegedly failing to pay tax on thousands of dollars in clerical allowances he is accused of receiving from the Saudi Government -- would further divide the local community and threaten to radicalise more young followers of Islam. Mr Poskovic was planning to set up a prayer hall that would be used as an alternative to the mosque by moderate Muslims ideologically opposed to the Palestinian-born Sheik Swaiti.

A prominent figure in Canberra's Muslim community, Mohammed Berjaoui, yesterday attacked national security authorities for overlooking Sheik Swaiti's anti-western sermons and ignoring his supporters' violent actions, which allegedly led to the bashing of the Islamic society's secretary, Kurt Kennedy, in May. Mr Kennedy resigned from his position last month. "They used violence and force ... to control a mosque, which is something that normally happens in the Middle East," Mr Berjaoui said. "It gives the message that they used force and violence to control the society and police and authorities did not stop them. They can do whatever they want and get away with it."

The Weekend Australian revealed in April that Sheik Swaiti, who also works for the tax office, was regularly praising mujahideen in his Friday sermons. While he translated his sermon into English for non-Arabic-speaking audience members, the imam omitted praise for Islamic jihadists in the English version. Sheik Swaiti delivered yesterday's sermon at Abu Bakr Mosque.


"Green" building goes brown

A YEAR after it was launched amid much green fanfare, the building touted as Australia's best environmental performer has come under fire because several of its environmental features do not yet work. Teething problems at CH2 - Melbourne City Council's new state-of-the-art offices - include a sewage recycling system not yet operating, extra lighting having been installed after staff complained it was too dark, rooftop turbines not performing to expectations, and problems with plumbing leaving unpleasant odours. There were concerns about "shower towers" mounted on the building's side, designed to provide an air-conditioning alternative. They are functioning now, but were shut in February after legionella was found in the building's cooling system.

When asked about the building's environmental performance, Lord Mayor John So said yesterday CH2 was producing 80 per cent fewer emissions than comparable office buildings. But his response is at odds with his own council's report two months ago, which conceded there was no data on the building's environmental performance because it had not yet been assessed.

Green building expert Peter Szental, the man responsible for Australia's first refurbished office building to get a six-star Green Star rating, commended the council on its vision, but said many of CH2's environmental initiatives did not yet work. "There's no chance they would get a six-star rating if they were audited," Mr Szental said. "If you're going to the cutting edge, obviously some things are not going to work. But we really need to know what works and what doesn't." Mr Szental also questioned council claims that productivity would increase by 4.9 per cent.

Staff in the building have complained about noise levels in the open-plan offices. And an overwhelming stench from waterless urinals has been another source of consternation.


Does Monash University have different standards for Muslims?

We are entitled to expect that those who lecture at our universities are appropriately qualified. Otherwise, we would be misleading the students that the university is supposed to serve. So for instance, if I have a degree in psychology, I would not be qualified to teach law. If I have a degree in law, I would presumably not be considered for a post in politics.

It used to be, and I hope is still, the case that if one wanted to even tutor at Monash University, the minimum requirement was achievement of a Class 2A Honours.

If one was to be considered for employment as a lecturer; the minimum requirement would probably be at least a PhD, or significant completion thereof, or perhaps a substantial portfolio of works published in refereed journals in the field that the candidate is to lecture in.

What then does one make of the recent appointment of Mr Waleed Aly, of the Islamic Council of Victoria, formerly a lawyer, as a lecturer in Politics at Monash's School of Political and Social Inquiry, Faculty of Arts? Mr Aly graduated in 2002 from Melbourne University with degrees in Engineering and Law.

He obtained a Class 2B Honours in completing the LLB, finishing 8th from the bottom of the list of H2B recipients. He is best known for his newspaper articles, and a recent book, People Like Us, How Arrogance is dividing Islam and the West (Picador Australia). Otherwise he is best known for being the public face of the Islamic Council of Victoria in ICV v Catch The Fire Ministries, a matter heard under Victoria's religious vilification laws.

How the above qualify him to be an academic in the field of politics is a question which is not likely to be answered by Monash VC Richard Larkins. Larkins has yet to provide any answers as to how/why the Monash Asia Institute hired one Zulfikar Shariff, a known supporter of Osama bin Laden, as a research fellow despite the Shariff not having any academic qualifications at all.

Located at are advertisements for the various positions, including that of lecturer within the Arts Faculty, Monash University, which includes the School of Politics. Readers can see for themselves that the minimum requirement is a PhD or equivalent.


Life among Australia's "noble savages"

It was nine in the morning when the teacher set out by car to round up the usual suspects, children hopeful of spending their day playing in the dust of their Cape York community rather than endure hours confined to a classroom. Something caught his eye. Stepping out of his car, the teacher walked slowly into the yard of a property where debris from a drunken party held the previous night radiated from a large, deep pit of ashes. And on the edge of the ashes was a naked baby girl, about six months old.

"It was the most traumatic thing I have ever seen," the teacher told The Weekend Australian yesterday. "She was not able to crawl, and she was past crying. She was all grey from the ashes of the fire -- just the moisture of her mouth and eyes were different. She was near death. "I picked her up and screamed out, who's baby was she, and people were walking past and just turning their heads away. They didn't want to know. "I ran to the car and put the bub on the front seat and drove to the hospital where they immediately cleaned the ash from her mouth, nose and ears, and put a drip into her arm. "She lived. It was not until about 10 that night that her parents turned up at the hospital and said they understood their baby was there," the teacher said. "It was reported to the Department of Child Safety and they spoke to the parents, but the child stayed with the family.

"This is all about grog and showed me once and for all just how stupid it is. How could a mother, or other family members for that matter, just forget they put a baby down in the ashes of a fire and leave her there?"

The incident, which occurred several months ago, speaks volumes on the task facing the teams spearheading the federal Government's intervention into indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. It also brings into question their tactics, as they prepare to impose restrictions on alcohol. John Howard is likely to get a first-hand look at the problem of alcohol abuse this week when he tours several communities in the Territory that will be affected by his emergency intervention package.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has been critical of the federal Government's approach of applying blanket alcohol bans, arguing that Queensland's alcohol management plan was a much better approach. "We will look at the Prime Minister's plan," Mr Beattie said in June, "but banning alcohol won't work. "You have to progressively bring in change. We need (alcohol management) plans that are stable and sensible, not a gimmick for a federal election."

Such restrictions have been in place in Cape York for years yet they did nothing to prevent a six-month-old baby being abandoned in the ashes of a fire. Many in Cape York doubt the effectiveness of such measures and are demanding a complete ban on grog. For the Cape York teacher confronted with the reality of a community's spiral into hopelessness, there is no debate: "The alcohol restrictions on these communities don't go far enough -- there should be no grog allowed at all until people learn to handle it with some responsibility."

Yet in Brisbane yesterday, Communities Minister Warren Pitt revealed that alcohol management plans in all Cape York communities were under review. The state's clampdown on grog followed a report -- commissioned by the Beattie Government in 2001 -- by Tony Fitzgerald QC. He was tasked with investigating justice issues in remote indigenous communities and making recommendations to curb violence and child abuse.

In 2002, the state Government introduced the first AMP in Aurukun, on western Cape York. The community is the home of the powerful Wik people of native title fame. If reforms were to succeed in Cape York, it was imperative that Aurukun be a partner, not an enemy. Trading hours at the community's hotel were restricted to between 3pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday, with only light and mid-strength beer allowed, and no takeaways. Yet the restrictions have begun to slip. Saturday trading between 10am and 2pm has been allowed on occasion, sparking anger among some who say it destroys any hope of a decent weekend spent with parents and children.

Restrictions in other communities are even tighter, with no wet canteen in Doomadgee in the Gulf, and Hopevale, on eastern Cape York. In an echo of the policy about to be imposed in the Territory, locals are each allowed to bring in a carton of low- or mid-strength beer, but there are certain public places where it cannot be consumed. No wine or spirits are allowed. Fines apply if the rules are broken, with the most severe penalties being $75,000 and-or 18 months' imprisonment. But in many instances, locals view the rules as a challenge to be overcome. Sly-grogging is rife, particularly at night when the over-worked police are not on duty.

At a time when locals are busy beating the restrictions, Mr Pitt yesterday said that aspects of the alcohol management policy were wrong. "For instance, I intend to address the issue of the provision of rehabilitation and detoxification centres for people from the communities." He said he would look, on a case-by-case basis, at each community to see how the AMP should be altered -- with enormous pressure being applied for relaxation of the takeaway policy. The Government is also under pressure from public servants in the communities to allow them to have alcohol for private consumption. With the approval of the locals, Mr Pitt released a 66-page evaluation of an AMP from an unnamed Cape community, where children in one in five households were at risk of abuse.

The report tells a different story from what is normally presented -- the review team was told the alcohol restrictions had done little to reduce crime and violence, although the assaults that occurred were not as serious as previously. "The director of nursing estimates that around 20 per cent of households in the community present an environment where there is a significant risk of child abuse and-or neglect," the report states. "The director confirmed reports that the majority of the notifications for child abuse and neglect made last year derived from a relatively small section of the community. Significantly, among these notifications were a small but critical number for suspected sexual abuse of children under six years of age."

Yet statistics compiled for the community appear to give lie to what was told to the review team. According to the statistics, reports of serious assaults fell 12.3per cent in the first year of the AMP, from 81 to 71, and in the second year, there was a further reduction to 58 -- a 28.4per cent drop over the two years. The report also raises doubts about the reduction in alcohol consumption: "The review team was told underage drinking has increased, particularly among young women and girls."


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