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

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


30 September, 2011


My own view is that there are sufficient allowances in the law to have enabled the judge to have thrown out the case. I think Bolt was simply the victim of a hostile and illogical Jewish judge.

For understandable reasons Jews tend to be very sensitive about any hint of racism. Mordechai Bromberg should have recused himself from the case.

As it is, he is a disgrace and a burden to his community. Taking part in such an act of gross censorship against quite mild comments reinforces the Leftist and Arab claim that Jews are the modern-day Nazis. As a strong supporter of Israel I could not deplore Bromberg's activities more. He has made himself an enemy of Israel by reinforcing the claims of its critics.

Four current articles below -- JR

Andrew Bolt's response

IT IS time we put aside racial and ethnic divisions. As multicultural Australia strives for harmony, these distinctions merely reinforce existing barriers.

I am the son of Dutch parents who came to Australia the year before I was born. For a long time, I have felt like an outsider here, not least because my family moved around so very often. You know how it is when you feel you don't fit in. You look for other identities, other groups, to give you a sense of belonging, and perhaps some status.

So for a while I considered myself Dutch, and even took out a Dutch passport.

Later I realised how affected that was, and how I was borrowing a group identity rather than asserting my own. Andrew Bolt's. So I chose to refer to myself as Australian again, as one of the many who join in making this shared land our common home.

Yet even now I fret about how even nationality can divide us.

To be frank, I consider myself first of all an individual, and wish we could all deal with each other like that. No ethnicity. No nationality. No race. Certainly no divide that's a mere accident of birth. So that's the background to the calamity that hit me yesterday.

That's why I believe we can choose and even renounce our ethnic identity, because I have done that myself.

But I also believe that many people now increasingly do insist on asserting racial and ethnic identities, and that we increasingly spend money and pass laws to entrench them. I think that a terrible pity, even a danger, because surely in a multi-ethnic community like ours it's important to stress what unites us, not what divides.

As you might know, I have argued against this trend. For instance, and this is what brought me to the court, I have written about what seems to me an increasing trend of people to identify as Aboriginal, when even their looks loudly suggest they have ancestry drawn from many "races" or ethnicities, especially European.

In two columns in particular - and that's where this misery started - I wrote about people who, it seemed to me, had other options than to call themselves, without qualification or hyphens, "Aboriginal". They included nine fair-skinned Aborigines who responded not with public arguments, but with a legal action in the Federal Court to have my articles banned forever, and me prevented from ever again writing something similar.

I'm talking about people such as an Aboriginal lawyer whose father was British, an Aboriginal activist whose own sister identified as non-Aboriginal, and an Aboriginal writer whose father was born in Austria.

In those articles I wrote that I did not question the genuineness of their identification. I did not even go as far as did Professor Larissa Behrendt, one of those who took me to court, who nine years ago declared that the definition of Aboriginality needed to be tightened, or "you run the risk of having the parameters stretched to the ludicrous point where someone can say: 'Seven generations ago there was an Aboriginal person in my family, therefore I am Aboriginal'."

To be clear: not once did I say that these people had no right to call themselves Aborigines. I've always accepted that they do.

I am too worried now to quote directly from what I did actually write, but my argument - which Justice Mordecai Bromberg of the Federal Court yesterday rejected - was that such people had choices. They could choose to identify as Aboriginal, or as some other ethnicity in their ancestry, or, as I do, as Australian. Even as an individual.

Indeed, they could do as the former sprinter Patrick Johnson once put it in his own case: "I have the best of both cultures, of a couple of cultures. I mean, Dad's Irish. I'm Aboriginal as well."

As well. And, in fact, since I wrote my damn columns two years ago, I've seen that one of the people I wrote about has indeed since described herself as someone of many heritages - "of English, Jewish and Wathaurung descent".

Two years ago, I would cheerfully have argued that this acknowledgment of a multiple ethnicity was healthier, and truer, in such cases than insisting on only being Aboriginal. But not today. I no longer dare.

I yesterday learned I had breached the Racial Discrimination Act, as interpreted by Justice Bromberg, and I must now be very, very careful about discussing anyone's identification with any ethnic group or "race" in multicultural Australia.

Here is a relevant part of his judgment:

"At the core of multiculturalism is the idea that people may identify with and express their racial or ethnic heritage free of pressure not to do so."

In fact, it seems from Justice Bromberg's judgment that it is against the values of the Racial Discrimination Act for me to write columns likely to "pressure" people to give up some racial identity.

Again, I quote: "Such pressure may ultimately cause a person to renounce their racial identity. Conduct with negating consequences such as those that I have described, is conduct inimical to the values that the RDA seeks to honour. "People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying."

To argue against their choices is apparently "destructive of racial tolerance". And, I now find to my astonishment and utter dismay, the arguments as expressed in my articles are also against the law.

CRUCIAL to Justice Bromberg's finding is that fair-skinned Aborigines such as the claimants do not choose their ethnic or "racial" identity, even though one of the nine in the court action against me conceded in court that her own sister disputed her account of their genealogy and did not consider herself to be Aboriginal.

If Justice Bromberg's view is correct, I would be even more depressed than I am already. It would have grave implications for our multi-ethnic or "multi-racial" community. Must we always be defined by our ancestry, trapped forever in some box of race? Is someone with even just 1/128th Aboriginal ancestry forever an Aborigine, and Aborigine only?

Well, yes, suggests Justice Bromberg's judgment - as long as that person felt Aboriginal and other Aborigines approved. And this must be the law, end of debate, even if many of us disagree - even though, as His Honour wrote, "the perception of many Australians of an Aboriginal person will no doubt be influenced by the stereotypical images of a dark-skinned Aboriginal person in outback Australia".

But I must not go further. I may breach the law.

True, having declared my columns unlawful, Justice Bromberg did insist he did not mean to "suggest that it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification including the challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people".

Oh, really? Believe me, I wouldn't ever want to test that assurance after going through what I have -- two years of worry, two weeks in court, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, just to test whether my columns could pass this muster.

And, yes, Justice Bromberg suggests I did bring all this upon myself, not because of my opinion (even though he condemns it) but because of the way I expressed it.

After all, I used "mockery, derision (and) sarcasm" in writing my columns, and this could offend and humiliate people - although, frankly, the most offensive thing said by anyone in this case was the vilification of me by the claimant's own barrister, Ron Merkel QC, who accused me of having a eugenics approach towards race - the approach which he said was behind the Nazis' Nuremberg race laws. There was even an attempt to paint me as homophobic.

I also made mistakes, Justice Bromberg said, although none seemed to me to be of consequence. Moreover, when I wrote that none of the fair-skinned Aborigines I'd mentioned had chosen their racial identity for "anything but the most heartfelt and honest of reasons", people would think I wasn't being "genuine".

Justice Bromberg also said I'd used "derisive" comments "that have little or no legitimate forensic purpose to the argument".

His Honour cited a long list of these bad comments of mine, such as "seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak" and "it is also divisive, feeding a new movement to stress pointless or even invented racial differences". FOR expressing such views, in such language, I have lost my freedom to put my argument as I did.

And be warned: use such phrases as those yourself, and you too may lose your right to speak.

But as I say, Justice Bromberg insists he hasn't stopped debate on racial identification, unless, apparently, your adjectives are too sharp, your wit too pointed, your views too blunt, your observations not quite to the point, your teasing too ticklish and your facts not in every case exactly correct.

And even then, having jumped every hurdle and written with the forensic dullness of a Reserve Bank governor, you will run the risk of a judge deciding that whatever you've written is, after all, the very opposite of what you really meant.

Despite Justice Bromberg's assurances, I feel that writing frankly about multiculturalism, and especially Aboriginal identity, yesterday became too dangerous for any conservative. It's simply safer to stay silent, or write about fluffy puppies instead.

And so the multiculturalists win. They win, because no one now dares object for fear of what it will cost them in court. Hope they're satisfied, to win a debate not by argument but fear.


Law used against Andrew Bolt has no place in a society that values freedom of expression

by: George Brandis

WHEN, in 1995, the Keating government amended the Racial Discrimination Act to outlaw "racial vilification", the opposition warned that the prohibition went too far. Then Liberal Senate leader Robert Hill said the language of the amendment, "by making it unlawful for a person to do an act in public that is reasonably likely in all the circumstances to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people if that act is done because of the race of the offended person or persons . . . presents an unacceptable threat to civil liberties in Australia".

The government dismissed with contempt the Liberal Party's concerns about the effect of the new provisions on freedom of expression. Then minister for immigration and ethnic affairs Nick Bolkus, apparently oblivious to the Orwellian resonances of his rhetoric, described the conduct that the bill sought to outlaw as "speech crimes". He said: "They are crimes which society and government have recognised need a legislative response because the behaviour that attaches to them is such that we can do without it and it has a deleterious effect on our community."

Last Wednesday, when the Federal Court gave its judgment against Andrew Bolt in a case brought against him by a group of "fair-skinned Aborigines" relying on the 1995 amendments (in particular section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act), the prescience of Hill's warning became apparent for all to see. The opposition does not criticise judge Mordecai Bromberg for reading the act in this way. Whether he was right or wrong in law is a matter on which, should there be an appeal, a higher court will have the final say. What his judgment reveals is just how far-reaching the effect of those amendments is.

Three points should be made about the consequences of section 18C, as revealed by the Bolt case.

First, it is clear that freedom of political expression in Australia is subject to a significant new constraint, which had not existed before. It is in the nature of political argument that it is commonly offensive to those who have the opposite view.

Like most Australians, I find the flagrant dishonesty of the carbon tax offensive. I find the shameless amorality of the Malaysia Solution offensive, just as I am offended by the hypocrisy of moral posturing by a government that is prepared to trash the most elementary human rights standards.

By making the reasonable likelihood of causing offence or insult the test of unacceptable behaviour, in any political context, section 18C is a grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse. While some have pointed out the analogy with the limitations on free speech in the defamation laws, the threshold at which speech may be unlawful because it is defamatory is much higher: the traditional formula is that it must be likely to bring the victim into "hatred, ridicule or contempt". There is all the difference in the world between that standard and making unlawful speech merely because it causes offence.

Second, it is wrong and, indeed, dangerous to regard the question as one of balancing of interests. In a liberal society, freedom of speech and expression -- and their corollary, freedom of the press -- are not interests to be weighed in the scale but fundamental rights, without which individual liberty cannot exist and democratic governance cannot work. It is true to say that they are not absolutes, as defamation law, and laws criminalising sedition or incitement of violence demonstrate. But English law has always defended freedom of speech jealously and read those necessary limitations narrowly. It is for this reason, for instance, that traditionally, the courts would not issue an injunction to restrain a threatened defamation. The legal limitations on freedom of speech and of the press are necessitous exceptions to a strongly defended general rule, not a counterweight.

Third, restrictions on freedom of political discourse inevitably lead to restrictions on political opinion itself. There is very little distance between speech crime and what George Orwell called thoughtcrime. What section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act seeks to do, by prohibiting the expression of political views that mainstream society finds unattractive and objectionable, is to penalise the holding of those views at all.

Is it really the business of government to be telling people what they may or may not think? I suppose the whole point of the political correctness movement is that the answer to that question is yes.

But the conceit that government should presume to sanction what may properly be thought as well as what may properly be said is inimical to the most fundamental values of a free society.

It would be nice to try to explain the Bolt case as an example of the unintended consequences of poor draftsmanship and legislative overreach. I fear it is nothing of the sort. It is precisely what those who amended the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995 intended to achieve. We should, in that sense, be grateful to Justice Bromberg for exposing its full implications.

Section 18C, as presently worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed.


Herald and Weekly Times weighs up appeal against Bolt judgment

LAWYERS say an appeal by columnist Andrew Bolt and his publisher the Herald and Weekly Times would face significant obstacles. HWT, the News Limited-owned publisher of the Herald Sun, is not expected to decide on any action until next week.

Bolt used the Herald Sun to air his feelings. On the tabloid's front page yesterday, he wrote of his shock at the decision, saying: "I cannot believe this is Australia, a land of free speech."

Inside the paper he continued: "For expressing such views, in such language, I have lost my freedom to put my argument as I did. "And be warned: use such phrases as those yourself, and you too may lose your right to speak."

Constitutional lawyers are divided on the prospect of any appeal based on the freedom of speech provision in the Racial Discrimination Act. Lawyers and academics contacted by The Australian said if an appeal were mounted, the more likely approach would be to question interpretations of the act.

One constitutional lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the High Court would first need to decide whether the matter deserved deliberation: "The High Court would be quite nervous because they've taken quite a strong line on that freedom implied in the Constitution."

Another constitutional law expert pointed towards Coleman v Power & Others (2004) as the most relevant case.

In that matter, the High Court overturned a ruling against a Townsville student, Patrick Coleman, who was convicted under the Vagrancy Act for yelling abuse about corruption at a policeman.

The Coalition has signalled it will try to amend the Racial Discrimination Act if it wins office, branding it a "terrible statute".

But the Gillard government yesterday affirmed its support for the race laws, and backed the independence of the judiciary in reaching the Bolt verdict.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis said the ruling of Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg had exposed a legal flaw that limits free speech.

"The fact is today in Australia we are not free, and journalists, commentators, ordinary citizens are not free, to make critical or unpopular remarks," Senator Brandis told Sky News.

But the plaintiffs continued to celebrate the win, with former ATSIC commissioner Geoff Clark saying he hoped the decision would make people think about their views on racism. "Racism is entrenched in society - I'm probably racist myself in some regards - and we have to accept some things can't be tolerated," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

The decision was criticised by some, including Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, who said it "strikes me as profoundly disturbing". The judge's claim "that his judgment need not affect the media's freedom to publish reports and comments on racial identity is clearly absurd", Holmes wrote on ABC's The Drum website.


Australian Judge Censors Speech About Affirmative Action and Fraud in Racial Set-Asides

Comment on the Bolt case from America -- by lawyer Hans Bader

Political “commentator Andrew Bolt ‘was found guilty Wednesday of breaking Australian discrimination law by implying that fair-skinned Aborigines chose to identify as indigenous for profit and career advancement.’ A judge ‘said he will prohibit reproduction of the offending articles,’ and ‘Bolt and his publisher must meet with the plaintiffs to discuss appropriate court orders that would reflect the judgment.’”

This is an extremely damaging blow to free speech. The problem of fraud in affirmative action programs is neither new nor rare. People who are not minorities often pretend to be minorities in order to obtain benefits under affirmative-action programs and racial set-aside schemes (The Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the firing of two brothers who pretended to be black to receive preference in hiring). And people often push the envelope in claiming minority status when they have only a small fraction of non-white or minority ancestry. (For example, beneficiaries of affirmative action included people who were only one-quarter Hispanic, under a consent decree in the U.S. v. New York City Board of Education case.)

Australia does not have an equivalent of the American First Amendment, but that is no excuse for the judge’s verdict, since the speech restrictions in the Australian Racial Discrimination Act contain an applicable defense of “fair comment.” The judge, Mordy Bromberg, did not deny that the problem of fraud in affirmative-action programs existed, and claimed that “nothing in the orders I make should suggest that it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification, including by challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people.” But he refused to allow the defense of fair comment mandated by the statute, because, he said, “of the manner in which that subject matter was dealt with” by the commentator.

But in truth, the principal thing distinctive about the political commentator’s “manner” was his viewpoint: he was citing affirmative action fraud to criticize affirmative action programs, rather than just to highlight particular undeserving non-minority beneficiaries of it (as even left-leaning journalists occasionally do).

The judge was offended by his viewpoint, and used that as a pretext to gut the “fair comment” defense recognized by law. As Popehat notes, people claiming to be Australian aborigines (and thus eligible for affirmative action) include people whose “face is paler than” his “Scandinavian ancestors.” The judge did find that some of Bolt’s many factual contentions were erroneous, but in truth, that was not the judge’s chief concern, as his railing about Bolt’s alleged tone (“provocative,” “inflammatory,” and “gratuitous”) and the court’s rejection of literal truth as a defense indicated (“To establish the defence of fair comment the requirement is not merely that the facts stated are true.”). The judge has indicated that he will issue “orders prohibiting the republication of the newspaper articles,” even though those articles made valid points.

In addition to being judicial overreaching, the judge’s decision flouts free-speech provisions contained in international treaties signed by Australia like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The right to criticize affirmative action is a free-speech right, even in contexts where free speech is quite limited, like the public employment setting, where the U.S. Supreme Court’s Connick v. Myers decision allows greater restrictions on speech.

For example, the California Department of Corrections attempted to fire employee John Wallace after he angrily denounced its affirmative action plan. The California Court of Appeal, however, found that his criticisms of the plan were protected by the First Amendment, and barred Wallace’s firing, in California Department of Corrections v. State Personnel Board, 59 Cal.App.4th 131 (1997).

The Australian court ruling came in the case of Eatock v. Bolt.


Mr Garnaut, climate policy should be questioned

by: Henry Ergas

ROSS Garnaut has an unusual concept of democracy. The Prime Minister goes to the country promising "there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead". Once in office, she then proposes to implement one, with the added twist of making repeal by a future government prohibitively costly. Yet, according to Garnaut, rejection of the government's proposed legislation would amount to a failure of Australian democracy on a historical scale, indeed to "a corruption of democracy" caused by "distortion of reality and abuse of truth".

But then again, Garnaut has insights ordinary mortals are denied. Talk about access all areas. For, as he told the the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Clean Energy Future Legislation earlier this week, he was assisted, in his work on the US, "by the top advisers to the President: people who report directly to the President of the United States". And how many of the great unwashed have "joined Jiang Zemin in reciting the Gettysburg Address with the fruit at the end of a meal"?

So it is even more striking that Garnaut accepts that in the US "there will be no carbon price nationwide". As for India, "for quite a while, total emissions will increase". And in China too there will be a "large increase" in emissions, albeit less than without any efforts aimed curbing their growth. Moreover, Garnaut recognises, in reducing global emissions, "there is no chance of success unless all substantial countries do their fair share".

All that, one might have thought, suggests abatement by Australia risks being both futile and costly. And that locking the country into the government's carbon scheme is at best dangerous, at worst reckless. Not so, says Garnaut. Rather, to express that concern is a distortion of reality.

Quite how stating the obvious distorts reality, Garnaut does not explain. Nor does he explain where the risks have been assessed, and shown to be worth bearing, of a scheme whose own proponents boast it would be prohibitively costly to unwind. Not that that worries Garnaut. Rather, he asserts, the government's proposal involves "reasonable economic costs".

As best one can tell, that assertion relies on Treasury's modelling. Yet no scientist would accept that modelling. Not because it is necessarily wrong but because the models and data on which it relies is secret, and hence incapable of being tested.

That is bad enough. But it has also become increasingly clear that Treasury's results depend on assumptions that were not adequately disclosed.

Three such assumptions are at the core of Treasury's recent replies to questions I put to them some time back. A first relates to the global framework for carbon emissions. Treasury, in its modelling report, assumed there would be a harmonised, global carbon price by 2016. But how was such a price established? After all, prices don't fall from the sky; rather, they emerge from the interaction of demand and supply in markets. And usually that requires some form of trading. So how was that trading going to occur, given that many key countries did not have, and would not have, any form of carbon pricing in place?

To this, it appears, the answer is as clear as mud. "The modelling does not rely on an assumption that there is a perfectly harmonised global emission trading scheme", Treasury says. But, it now admits, it does assume that even in countries such as the US, there is "some mechanism" that "allows individual firms or governments themselves to trade abatement with other countries". What mechanism? No one knows. Where is the legislation that would put such a mechanism in place? No one knows. And what happens to the assessed costs if there is no such mechanism? Again, no one knows. And since the models and data are not public, nor will they, least of all the hoi polloi who will pay the price.

In short, Treasury has assumed away the problem. Indeed, it has done so even more starkly than in its work on Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme. Then, the base case (against which the costs of the CPRS were assessed) involved a world without abatement targets. This time, however, the modelling starts from the premise that global abatement efforts are in place, even after the commitment period for Cancun pledges ends. So the costs for Australia are only assessed assuming global abatement will occur and persist.

It gets even better. As I suggested on these pages, and at greater length in a post on the Catallaxy website, the modelling involves an extreme assumption: that for all emissions outside Australia (so 98 per cent of emissions worldwide), merely increasing the carbon price costlessly allows emissions reductions, as carbon-saving innovations rain, like manna from heaven, on to carbon emitting processes.

In the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes, Treasury claimed otherwise, saying the "marginal abatement cost curves" that effect this miracle were "fully costed". Now it accepts my contention was correct. How big an effect would this have? Likely large, as it implies a greater contraction in emissions-intensive industries than Treasury's results suggest. But can we know for sure? Not without the models and the data.

Finally, Treasury constantly repeats the claim that its modelling shows there would be no adverse impact on employment. But it now admits that in the model it uses, it takes employment five to 10 years to recover from a major shock, such as imposing a carbon tax. And here the price rises substantially each year. So how do we get the result that there is no impact on employment? Treasury waves this question away, saying that because employers will foresee carbon price rises, the impacts of continuing increases will be slight. But if anything, the exact opposite is true: because employers will know the price will rise each year, the immediate effects will be far greater than the present modelling suggests.

Extracting even these concessions has been like pulling teeth. Yet it barely scratches the surface of the problems. No wonder Garnaut would rather no questions were asked. And no wonder he feels more comfortable with Jiang than with the local debate.

But silence isn't what Australian democracy is about. Rather, it is about forcing truth from power, however painful that may be. Long may it stay that way.


Gillard to scrap army bands

This is ridiculous. The bands are a major support for morale

RESERVE forces were in uproar yesterday after the circulation of a leaked minute from the military supporting the removal of 14 regimental bands across the nation, ''effective immediately'', by repossessing their instruments.

The move, which will take away historic units such as the band of the 1/15 Parramatta Lancers, and all four university regiment bands, is part of a cost-cutting operation by the Australian Defence Force aimed at saving $20 billion in 10 years.

Critics, including Major-General Jim Barry, president of the Defence Reserves Association, claim the loss of morale and public relations presence of military bands would vastly outweigh the cost of supporting them.

A minute from army logistics, signed on August 24, said entitlement of the bands to instruments was to be revoked and running the bands would be handed to regimental associations. It is also understood band uniforms will be taken away.

According to the minute, signed by Colonel C. Purdey, scrapping the bands is in line with the Strategic Reform Program.

General Barry said the bands will go from Sydney University Regiment, and the University of NSW Regiment. Also on the hit-list were bands from units such as the 23rd Artillery in Sydney, the 2/10 Artillery based in Melbourne, the 4/19 Prince of Wales' Light Horse, also in Melbourne, the 25/49 Royal Queensland and the 10/27 Royal South Australian.

Remaining will be eight regular bands, and one reserve forces band - the Royal Australian Corps of Transport Pipes and Drums.

In 1998, there was a push to ditch the bands but it was blocked by the Howard government.

Stuart Robert, the opposition defence personnel spokesman, said the Coalition would not accept the scrapping. ''The government says they have a Strategic Reform Program, but it is really just cuts to the defence force,'' he said.


A queer clothing shop

GASP clothing has defended its position involving a customer dispute, releasing yet another jaw-dropping response. The statement came after a spat between the retailer and a customer, who was told that their clothes were too exclusive for her, turned into a viral email sensation.

Keara O'Neil was on a shopping trip to find bridesmaid dresses for her wedding and a frock for her hens night at the GASP Chapel St store on September 24 when she had a dispute with a sales assistant named "Chris".

Like a scene straight out of Pretty Woman, O'Neil, a retail assistant herself, claims Chris was initially helpful but soon turned nasty, making a dig at her size 12 frame and yelling out as she left the store, "Have fun shopping at Supre... I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in".

Distressed by the treatment, O'Neil then sent a letter to the customer service centre at GASP, which was answered by GASP area manager Matthew Chidgey.

In the email, O'Neil was told the fashion chain aims to appeal "to a very fashion forward consumer" and that the sales assistant O'Neil made a complaint about was a "retail superstar" who's "only problem is that he is too good at what he does". It went on to say, "As I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store...

"It is probably fair to assume a lot of what I have said in this email either doesn’t make sense to you, or you totally disagree with it" and we "respectfully ask that you side step our store."

Mr Chidgey confirmed today that the email was legitimate.

Later GASP, whose website advertises dressed priced from $100, released a statement in its defence. "We respect that not all consumers strive for a glamorous appearance; some prefer to simply blend in," the statement said.

"We respect and welcome all customers whom wish to visit our store, even though the intention to buy may not exist. But we ask that their opinions be expressed through blogs, social media or around a warm latte, but certainly not inside our stores."

It is understood GASP today closed its Facebook page following a deluge of negative comments concerning the incident.

Celebrity Ruby Rose was one of many taking to Twitter to add their views on the incident, writing: "I am actually laughing.. I can't believe gasp called themselves fashion forward.. Sweetheart you sell polyester dresses u ain't no Prada. "This can't be real hahahaha gasp sells the most cheap tacky clothing in Australia," she said.


29 September, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is rightly scandalized by the verdict against Andrew Bolt -- as all supporters of free speech and a free press should be. Bolt has been penalized for exposing a racket.

Cultural identity open for discussion

by: Gary Johns

HERALD Sun journalist Andrew Bolt and his 2009 articles on light-skinned Aborigines have offended the gods of identity. The court found that Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times contravened the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 because the comments were not made reasonably or in good faith. They offended the sensitivities of those about whom the articles were written.

Interestingly, the judge refused to order that HWT apologise. Instead, the court will make orders prohibiting the republication of the articles and consider making an order for the publication of a corrective notice. By the way, the offending articles can be held in the HWT archives for all time and read on the Federal Court website.

The nature of the complaint against Bolt by Pat Eatock and others is that the articles conveyed offensive messages about her and people like her by saying that they were not genuinely Aboriginal and were pretending to be Aboriginal "so they could access benefits that are available to Aboriginal people".

The provisions of the act used to silence Bolt are bad law. The provisions inserted by the Racial Hatred Act 1995 were strongly opposed by the Coalition on the grounds that it might impinge free speech. They have now done so. Why did the statutes remain on the books during 13 years of Coalition government? I expect better from Liberals.

Cultural identity is arguable and should be discussed in a free and open manner. If not, then Australia is entering a world where Aboriginal people, especially those of light colour and claiming discrimination (or favours) based on their race, become a laughing-stock. Is this what the activists wanted? Forget constitutional recognition, this decision has undercut goodwill.

The court decision relies on "the perspective of the ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community" to take offence. What is ordinary about someone who has spent their entire life as a political activist and has probably suffered little prejudice on the basis of their race because no one can distinguish them?

The judgment acknowledges that "a group of people may include the sensitive as well as the insensitive, the passionate and the dispassionate, the emotional and the impassive". The decision, however, has privileged the sensitive over the insensitive, the passionate over the dispassionate and the emotional over the impassive. The law has ensured that racial politics is a winner.

The ordinary and reasonable test is classically the man on the "Clapham bus", not the highly tutored and sensitised political activist. This decision will drive a wedge between Aboriginal and all other Australians. Whatever Bolt's offence, it was not racial hatred or racial vilification.

I wonder if Aboriginal West Australian Labor MP Carol Martin, who has decided to not run at the next election, reportedly after being vilified as a "toxic coconut" over her support for Woodside's gas proposal near Broome, will sue those Aboriginal activists allegedly spreading the vile imputations.

One proponent in the Bolt case made the argument that she "will have strong feelings of solidarity with other Aboriginal people who, like her, have pale skin and are exposed to challenges to their identity by reason of their appearance". She would be offended not because someone called her Aboriginal but because they failed to know she was Aboriginal. I understand the frustration.

The judgment argues that "People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of racial or religious identification of a group of people is a common cause for racial or religious tension. A slur upon the racial legitimacy of a group of people is just as, if not more, destructive of racial tolerance than a slur directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people."

The issue of Aborigines identifying as Aborigines should be one of supreme indifference to public policy. As with any private association it is a private matter. It becomes public because there are public benefits in so identifying. The fact people are sensitive about the link between identity and benefit serves to underline the fact there is such a link: remove the benefits, remove the sensitivity.

The decision argued that "Bolt could have made his point without attacking the basis upon which the participants identified as Aboriginal and without attributing to them ulterior motives for so identifying". This is true, but in that case it would be better to use the law of defamation instead of playing the race vilification card.

Freedom of speech has been curtailed by the Racial Discrimination Act; the judgment said as much: "What Mr Bolt did and what he failed to do did not evince a conscientious approach to advancing freedom of expression in a way designed to honour the values asserted by the RDA."

Nothing is more sacred than free speech. Tony Abbott must repeal the offending provisions. He should start drafting now, flush out the freedom-loving Labor members, stand them up and have them counted.


CO2 study reinforces our policy, say Australian conservatives

THE Coalition has seized on a new report showing forests, plants and soil may take more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than previously thought.

The new study, published in the science journal Nature overnight, shows that soil and vegetation may absorb 25 to 45 per cent more carbon each year, or between 150 and 175 billion tonnes, compared to previous estimates of 120 billion tonnes.

The study cautions, however, that the extra carbon may not be retained in the soil permanently, limiting the potential for atmospheric carbon reduction.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the study showed there was “stronger and stronger evidence that the right green carbon measures can reduce the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere”.

“This is another important step in confirming that land-based carbon capture and storage is both measurable and essential as a low-cost, long-term way of reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere,” he said.

“From our perspective it reinforces our views, 18 months after we released our policy, the scientific evidence has moved more strongly in favour of the enormous potential of land and agriculture-based emissions reductions.”

The report's lead researcher Lisa Welp, from the University of California's Scripps Institute of Oceanography, said figuring out the annual carbon uptake from the terrestrial biosphere had been one of the biggest problems in the emissions equation.

Scientists, though, were confident about current estimates for carbon sequestration in land and this was unlikely to change much in the light of the new findings, she said.

“More CO2 is passing through plants (than thought), not that it actually stays there very long,” she said. “The extra CO2 taken up as photosynthesis is most likely returned right back to the atmosphere via respiration.”

The leader of the CSIRO Changing Atmosphere research group, Paul Fraser, told ABC radio the paper would help address uncertainties in carbon modelling and allow scientists to more accurately predict global temperature changes.

He cautioned that new research did not mean there was more leeway for allowing carbon emissions to rise, saying “it doesn't mean they hold more carbon, they (plants) probably respire faster”.

“I'd love to be able to say it does mean that but we just don't know that, that's in the next few steps (of research),” he said.


Australia is better than its current politics

By BBC reporter Nick Bryant

FOR the past five years I have reported on the rise of Australia. It is an increasingly consequential country unrecognisable from the journalistic kingdom of the mind of old: a land good for the occasional "And finally" animal story, a bizarre outback crime or two and, in the eyes of many foreign news organisations, not a whole lot more.

It is a nation where the tyranny of distance no longer brings with it the felony of neglect. Indeed, that very phrase is almost as much a historical relic as Ned Kelly's skeletal remains. Now that the locus of global economic activity has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, proximity has become more defining than distance. The "land down under", a phrase dripping with inconsequentiality, is also likely to become redundant.

Instead, Australia is clearly in the right place at the right time, a modish phrase that during the next decade or so may even become the new national mantra.

Before the turn of the new millennium, when Bill Bryson began to research his much-read travelogue, Down Under, he started with a short trip to the local library. There, he conducted a fruitless search of The New York Times index for stories about Australia, which in 1997 merited just 20 mentions. Albania, by contrast, got 150. Fast-forward 10 years or so, and compare the coverage now. In the past few months alone, The New York Times has published 16 stories from its Sydney-based correspondent. On what might be called the NYT index - or, more accurately, the Bryson scale - Australia is faring exceedingly well. Few peaceful countries with a population of just 22 million people receive such close per capita attention. That trend is set to accelerate, as the rise of Australia and Asia continue in tandem.

So international news organisations, whose footprint in Australia is heavier than ever before, will continue to marvel at a seemingly recession-proof economy: the much-vaunted "wonder from down under", with low public debt, near full employment economy, record terms of trade, a totemic currency and a resources sector set to underwrite its prosperity late into the Indo-Pacific century. They will also report on a much-envied economic model with watchful regulators, risk-averse banks and a distaste for irrational exuberance. True, we are talking now of a twin-track boom and gloom economy, and the strong possibility that Australia has been contaminated by the Dutch disease. But most advanced economies are contending with a gloom-and-doom economy, and are afflicted by more serious maladies, the Greek and subprime contagions.

On the corporate front, companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto will continue to catch the international eye. Their profits have become key Asian and thus global indicators. So, too, will the shopping mall giant Westfield, whose annual results are fast becoming another important economic barometer, much like the length of the queue of coal ships waiting outside Newcastle, the world's largest coal export port. The Macquarie Group has also become another must-watch Australian company, not least because it is estimated to be the single largest non-governmental owner of infrastructure in the world.

In diplomacy, Australia's rising influence has become institutionalised, whatever becomes of its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Why, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum and the G20, an organisation to which few paid much attention prior to the GFC, even bear the stamp of made in Australia.

Kevin Rudd's prolific travel, first as prime minister and then as Foreign Affairs Minister, may have raised eyebrows at home but it also raised Australia's standing abroad. John Howard followed the same internationalist path.

In terms of good living, Australia has become one of the lifestyle superpowers. It is a place outsiders aspire to live in and, in the meantime, try to ape. Just visit a bookshop in London, and see how many cookbooks and style guides come from Australian chefs and interior designers. One of Australia's biggest exports is an intangible that will never appear in the national accounts: its sunny way of life.

In the arts and entertainment, the cultural cringe has long superseded the cultural creep. Here, crucially, many of the country's most internationally celebrated artistic ambassadors speak - or sing - with an emphatically Australian voice. Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Christos Tsiolkas, Les Murray and Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Indigenous art is respected internationally as never before, while Cate Blanchett even had the audacity to woo New York with a Sydneysider production of A Streetcar Named Desire. In recent years especially, Australia's cultural infrastructure has started to rival its sporting infrastructure. Witness the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, the new National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the new wing of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney or the Melbourne Recital Centre.

The fall of Australia is a recent phenomenon, and is to be seen on daily display in the nation's capital. There is something very dismal and second-rate about the quality of politics right now in Canberra. Indeed, at the very moment when Australia is presenting such a confident face to the region and the world, the country's politicians give the appearance of turning away. When Julia Gillard told Kerry O'Brien that foreign affairs was not her passion, the rest of the world responded, I suspect, with much the same indifference. Clearly, she has been nowhere near as globally newsworthy as her predecessors, Rudd, Howard, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser or Gough Whitlam.

Tony Abbott has also expressed a preference for being a stay-at-home prime minister. Indeed, he turned it into a campaign boast. Both leaders appear to revel in their parochialism and reinforce it in each other. The main parties are led then by figures whose limited and increasingly immediate ambitions are happily accommodated within these shores. Tellingly, Colin Barnett, Premier of Australia's most thrusting state, says he now spends more time in China than Canberra.

Seasoned observers know that ill-tempered question times and the hair-trigger ruthlessness of leadership spills have long been a feature of life within the Capital Circle. But it is the extent to which Canberra has become so thoroughly dominated by conflict that has spawned so much negative coverage within and outside Australia. That anger and hostility is being compared with the mood in 1975 throughout the Whitlam dismissal crisis. But perhaps there is also a late-1960s feel to national affairs: a post-Menzies, pre-Whitlam interlude when the country appeared to be treading water and waiting for something to happen.

Certainly, as I prepared to hang up my microphone as the BBC's Australia correspondent I was struck by how the stories in my final week so closely mirrored the headlines from when I arrived in late 2006. Howard, who continues to frame Australian politics in much the same way that Margaret Thatcher does in Britain, reappeared. So did David Hicks. The angriest debates focused still on the governmental response to climate change and the equally vexed issue of the governmental response to asylum-seekers. Indeed, there seems to be a standstillism that cannot be explained away simply by the constraints imposed by a hung parliament. It also stems from the warring styles of Gillard and Abbott, who seem locked in this continual trench warfare. That is why I have found it so hard to summon much enthusiasm for reporting on Canberra in recent times: it has made a mockery of the sophisticated, modern and consequential country that is evident elsewhere. For so much of my time here I have reported with affection on the rise of Australia. For the past 18 months, however, politics has been heading in the opposite direction.


Kiwi hatred of Australians really comes out at sporting fixtures

It's much like Canadian hatred of the USA -- except that Canadians are much better mannered

Australian rugby fans claim they have been spat on and abused by New Zealanders at the World Cup. Phil Dunne, a Sydney man who flew into Auckland with his wife last weekend, told the New Zealand Herald a "hate vibe" had become entrenched in the psyche of many New Zealanders.

"Some of the charming exchanges involved sexual comments about my wife, instructions on how we could all f--- off back to Australia and even included one charming bloke attempting to spit on us," Dunne said. "I think the hate vibe given off by New Zealanders towards us is so entrenched at this World Cup that most Kiwis don't even realise how hostile they actually are."

The story set off debate on talkback radio. Radio Sport host Miles Davis said he had observed the same "vitriolic" hatred directed towards Australians in other cities. "I saw it in Dunedin and I have got to say it's not a pleasant side of the New Zealand rugby fan," he said.

Another supporter told the Herald there were patches of real meanness at Eden Park during the Australian game against Ireland. "A Kiwi, dressed in Irish green, shouted to a group of Australian fans, 'It's not mardi gras you f---ing poofters'," the unnamed fan said.

Radio Sport listeners said the abuse was not confined to Australian rugby supporters or to the World Cup. Davis heard from two listeners who said they were abused and had beer tipped on them for supporting Australian NRL teams. "I no longer go to (Warriors' home ground) Mount Smart because I've been spat on, had beer spilled on me, I was almost run over in the car park," listener Brian sent via text message to Radio Sport.

A listener named as Alex said his wife was abused for supporting the Springboks. "There's a fair amount of it out there and it's not pleasant," Davis said.

"But anyway a lot of people think 'harden up' - it goes on elsewhere in the world so it makes it right here."


28 September, 2011

Andrew Bolt loses racial vilification court case

HERALD Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has lost an action brought in the Federal Court in which the columnist' was accused of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act.

Bolt was found to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Nine applicants brought a class-action against Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times claiming Bolt wrote they sought professional advantage from the colour of their skin.

The judges ordered both parties to confer on relief arising from the action.

At issue was Bolt's assertion that the nine applicants had chosen to identify themselves as “Aboriginal” and consequently win grants, prizes and career advancement, despite their apparently fair skin and mixed heritage.

The nine applicants were led by activist Pat Eatock and included artist Bindi Cole, NSW Australian of the Year Larissa Behrendt, author Anita Heiss and former ATSIC chief Geoff Clark.

Four articles published by the Herald Sun columnist in the newspaper and his blog were “a head-on assault on a group of highly successful and high-achieving” Aborigines, Ron Merkel QC told the court during proceedings in late March and early April.

The nine people sought an apology from the Herald & Weekly Times and an order against republishing, but no compensation.

In an occasionally explosive case, Bolt’s writings about Aboriginal identity were painted as being akin to a “eugenics approach” and similar to writings that led to the Holocaust.

Bolt subsequently protested the slurs in court as “an unforgivable travesty.”

In concluding the eight day proceedings, counsel for the plaintiffs conceded Bolt's writings did not incite “racial vilification or racial hatred”, rather they “constituted highly personal, highly derogatory and highly offensive attacks” on the nine individuals. [So it was really defamation that he was guilty of?]


Greenie antisemitism still bubbling away

A JEWISH doctor who campaigned against the Greens in the recent NSW state election over their boycott of Israeli-owned companies operating in Australia believes senior figures in the party are behind his prosecution for a minor electoral breach.

John Nemesh, 55, yesterday pleaded not guilty in Sydney's Newtown Local Court to distributing unauthorised election material during the March election campaign. The Hungarian-born son of Holocaust survivors, Dr Nemesh believes his career as a medical specialist, working in hospital intensive care units, is on the line as a result of the charge, which carries a possible fine of $550 or six months' jail.

"The Greens always go on about the poor individual who's having a hard time with the system," Dr Nemesh said yesterday. "In my case, they are the system and I am the poor individual."

Dr Nemesh's posters condemned the Greens for their support of the "boycotts, divestment and sanctions" campaign.

The posters, which targeted Greens candidate and local Mayor Fiona Byrne in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, were legal and duly authorised, except they did not include the name of the printer - an omission Dr Nemesh claims was an honest mistake, given he had no motive to conceal the information. The case has been brought by the NSW police, who would have required a complaint to take action.

Despite repeated requests by The Australian, Ms Byrne and other senior NSW Greens yesterday declined to deny they had lodged the complaint against Dr Nemesh. But a spokesman for the NSW Electoral Commission said it had nothing to do with the case.

Ms Byrne shepherded a wide-ranging boycott of Israel through Marrickville Council earlier this year, although the policy was later reversed.

Dr Nemesh, a member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, was so incensed at Ms Byrne's support of the BDS that when she stood for parliament he produced posters accusing the Greens of racism and homophobia, and posted them around Marrickville. One of the posters, which cost about $2000 in total, suggested hypocrisy by the Greens in supporting gay causes while denouncing Israel, where gay rights are enshrined in law.

"I heard Fiona Byrne's statements in Marrickville, and it was all about taking action against Jewish enterprises, Jewish shops and Jewish cultural exchanges," Dr Nemesh said. "I felt so strongly that I couldn't sleep, so I very quickly designed some posters and hired some vehicles. I felt nothing was being done in terms of organised resistance."

He has now gone on the front foot by lodging a complaint with police against Ms Byrne for allegedly stealing his posters. It is a claim Ms Byrne will have difficulty denying, given a YouTube video on the internet features her and a fellow Greens activist boasting of stealing one of the posters, and offering it up for auction.

Ms Byrne did not fare well out of her hardline campaign against Israel, polls showing her support of BDS was a turn-off with voters and helped Labor's Carmel Tebbutt just hold Marrickville

The BDS campaign has grown more shrill since March, with protesters focusing on the Israeli-owned Max Brenner coffee shops.

"It's a vindication of how I felt," said Dr Nemesh of the latest controversy. "It's exactly what I was thinking was going to happen, and it happened."

Ms Byrne did not respond to emails and phone messages from The Australian.

Dr Nemesh described himself as a political moderate and insisted he acted as an individual.

He received support last night from Luke Foley, Labor leader in the NSW upper house. "The Greens are the first to condemn tough law and order legislation, yet they want to throw the book at a man for exercising his freedom of speech," Mr Foley said.


More Greenie racism

"Coconut" is a very offensive racial slur to blacks. The cause is a dispute between the Greens and the miners, with the Aborigines on the side of the miners

THE first indigenous woman elected to any Australian parliament will today announce her resignation after being vilified as a "toxic coconut" over her support for Woodside's contentious $30 billion gas hub proposal near the West Australian resort town of Broome.

Labor MP Carol Martin, 54, yesterday told the party's West Australian leader, Eric Ripper, she would not contest the next election in March 2013.

She was elected to the seat of Kimberley in 2001 after the resignation of Ernie Bridge, the Labor-turned-independent country music star who was the first indigenous Australian to become a cabinet minister.

Ms Martin has repeatedly urged opponents of the Woodside development to respect the Goolarabooloo Jabirr Jabirr people's right to do a deal with the company for the gas hub. In June, they voted 60-40 in favour.

Ms Martin's position put her at odds with members of her own extended family, and in a town of vociferous anti-gas sentiment it was widely speculated she could lose her seat over her stand.

The dispute over the gas hub has created ugly tensions in a community that prides itself on being laid-back. Ms Martin was named last week in an anonymous 10-page newsletter as "brown on the outside and full of the milk of white man's money" on the inside for not opposing the proposed gas hub.

Her name appeared on a list of nine Kimberley Aborigines, including former Australian of the year Patrick Dodson, under the heading "toxic coconuts".

Ms Martin said it was the worst slur against her in public life, and she would sue the authors if they could be identified.

The Nationals hope to win the seat of Kimberley from Labor at the next election after gaining popularity in the region through the big-spending Royalties for Regions program, under which the government promises to spend 25 per cent of mining and onshore petroleum royalties in the bush. In the Kimberley, that has included $220 million for the expansion of the irrigation area outside Kununurra.

Ms Martin told The Australian yesterday it had been a privilege to serve the people of the Kimberley, but she said she was tired of the travel between Broome and Perth, a distance of almost 2300km, and no longer wanted to be separated from her husband, Brian, for long periods. "I actually like my husband," she said.

Ms Martin said the attacks on her had been wearing. "I feel that after three terms it is time to move on, and things like that shit from last week I just don't want to put up with any more," she said.

Ms Martin is a Noongar, the Aboriginal people of the state's southwest. She lived in foster care from the age of 12 and repeatedly ran away. At 15, she went to live with her mother and siblings in Broome.

In the Kimberley, Ms Martin became a social worker and served in local government.

Her views have sometimes clashed with popular feelings. In 2009, she expressed doubts about alcohol restrictions in the towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, where fetal alcohol spectrum disorder was rampant. "I'm a social worker in my real life," she said. "I know prohibition doesn't work, has never worked historically, and if you're going to deal with addictions, you deal with addictions."

Ms Martin said she would continue to strongly represent the interests of the Kimberley until the next election.

In her maiden speech, Ms Martin said she hoped she could be an example to others. "I cannot help but feel a slight touch of disbelief it has taken so long for a person like me to get here," she told the parliament.


Australia's education export industry gets a boost

WHILE the political focus has been on boats, the Gillard government has taken a pivotal decision to reform visa policy, salvage Australia's $16 billion third largest export industry and give universities a guaranteed revenue stream as the euro-driven crisis tightens public funding.

Former competition policy guru and University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer said: "The reforms are more positive than anyone we spoke to expected [and] they come when competitors are kicking own goals - riots in the UK and US funding cuts."

Questioned on Sky News' Australian Agenda program last Sunday Bowen was upfront. The entire purpose, he agreed, was to buttress the overseas student market now critical to the financial future of universities. Indeed, a number of research universities derive nearly 20 per cent of total revenue from this source (for example Monash University is 19 per cent and the University of Ballarat is 35 per cent). For universities, the main reforms gains involve quick and streamlined visa approvals, allowing foreign graduates with a bachelor's degree to work in Australia for another two years and elimination of tough financial tests as conditions of overseas student entry.

Branding the changes an "important reform" Bowen said Labor had got the balance right between ease of student entry yet keeping higher education quality. The fiscal and political strategies are vital yet unspoken. At their heart is funding diversity, now the decisive template for our universities and the key to success for each institution. With the Gillard government straining to reach its 2012-13 surplus pledge the higher education sector should have no expectations of significant future funding increases from the budget.

In his report Knight said a "perfect storm" had engulfed the sector: the high Australian dollar (up 40 per cent compared to the US dollar) made courses more comparatively expensive; reputational damage was done by attacks on foreign students, notably Indian students in Melbourne; with the real problem residing in vocational education and training the government had closed down about 20 per cent of providers; its further revocation of the highway from overseas student status to permanent migrant had shot one of Australia's prime attractions and there was much tougher competition from other developed nation universities. Knight found the perfect storm "real" and "serious."

Several principles underpinned Knight's report. He stressed the imperative to re-establish the Australian brand name, to uphold Australia's reputation for quality in education, to recognise that growth of the sector while important must not become "an end in itself" and that a balance must be struck between the student intake and proper migration controls. In the past the "shonkiest operators" had sold migration outcomes "while masquerading as education providers".

Evans still has concerns about quality in the VET [Vocational education and training, I think -- JR] sector with the new regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Agency, given the task of safeguarding standards. When Evans visited China last year he was taken aback to discover that closures in the VET sector had damaged China's confidence even in Australia's sandstone institutions.

VET numbers had more than quadrupled from 45,000 in 2004 to 206,000 in 2011, a ludicrous increase. While tying student outcomes to migration approval seemed smart when first implemented by the Howard government it was rorted too much. As Knight says, some students tried to manipulate the migration rules, others just tried to break them.

Looking at present enrolments overall there was a 9 per cent fall in the early months of 2011 compared with the previous year and a decline in each main source nation, China, India, South Korea and Malaysia. The numbers will stay below their previous peak for some years.

Given this challenge Labor will introduce a "light touch" visa, meaning that universities will get the students they want but, in turn, must take responsibility for the visa outcomes of their students. The onus will rest with each institution to ensure their visa approvals are not rorted. If a university cannot deliver then it loses its status in the fast-track game. The point is that Labor is showing its faith in universities as the "quality end" of the sector.

The second step is the two-year post-study work rights entitlement that Knight argued was essential given the competition Australia faces for students from other nations with their own work entitlements. Unsurprisingly, the ACTU is wary about this significant labour market offering.

These reforms seek to re-establish the foundations for one of Australia's most recent and vital non-resources export industries. They see the overseas student market as being of intrinsic value for the national interest and fundamental in the financial model for universities.


Numbskull "Chief Scientist" has never heard of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants, has never heard of when Greenland was green, has never heard of the days of the dinosaurs ans has never heard of vegetation growing in the Antarctic

All of the events above show that the earth has been warmer in the past than it is today. On the last point see here. Yet below is a statement recently made on the record at an official enquiry by Australia's chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb:

"With respect to this cooling stuff, I have seen the claim, but the evidence that I have seen is that the last decade has been the warmest decade that we have ever had on this planet"

Such profound ignorance as his cannot be mere ignorance, it has to be outright crookedness.


27 September, 2011

Famous entrepreneur calls for more philanthropy

I think Dick Smith has a point below. He overlooks the very important fact that competition between Coles and Woolworths is benefiting all Australians in the form of lower prices so I don't agree that Coles should pull back from its marketing strategy.

At the risk of sounding like a Leftist, however, it does seem rather obscene to me that people with lots of money don't use a substantial part of it to help others. I give money away constantly as does Dick Smith so both of us do literally put our money where our mouths are. One might also note that both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are in the process of giving most of their money away to worthy causes

And philanthropy is much more efficient than taxes. Government inefficiency and waste is legenday whereas philanthropy will generally get the money straight to the intended beneficiary -- JR

COLES boss Ian McLeod is destroying the livelihoods of Australian farmers with a "new form of extreme capitalism", says entrepreneur Dick Smith. The criticism follows reports the supermarket chief pocketed a $15.6 million pay cheque for 2010/11.

"Where does this extra money come from?" asked Mr Smith, a former retail electronics king and one-time Australian of the Year. "This salary and most of Coles' increase in profit clearly comes directly from Aussie farmers and Aussie processors as they are destroyed by this new form of extreme capitalism."

Coles sales have soared under Mr McLeod, with a 21 per cent lift in earnings last financial year. Mr McLeod's reward was a total salary of $15.6 million for the 12 months to June, including $11 million in bonuses.

Mr Smith said the flip side of "this greed" would be a crisis in rural areas, with "country towns boarded up, more rural suicides".

"Aussie farmers are now ploughing in their crops and Aussie processors are sacking workers and closing down because they cannot sell at a price that will even cover their costs because of the huge push by Coles to buy at lower and lower prices," he said in a statement. "Why keep pushing down down prices are down - and putting more and more Aussie farmers and workers on the scrap heap?"

Last Christmas, Mr Smith labelled chief executives of Australia's big four banks greedy.

Then last month he threatened to name and shame rich people who don't contribute to the community, saying if they don't want to open their wallets they can "rack off".

Mr Smith said the rich in the US donate about 15 per cent of their income, while Australia's wealthy give less than one per cent.

Today he called on Mr McLeod to "give something back". "Ian McLeod, you've done incredibly well out of Australia ...," he said. "I look forward to hearing that you are fulfilling your obligation as a wealthy person and have become well known publicly as a major philanthropist."


Australian generosity towards those in real distress is being diminished by illegal boat arrivals

Australia takes in more asylum seekers per head than any other country. Close to 10 per cent of the refugees resettled worldwide are taken by Australia. But nothing will ever be enough for the Left. The Left WANT the divisions and tensions the boat arrivals are causing. Their "good intentions" are just a mask for the contempt in which they hold their own society

IN the debate over asylum all sides believe there is an answer: and they have it. Human rights advocates argue the only humane course of action is to welcome those who arrive by boat.

The large majority of Australians, however, do not see the asylum issue in such straight-forward human rights terms. A number of surveys during the past 18 months indicate the majority favour policy to deter boat arrivals, including mandatory detention.

An August Nielsen poll found 15 per cent of respondents considered boats should be sent back to sea and another 52 per cent that asylum-seekers should be kept in detention while their claims were assessed.

More detail is available in the Scanlon Foundation surveys, four of which have been conducted since 2007. The just released 2011 findings indicate only 22 per cent favour granting the right of permanent residence to asylum-seekers arriving by boat; 39 per cent favour asylum in Australia, but only on a temporary basis; the remaining 35 per cent want boats to be turned back or the asylum-seeker detained pending deportation.

The value of the Scanlon Foundation surveys is that a broad range of questions (81 in 2011) are asked. This enables consideration of patterns of response and the finding is that attitudes to asylum correlate with a person's values, hence attitudes are not likely to change simply as a result of new factual information.

The advocates for asylum may well respond that if that is public opinion, then it should be ignored; that what we need is leadership and political consensus to do the right thing. But what is right is not so simply determined.

For a start, majority opinion is not simply to be stereotyped as prejudiced. The surveys show that majority opinion supports the humanitarian program, which recruits asylum-seekers overseas. It is just that this support does not extend to irregular arrivals.

Second, a generous reception policy is likely to lead to an increase in boat arrivals, with consequences not simply to be ignored.

How do we know that there will be increased arrivals? We need only examine the pattern of the past decade. In 2000, 2939 asylum-seekers arrived by boat; in 2001, 5516 arrived. In the following six years, with the enactment of the Howard government's Pacific Solution, arrivals were reduced to almost zero; fewer than 100 arrived in 2005 and 2006.

Over these years the number of asylum-seekers worldwide fell, but by nowhere near the almost 100 per cent fall experienced in Australia. When the Howard government policies were changed by Labor, boat arrivals resumed: 2849 in 2009, 6879 in last year, the highest on record. This is the pattern of movement that the human rights advocates are reluctant to face.

Australia has no land borders, it is not easy to get to Australia on a small boat. As such, a negative message from Australia will deter arrivals more effectively than almost any other First World country.

Third, there are other consequences of a generous policy.

A view widely held among asylum advocates is that Australia does not shoulder its responsibilities, leaving care for asylum-seekers to impoverished countries. But Australian governments of various persuasions since the late 1970s have maintained a large humanitarian program: during the past 10 years, 130,000 have been admitted.

It seems to be a secret (for reasons difficult to fathom) that Australia resettles more refugees per capita than any other country: close to 10 per cent of the refugees resettled worldwide are taken by Australia.

In 2009, according to the UN, Australia admitted 11,080 refugees for resettlement; the US, with almost 15 times Australia's population, accepted 79,937. Canada, with a population 1 1/2 times that of Australia, resettled 12,457. No other country accepted a substantial number. For example, Britain resettled 955 refugees, Germany 2069 and The Netherlands 369.

Australia, in consultation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has established a process for assessing asylum-seekers. Under present arrangements, boat arrivals take places from those in the camps from which Australia draws its intake.

Advocates suggest that there is a simple solution: recruit a fixed number overseas and place boat arrivals in another category. But what is a reasonable intake for Australia?

The Greens and the Refugee Council of Australia advocate an increase from the present intake of 14,750 to an offshore intake of 20,000, to be phased in across five years. But how does the government budget for an unknown number of boat arrivals?

It may be that however we argue, there is no solution. Instead of solutions, it makes more sense to think in terms of balance, which will not satisfy all but is likelier to produce a larger measure of agreement than the one-dimensional solutions on offer.

There is an additional point to be considered. A policy that flies in the face of views held in many parts of the community will likely result in the re-emergence of movements similar to One Nation that campaign on issues of national identity and race and heighten opposition to cultural diversity.

An alarming finding of this year's Scanlon Foundation survey is that 44 per cent of respondents consider that racial prejudice in Australia has increased during the past five years.

There is heightened reporting of discrimination and decline of trust in fellow Australians. Trust in the federal government recorded a sharp fall, from a high of 48 per cent in 2009 to 31 per cent last year and to 30 per cent this year.

People - whether for or against asylum rights - are close to unanimous in the view that the government is incapable of dealing with asylum.

There has been erosion of individual connectedness and weakening of communal organisations, key indicators of threats to social cohesion. While not the only cause, the asylum debate has contributed to a heightening of division in Australian society.


That wonderful multiculturalism again

More Muslim aggression

IT was a bloody brawl allegedly sparked by a hamburger with bacon. Now 32 witnesses will be called to give evidence at a hearing about how an incorrect order allegedly led to a violent assault on two police officers at a western Sydney McDonald's in April.

Mouhamad Khaled, 23, his 20-year-old girlfriend Daphne Florence Austin and his father Walid Khaled, 53, have been charged over the brawl at the Bankstown fast food outlet.

In Burwood Local Court yesterday, Magistrate Christopher Longley set a hearing date in February for Austin and Walid Khaled, who have each pleaded not guilty to charges linked to the brawl.

Mr Longley was told the prosecution will call 29 witnesses and the defence will call three people.

Mouhamad Khaled is yet to enter a plea to six charges, including inflicting grievous bodily harm on a police officer, and will be dealt with at a separate hearing.

Police allege the trouble began when the group began abusing counter staff because their hamburger contained bacon. Police who were on the premises spoke to Walid Khaled about his alleged offensive behaviour. When he allegedly continued to swear, police tried to arrest him.

Police allege they were assaulted by Mouhamad Khaled and Austin, prompting them to use capsicum spray and batons. As they attempted to restrain Mouhamad Khaled he allegedly grabbed their handcuffs and assaulted them. He struck probationary Constable Matthew Sutherland on the head before swinging them at Senior Constable Alicia Bridges, hitting her.

Austin is charged with assaulting and hindering police, and Walid Khaled with resisting police, behaving in an offensive manner and offensive language. Mouhamad Khaled spent four months in custody before being granted bail in the Supreme Court. Burwood Local Court was told in August that Austin is due to give birth in November.


Cancer patients die waiting for hospital letters

CANCER patients have been kept waiting so long to receive follow-up letters from their specialists that some have died before the advice arrived at their GPs.

A backlog of correspondence needing to be typed up at Westmead Hospital means about 700 people have waited up to three years for the letters to be sent, The Daily Telegraph reported.

In one case, a Sydney doctor received a letter from Westmead about a female patient with advanced skin cancer that had been dictated by a specialist on August 21, 2009, but was not typed up until September 16, 2011. By the time it reached Dr Adrian Sheen the woman had been dead for a year.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner has now ordered a full audit to find out which patients are still alive. She has forced Westmead to hire a host of administration staff starting today and given the hospital three weeks to clear the backlog.

The problem was hidden until Dr Sheen, who is president of GP group Doctors Action, leaked the letter to the journal Medical Observer, to be released today. "It is an absolute, utter disgrace," Dr Sheen told the Medical Observer. "The family doctor is the most important thing in the community, that's the one that gets people through the health system.

"How am I supposed to help a patient when a letter arrives over two years later?" It has now emerged there are another 700 letters dating back as far as March, 2008, that still have not been sent.

The problems began in 2008 when all cancer services departments moved from various parts of Westmead Hospital to the new Cancer Care Centre.

The move gave patients access to a one-stop shop service including cancer surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, clinical haematologists, palliative care and other support specialties. But it also created a huge administrative backlog.

Mrs Skinner has ordered the hospital to slash its clearance deadline from three months to three weeks, with extra staff put on from today. "It is simply unacceptable for GPs to be receiving important letters more than two years after their patients have been referred to oncologists, without anyone even checking whether the patients in question are still alive," she said. "This debacle has come about because the previous government kept slashing staff numbers in Sydney's west, even when it was clear the system and its people were crumbling under the pressure."

Westmead issued an apology to patients, their families and their doctors yesterday. "The Western Sydney Local Health District apologises to patients, their families and their general practitioners affected by this administrative backlog," the hospital said.

It said the Cancer Network upgraded its technology more than 18 months ago with new systems now in place to ensure timely communication between the Cancer Network, patients and their GPs.

There is no suggestion the lateness of the letter caused the death of Dr Sheen's patient, however he said family GPs were often treated with contempt by the hospital system and relations between GPs and public hospitals were at "an all-time low".

The problem is the latest to engulf the state's biggest hospital. Last month the coroner blasted medical staff after a boy died of a ruptured appendix at Westmead Children's Hospital after staff there and at Liverpool failed to notice a warning in a GP's referral letter.

On Sunday it emerged Westmead staff had tagged an 80-year-old woman as a 58-year-old man. Then last week the hospital lost water pressure after "one of the hospital water valves had been inadvertently closed".


26 September, 2011

No magic pudding economy

by: Tony Abbott

In his notorious February 2009 essay for The Monthly, Kevin Rudd pronounced the death of 30 years of neo-liberalism. It was up to government, he said, to rectify the ills of a market economy.

This failure to grasp the requirements of wealth creation has characterised the Rudd-Gillard government.

To every problem, the government's response is a new tax, a new regulation or a new bureaucracy. Higher spending, borrowing and taxes have put upward pressure on interest rates and the dollar, squeezed household budgets and depressed consumer and business confidence. The resources boom has only emphasised how deeply subdued conditions are for most of the domestic economy. Although headline economic growth has remained solid, gross domestic product per person has increased by just one half of 1 per cent since late 2007 compared with annual growth of 2 1/4 per cent between 1996 and the end of the Howard government. This is why so many people are convinced that Australia is a rich country at serious risk of becoming poorer.

The government is making our economy less productive by virtually closing down the live cattle trade. It's progressively closing down much of the Tasmanian forestry industry. It's spending $2 billion to close down the brown coal power stations that have been the source of Victoria's cheap-power comparative advantage in manufacturing, and it's spending $11bn to buy and close Telstra's copper network. In other words, it's spending billions in borrowed money to put people out of work, not into it.

By contrast, the Coalition will cut wasteful spending, abolish counterproductive taxes and build a more productive economy through our six-point productivity plan, which will encourage more people into the workforce, make public institutions more effective, cut red tape, improve competition rules, get greater value from infrastructure spending and reform workplace relations to encourage more pay for better work. Cutting spending means lower borrowing and less pressure on interest rates.

Deloitte Access Economics estimated this year that a $13bn reduction in commonwealth spending would allow interest rates to be a percentage point lower than otherwise would be needed to contain inflation against the backdrop of the mining boom. Getting more people more productively into the workforce will mean a larger economy, a bigger tax base and more ability for the government to fund services without tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere. The government's budget papers suggest a 1 per cent rise in growth through higher productivity would produce an ongoing improvement in the budget bottom line of about $4.5bn a year.

If economic growth is high enough through strong productivity growth, it's possible to deliver simultaneously higher spending, lower taxes, a bigger surplus and higher wages without triggering inflation. Far from being "magic pudding" economics, this is what happened during much of the Howard government.


Footballers now attacking Julia

A GRAND-FINAL week assault by AFL and NRL clubs on the government over poker machine reform will intensify pressure on Julia Gillard, who faces increasing caucus concern over the policy, the key to her power deal with Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie.

As the clubs industry directly targets MPs in Labor heartland seats, some are considering trying to have the policy overturned when it is put to caucus in the next few months.

AFL club presidents meet today to discuss a grand-final week television advertising campaign against the reform deal for mandatory precommitment of poker machines, while the NRL has planned a similar assault.

Mr Wilkie, who will withdraw support for the government if the pokies reform does not proceed, yesterday accused both leagues of showing "a breathtaking lack of leadership" and attacked Collingwood president Eddie McGuire's description of it as a "footy tax" as "dishonest, mischievous and misleading".

Families Minister Jenny Macklin, who has carriage of pokies reform, said the government would push ahead with the move. "It is important for all of us to do something about what is a very important problem in Australia," Ms Macklin said.

The likely grand-final week assault comes as the Prime Minister battles internal unrest over the government's dismal opinion poll ratings, speculation that some MPs are considering bringing back former leader Kevin Rudd, and a likely parliamentary defeat of Ms Gillard's bid to overcome the High Court's scuttling of the government's Malaysia Solution.

One MP told The Australian there was no question the Prime Minister would honour her deal with Mr Wilkie. "But the problem she's got is there is no guarantee it will get through caucus," the MP said.

The other problem was that, unlike the carbon tax, the mandatory pre-commitment regime, which requires punters to set limits on the amount they can bet on poker machines, would not come in until after the next election. This would leave the government open to a continued campaign by opponents of the policy.

Another MP said that caucus would stick with the Prime Minister on the issue but admitted it was upsetting a lot of MPs and "there is no short-term fix for this thing".

Ahead of today's key AFL meeting, Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett said the AFL had realised that the proposed reform "threatens the viability of some clubs, and threatens the survival of the code". "This is an extraordinary attack on the not-for-profit sector that has acted in good faith and abided within the law," the former Victorian Liberal premier said.

Mr McGuire, the president of AFL premiers Collingwood, described the gaming reform as a "footy tax". "Obviously this is hugely important to us," he said. "Anything that would cost us millions of dollars would make you anxious."

Peter Doust, chief executive of NRL premiers St George Illawarra, also condemned Mr Wilkie's reform plan. Mr Doust said mandatory pre-commitment would cost his club $6 million just to implement, potentially bankrupting the famous rugby league club. "It means jobs, 200 jobs," Mr Doust said. "This is about our club fighting to survive. We will close if this system is successful."

Clubs Australia chief executive Anthony Ball said the "licence to punt" would have no impact on problem gamblers. "They will set unrealistically high limits or no limits at all, and if they get sick and tired of that they will jump online," he said. "The reality is that poker machines provide an important income stream for NRL and AFL clubs now, but also for junior sport." ....

Mr Wilkie said he remained genuinely confident that the reforms would be introduced and said Ms Gillard and Ms Macklin had acted with "good will and good faith" at every milestone. "This explains why the industry is thrashing around and throwing everything at it," he said.

Mr Wilkie said he would not compromise with a trial of mandatory pre-commitment. "There is no need for a trial," he said. "The evidence is abundant and that would be a stalling tactic from the industry."


Internet censorship for Australia still on the government's agenda

YOU cannot learn from books you'll never read or be inspired by ads you'll never see.

The insidiousness of censorship is its invisibility. Banned books don't leave outlines where they should be on library shelves. Banned political ads don't announce their presence on TV or radio with the crackle of dead air.

That's why censorship is the province of authoritarians: silence breeds ignorance, fear and shame – the most effective forms of control.

For much of the 20th century, Australia had the dubious distinction of being one of the world's most zealous censors. After a period of openness that started in the Whitlam era, the war on terrorism returned us to our love of banning. Stephen Conroy's internet filter, while deferred, has not been forgotten. The senator's spokesman says the Gillard government is still "committed to introducing legislation" that will block all "refused classification" content from an entire nation of consenting adults. This is set to happen sometime after next January.

If parents want to lock down their home computers, denying themselves and their children access to certain images and information, that's their prerogative. They should also have the right to block commercial advertising to their kids.

Sure, filters – at the home or provider levels – don't work well and many older children can get around them. But if, in the face of these facts, parents prefer technology to block content, rather than undertaking the more difficult process of educating their children about the different types and calibre of content on the web, that's their choice.

What they should not be allowed to decide is what other adults, and those adults' children, do in the face of online informational plenty.

What is the mandatory filter likely to block? We won't know for certain because the banned list is banned.

But it is unlikely to focus on the evil used to justify it – child-abuse sites. These will already be blocked, in line with a new voluntary code of practice adopted by Australian internet service providers to block all child-abuse material on the Interpol blacklist. The refused-classification list revealed by Wikileaks in 2009 offers clues. It contained the Wikileaks site, as well as gambling sites, porn sites, Wikipedia entries and pages on Satanism. Nothing illegal, in other words, but plenty that is politically inconvenient or offensive to religious morals.

Anything that "sexualises" or "pornifies" anything is also likely to wear a bullseye. Voluntary euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke's instructions on medically assisted suicide may also be in the firing line, given the banning of his book The Peaceful Pill Handbook.

Examples suggest it won't just be information on performing voluntary euthanasia that will be banned, but the mention of its name.

Last year Commercials Advice banned an ad encouraging Australians to be politically active on the voluntary euthanasia issue on the spurious grounds that it depicted, promoted or encouraged suicide. When ads with atheist messages such as "Celebrate Reason" were banned in 2008 – from the same buses that regularly spruiked biblical verses – no cogent explanation was given.

Comforting. Or terrifying, depending on how much you want this government, or the next, to make secret, arbitrary decisions about what you get to see and read.


'Verbal sewer' Facebook harming children: principal

“GET YOUR KIDS OFF FACEBOOK,” thundered the latest newsletter issued by Lindisfarne Anglican Grammar School, in Tweed Heads.


Principal Chris Duncan's bold, large-print warning filled the front-page column normally devoted to his formal message to parents.

Mr Duncan said he normally wrote an 800-word article on education or school issues, but he was prompted to take a different approach after having to help a 16-year-old student who suffered serious abuse on Facebook.

“It was one of those reflex actions,” he said. “I put it [the newsletter] out and thought this is going to offend half of the school community, but the feedback I've had is overwhelmingly positive.”

Mr Duncan said he was aware of students who had been sent into an “appalling state” due to abuse they received on Facebook, with some children being more vulnerable than others.

“Some kids deal with it really well and other kids are mortally wounded by it and it's just the way different kids react to things,” he said.

“I, and all of my colleague principals around the country, deal with very distressed young people and very distressed parents who have been subjected to what I would call tirades of verbal abuse on Facebook.”

Mr Duncan said he expelled two students last year for serious online harassment online of other students, one on Facebook and the other on the school's internal email system.

He said he was not suggesting a blanket Facebook ban but urged parents to be more proactive.

“My concern is parents are not overly aware of what their kids are subjected to until it gets to the point you've got a very distressed, abused young person,” he said.

“Certainly if they've got primary school age kids they shouldn't be on Facebook for a start and with teenage kids they should be aware of what they're doing, or limit their time on the computer at least.”


25 September, 2011

That evil coffee (?)

Not good for the young?? This sounds like kneejerk Puritanism. Where is the evidence of harm from coffee? When I was growing up kids in Australia were quite normally given a cup of tea with their evening meal and tea is also a caffeinated beverage. I have never heard of any harm from the practice

STUDENTS as young as 12 are being served coffee by a full-time barista employed by one of Sydney's top private schools. Presbyterian Ladies' College Sydney has opened the "Cyber Cafe" as part of extensive library renovations.

The cafe has outraged nutritionists who are concerned there are no restrictions on how many coffees students from the school in Croydon can purchase in a day.

Coffees cost $3 each (50c extra for soy or syrup flavour). Year 11 and 12 students are free to use the coffee shop all day, while Years 7-10 students can only buy before and after school and during recess and lunch.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said the cafe should be restricted to Year 11 and 12 students as younger children should not be encouraged to consume caffeine. "It is too early to be introducing them to coffee," she said. "This is going to need a close watch because it is easy for girls to drink lots of coffee to keep them going instead of eating."

A barista at the cafe told The Sunday Telegraph the students drink a lot of coffee. She said they also add sweet syrups, including caramel and vanilla, which masks the taste.

The cafe makes between 10kg and 15kg of coffee per week, which equates to about 2100 cups, according to owner of coffee academy Barista Basics David Gee. "Say the coffees are $3, they'd be making about $5000 per week just in coffee sales,'' he said.

The school's director of information services Joanna Taylor said the caf is "a very popular space''. "I don't know how much coffee they drink but the reality is, in the morning, even before the caf, the girls come walking up the street holding their coffees.''


Natural medicine offers risks not relief

HEALTH authorities have failed to keep up with an explosion in natural therapists as lives are put at risk from untested, unproven and potentially dangerous services.

More than 200,000 practitioners work in unregistered health fields Australia-wide and complementary medicines generate almost $2 billion a year, but little can be done when treatments go wrong.

In a damning assessment of consumer-protection measures, Queensland's health watchdog admits it is powerless to respond to the misconduct of alternative healers and other unregistered practitioners.

"The status quo does not sufficiently protect consumers from (the) risk of harm from unregistered health practitioners," the Health Quality and Complaints Commission says in a confidential paper obtained by The Sunday Mail.

Naturopathy, faith and spiritual healing, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and massage are among the unregulated fields in Queensland, with the medical community warning of a health "time bomb".

"This is a public health issue waiting to explode," said UQ School of Population Health researcher Jon Wardle, who has found there are now more alternative medical practitioners than doctors in some areas.

"For half the healthcare sector to be non-regulated is completely inappropriate it is the black market of health."

The Australian Traditional Medicine Society says the industry is "overall very safe" but supports reforms to protect consumers.

Figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show there have been 119 complaints about alternative practitioners to the state's health watchdog in the past three years. Allegations of assault, rough and painful treatment, illegal practices, medication errors and inappropriate treatment are among the complaints.

However, the complaints commission is unable to discipline offenders and can only forward cases to other agencies for action under general consumer and criminal laws.

The state lags a long way behind NSW, where a health complaints commissioner can ban unregistered practitioners who breach a statutory code of conduct. There are no similar prohibition powers in Queensland.

An acupuncturist who caused a collapsed lung was among nine people banned in NSW since 2008.

Doctors' group the AMA says it is aware of dangerous practices, including practitioners claiming to be able to change DNA. "These practitioners sometimes lead patients to believe almost magical things can be done," Queensland AMA president Dr Richard Kidd said.

A further 80 complaints were made about complementary medicines and therapies to Queensland's Office of Fair Trading since 2008.

A huge question mark hangs over the safety of complementary medicines, with a scathing report this month revealing that nine out of 10 products were not meeting regulatory standards.

The Auditor-General's report found the 10,000 complementary medicines registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration did not have to be tested for safety nor efficacy.

A TGA spokeswoman last week said there were 276 adverse drug reaction reports relating to complementary medicines, or 2 per cent of all reports.

Grave concerns about the policing of alternative operators this year prompted the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to launch a review of regulation. The body, due to report to health ministers in November, consulted with representative associations and found there were at least 200,000 practitioners.

Queensland's Health Quality Complaints Commission sent a "private and confidential" submission to the advisory council backing a national code of conduct and banning powers.

The present system allowed repeat offenders to "continue providing health services that harm the public", chief executive Cheryl Herbert wrote.


Major investigation into 'marshmallow generation'

FEARS that our children are becoming too soft and cloistered has prompted a major investigation.

The impact of over-protective parenting will be the focus of the VicHealth study, amid psychologists' concerns of a "marshmallow generation", the Herald Sun reported.

The three-year study will examine the impact of parental fear on reducing children's independence and physical activity levels.

It comes as psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said parents were raising a generation of children too afraid to fail.

VicHealth acting chief executive John Fitzgerald said irrational fears of stranger danger and a strong desire to protect children from injury were barriers to them walking to school or playing outdoors.

The study, to start in December, would examine these issues, and interventions would be developed to minimise parental fears and its negative effects on children, Prof Fitzgerald said. "We want to be able to help parents work through it, so it doesn't impact on kids exercising," he said.

The Australian Health Survey 2010 found 42 per cent of children aged nine to 16 failed to meet activity guidelines of an hour or more on most days, he said.

Dr Carr-Gregg said some schools were awarding participation ribbons rather than first, second and third prizes to minimise competition.

It comes as Education Department report cards do not give failing grades, but note that work "needs attention" or is "below the standard expected".

Psychologists said some children were seeing them:

IN tears because they had been beaten by parents or siblings in backyard family sport or board games.

REPORTING minor friendship tiffs to school authorities as bullying.

THROWING tantrums because their teams lost.

VIEWING rough-and-tumble sporting games as violent attacks.

INCONSOLABLE because they had a bad mark for school work.

Dr Carr-Gregg said a lack of competition meant children did not learn to deal with disappointment. "Where is the incentive to achieve and get better? When you take away the ability to win and lose, you are taking away the capacity to develop resilience and the ability to overcome adversity," he said. "We are raising a 'marshmallow generation,' but we are doing them no favours because life does not work like that."


Huge corruption in the Federal bureaucracy covered up

At the end of 1999, a team of immigration analysts was facing a curious problem. Asked to compile statistics on where new migrants were living, the staff had to dig out original forms to match against later data. But as they moved through the department's old Cumberland Street offices in Sydney, they found scores of files had vanished.

About the same time, another official arranging a citizenship ceremony was annoyed to find a child's name missing from a key certificate. He searched for a hard copy original to check the name but he came across the same problem. The file couldn't be found.

There was another link. That child's citizenship file and the documents missing from Cumberland Street had been handled by the same senior officer - David Moon. The missing papers were later found stashed inside his office.

It was later revealed 110 Chinese migrants whose applications Moon had approved should never have been granted citizenship. Moon had been taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks and luxury overseas holidays to illegally fast-track them through the system. In 2008, the 69-year-old was jailed.

Now, a Herald investigation has found evidence to suggest there may be hundreds of similar cases lying in wait. Confidential files obtained using freedom of information show thousands of allegations of graft and abuse of office are being levelled against government staff each year - but only a handful are properly investigated.

Last year, almost 1800 misconduct cases were handled inside just 5 per cent of the agencies that make up the federal government. In the past six years, more than 3200 investigations have been conducted inside the Department of Defence alone. Almost one-fifth of Australian Customs and Border Protection's workforce has been investigated since 2007 for offences including bribery and "prohibited imports".

In January, customs joined two law-enforcement bodies already under the purview of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, a corruption watchdog. But for the rest of the Commonwealth, no one is watching. Moon's is a salutary lesson because he wasn't exposed by someone blowing the whistle. There was no one inside the Department of Immigration who would have been willing or able to do anything with allegations that controversial - at one point, Moon simply declined to be interviewed by department officers.

The Australian Federal Police, which concentrates on drug trafficking and counter-terrorism, is reluctant to deal with Commonwealth fraud matters. It is likely the police took the case because the evidence was too conspicuous to ignore. There may be hundreds of bureaucrats in the public service who have previously been the target of internal investigations.

In one confidential memo obtained by the Herald, senior Department of Immigration personnel are told that several staff had resigned "to avoid incurring a breach of the APS [Australian Public Service] code of conduct on their employment record and likelihood of serious sanction being imposed".

This is not a rare occurrence. In the past six years, no fewer than 919 fraud investigations into Commonwealth public servants were prematurely terminated because they resigned.

THE senior executives who lead Canberra's public service promulgate the myth the Commonwealth does not have a corruption problem.

Carmel McGregor, then the acting public service commissioner, told a parliamentary law enforcement committee in mid-2009: "There is no evidence that corruption … is widespread in the APS." That may be true. But it is also true that corruption in the Commonwealth government is just as prevalent as elsewhere in Australia.

Not only are a substantial number of allegations formally lodged every day against APS staff, but most of those are never independently examined. Previously unpublished audits obtained by the Herald record more than 3800 internal investigations in nine departments in roughly the past three years.

The Department of Defence has been home to another 1300 in the same period and there are scores of other agencies whose files remain secret. The Australian Taxation Office has conducted 883 internal investigations in the past two years.

Last year, in 10 agencies, there were 21 cases of alleged corruption, 65 conflicts of interest, and 247 cases of fraud.

The public has heard about none of these, and many, on the evidence seen by the Herald, appear to have been handled discreetly to avoid public embarrassment. Indeed, there were only 11 referrals to the federal police by the entire Commonwealth government last year.

The internal audit files obtained by the Herald also show widespread corruption risks - poorly-managed procurements worth many millions of dollars, shoddy information security measures such as passwords which are never expunged and a culture of rorting travel benefits, salary entitlements or department credit cards.

In 2007, Griffith University published data from a survey of 8000 public servants about fraud and misconduct.

Canberra scored as well, or as poorly, as NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, which all have corruption-busting agencies. A total of 22 per cent had direct evidence of the rorting of entitlements, 31 per cent had seen a cover-up of poor performance and 10 per cent had seen someone use their status to obtain personal favours.

More federal employees had seen money stolen, resources improperly used for personal gain or pornography downloaded to a work computer than their state counterparts.

Crucially, only marginally fewer Commonwealth employees (2.4 per cent) had direct evidence of the payment of bribes than those in NSW (2.9 per cent).

The Australian Public Service Commission guides the bureaucracy on values and conduct. The Australian National Audit Office audits spending and performance. The Commonwealth Ombudsman handles complaints. And almost every department has its own audit unit.

They say where cases of serious corruption emerge - Moon is an example, as is Nick Petroulias, the former assistant tax commissioner jailed in 2008 for selling classified information - the AFP has the powers needed to investigate. But there are several problems with this position.

"They have a conflict of interest," John McMillan, the former Commonwealth Ombudsman, says. "They do not want to expose a weakness in their own procedures or have the public questioning the integrity of their process. By and large the interest of an agency is to avoid any publicity questioning … its efficiency or integrity."

Of 500 internal fraud cases recorded in the Department of Immigration in the past two years, only six were referred to the AFP.

Last year, Centrelink investigated 337 of its employees for misconduct including conflicts of interest, fraud and abuse of office. In 2008, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs investigated 138 allegations that staff obtained a benefit by deception, and 475 misconduct cases between July 2007 and December 2009. How many cases were referred to the AFP by each agency in the past two years? One.

The reluctance of departments to bring ignominy upon themselves is one reason for the low rate of referrals - if someone has defrauded the agency it is because financial controls allowed them to do so. But there is another important reason. Internal investigators might find an invoice is missing, but they are unlikely to uncover one that was forged.

Then there are questions about the AFP's capacity to take up the cudgels. That it does so already is a myth, says Professor A.J.Brown,one of the country's most recognised public law experts. Unless the matter touches on criminality at the top end of the spectrum, the AFP has other priorities. "There is currently no expectation [among Commonwealth agencies] that the AFP would ever help deal with other types of alleged official misconduct, such as conflicts of interest, even in complex or serious cases."

Even the former AFP commissioner, Michael Keelty, has suggested as much. In 2006, he said the anti-corruption agency that oversees the AFP could have its jurisdiction expanded. "If we are serious about this, and if it is not just a quick fix, then the AFP could benefit in its investigations if the ACLEI [Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity] had a wider remit than what is proposed," he said.

FEDERAL governments have been forced to install a series of royal commissioners to address misconduct when it makes its way to the surface. Brown cites the Palmer and Comrie inquiries into the Department of Immigration which exposed a "far-reaching pattern of systemic organisational failures"; the Cole inquiry into the payment of $220 million in bribes by AWB; and the Clarke inquiry into the government's handling of the Mohamed Haneef affair.

Then there is the Securency scandal. So far, eight executives and a former deputy chairman of the Reserve Bank of Australia have been charged here and overseas with the bribery of officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam to secure banknote printing contracts.

This week, the government announced a "National Anti-Corruption Plan" at a cost of less than $700,000 which is to be compiled by people inside the Attorney-General's Department. The government says it will "involve a thorough review of existing measures".

But on Thursday, the Home Affairs and Justice Minister, Brendan O'Connor, said those around him had yet to present a compelling argument that Australia's largest body politic needs a standing royal commission.

The former diplomat and long-time Canberra watcher Bruce Haigh says such arguments are never going to be mounted by the vested powers that run the federal government. Corruption is not a topic discussed at dinner parties in Canberra.

"Canberra is a closed place," he says. "There is a culture that we're separate and we're apart. It is a phony culture."


24 September, 2011

Another useless emergency-call operator

If it doesn't fit in precisely to a category on their computer screen they ignore the call. Nothing has been learned since the death of David Iredale 5 years ago, apparently

TWO frantic 000 calls by a woman who was murdered minutes later went unheeded after an emergency operator was unable to obtain precise information and did not pass the request for attendance to police.

James John Potter, 24, was committed yesterday to stand trial for the murder of Penelope "Penny" Pratt, 27, who was shot three times after an argument over a $160 drug debt on November 28 last year.

"I'm in the vicinity of being heard, do you understand what that means ... trust me, you want to get to this address," Ms Pratt was recorded saying during one of the 000 calls at 11.28pm, replayed in Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

"You're going to get me bashed," she said moments later in frustration at not being able to give her exact location other than a street, suburb and nearby hospital. "I'm hiding in a bush answering your questions," an agitated Ms Pratt said, adding there were "three violent offenders" after her.

"If I can't hear you, how am I to help you?" the operator said at one point. Ms Pratt is heard to say she is hiding and in fear, then giving her name and mobile phone number to the 000 operator.


Australian entrepreneur launches action in Supreme Court to force Google to release ID details behind abusive website

A libel is just grounds for legal pursuit in anyone's book but it would be a pity if this action closed down anonymity altogether. People sometimes have good and proper reasons for anonymity. A compromise arrangement whereby webhosts readily release ID info behind apparently libellous statements -- and only such libellous statements -- would probably be ideal

A LEGAL showdown between Google and a Gold Coast entrepreneur could set a precedent that helps lift the veil from anonymous online commentators.

Self-help guru and motivational speaker Jamie McIntyre has launched action in the Supreme Court to force the internet giant to release details of those behind a website labelling him a "thieving scumbag", the Courier-Mail reported.

Mr McIntyre believes Google Australia is the only Australian company that knows who's behind because of its paid advertising relationship with the website, the application says.

The allegedly defamatory website is one of the first listings on a Google search for Mr McIntyre and countless efforts to find the owners, including hiring a private investigator, have been unsuccessful.

Mr McIntyre's company, 21st Century Education, offers self-help seminars in "wealth creation" and promises to be better than school or university.

He will next month host a speaking event in Melbourne featuring Richard Branson, Channel 9 businessman Eddie McGuire and famed self-help author Tim Ferriss.

Leading communications law academic Professor Michael Fraser of the University of Technology, Sydney, said it would be an important test case on anonymous online commentators. "The internet is a mainstream channel of communication now so it can't just be like the wild west outside of the rule of law," said Prof Fraser. "People can't ... be allowed to hide behind a cloak of anonymity. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

"Google says it will always comply with the laws in a jurisdiction they operate in and so if the court requires them to provide the information, I expect that they will."

Prof Fraser said a successful case could open the floodgates of legal action against online entities. "I think there will be more and more litigation as people exercise their rights online so that we get a regulated legal framework there as we do in the bricks-and-mortar world.

"Hopefully it will change people's behavior too. The more people who are brought to account, the more people will know that they can't hide behind anonymity."


Tony Abbott's firm stance on boats a winner

The peripatetic Peter van Onselen is a rather populist writer but there is some logic in his piece below

TONY Abbott has been copping it from all sides for his decision not to accede to the government's demands to support legislation to enable the Malaysia Solution to go ahead.

The Left has dismissed any suggestion he is protecting the rights of asylum-seekers and conservative commentators are concerned that by blocking the government's plan he risks opening the door to Labor in opposition doing the same on Nauru.

I think Abbott's belligerence on this issue is correct on all counts: political, humanitarian, ultimate outcomes and procedurally. Some of those consequences are intentional, chief among them the political advantage he secures.

But the unintended consequences are also positive if observers take the view, as I do, that Australia should take responsibility for people heading this way who are seeking asylum.

Onshore processing isn't something to be feared. Not at the numbers arriving during the Howard years. Not at the numbers who have come here since. Not even if the number of people coming here by boat quadrupled.

A senior member of the opposition told me that, in his view, colleagues of mine who have condemned Abbott for blocking the amendments to the Immigration Minister's powers are wrong because "the longer the public debate is dominated by asylum-seeker issues the better off we are". Indeed.

Some readers will weep at such crass political calculations, but they are likely to be accurate.

Because of the perception that John Howard stopped the boats by using Nauru and temporary protection visas (never mind the proven mental anguish they cause), and boats started coming again when both methods were removed by Labor, Abbott is well placed to stand by Nauru as his solution of choice now, whether it would work again or not.

Given the present polling, we are likely to find out: if Labor blocks the decommissioning by a Coalition government of the carbon tax legislation, Abbott would call a double-dissolution election, no doubt wrapping up amendments to allow Nauru to go ahead if necessary.

Anyone who has refined their powers of logic knows that just because Nauru worked once, it doesn't mean it would work again. But it matters not: politically, ongoing asylum-seeker discussions are a win for Abbott.

While Labor likes to claim Abbott is opposed to the Malaysia Solution only because he believes it might work, I am not sure that is altogether true.

Again, thinking politically, he likes the wedge of opposing Malaysia so he can highlight the divisions between Left and Right within the ALP.

And while Abbott is forgoing the opportunity to let Malaysia unravel of its own accord - if people are mistreated there or the 800 figure is reached - the opposition knows that the Left will keep on highlighting the distasteful elements of the plan for some time to come.

Politically it helps Abbott to add a humanitarian string to his asylum bow by blocking Malaysia, even if both sides should hang their heads in shame on this issue.

The most ridiculous thing about the present asylum debate is the way both sides try to claim the high ground on humanitarian grounds by variously arguing that stopping boats is humane because it prevents deaths at sea. The use of those sickening images of people drowning off the coast of Christmas Island has made doing so easier in the superficial world of the asylum-seekers debate.

If you believe stopping boats coming to Australia will not stop asylum-seekers making their way to other destinations instead, boats will continue to sink, people will continue to die. The only difference is that it will be happening farther from our shores, so we don't have to feel as bad about it, right? Wrong.

And even if people in crowded camps don't make the dangerous journey elsewhere, they will remain in those camps, suffering from the various reported problems: rape, disease, persecution, malnourishment and so forth.

But getting back to Abbott's right to reject law changes that would give Chris Bowen god-like powers as Immigration Minister, people should not forget the government was trying to publicly pressure the opposition for support before it had even seen the legislation.

Labor's argument that Abbott is being obstructionist is hollow. No executive government can simply ignore the role of parliament, opposition scrutiny and the checks of the Senate and assume that an opposition will automatically support legislation of this kind.

Finally, there is the notion Julia Gillard keeps referring to that the law changes she wants will also give Abbott the ambit he will need to shift policy to Nauru, were he elected prime minister. Without the changes, Labor claims, Nauru will be as dead as the Malaysia Solution is because of the High Court decision.

That is the advice of the Solicitor-General, from the same advisers who said Malaysia would be good to go in the first place and that plain packaging legislation on cigarette packages was A-OK.

Not that we are being allowed to see such advice, of course. The light shining in on the new parliamentary paradigm isn't as bright as the independents intended it to be. Meanwhile former solicitor-general David Bennett QC thinks that Nauru may well still be an allowable form of offshore processing in the eyes of the High Court.

Abbott is no saint when it comes to asylum-seeker policies. Far from it.

But his opposition to Malaysia is politically good for him; prevents a poor policy being enacted; ends offshore processing, at least for a while; and doesn't necessarily kill off Nauru.


Top doctor says 'boat people' get better treatment than Queensland public hospital patients

THE extent of the crisis in Queensland public hospitals has been laid bare by a senior doctor, who says asylum seekers are getting better treatment than local patients.

In a draft letter obtained by The Courier-Mail, Princess Alexandra Hospital emergency medicine director Phillip Kay said that the lives of Queenslanders were being put at risk by government financial pressures.

The letter is scathing of a plan by the hospital to close beds, as part of a budget crackdown, saying it "will definitely lead to morbidity and probably mortality", if it goes ahead.

"We are told, as we are on the verge of meltdown, that more beds are going to be closed, and even more dangerously, that some of the beds are special care beds," he wrote. "Boat people are getting better medical care and access than our patients. We greet them with life jackets and somewhere to sleep that night. Our patients are stuck on trolleys or on ambulance stretchers. This is unethical."

Details of public hospital budget pressures were detailed in The Courier-Mail yesterday.

The draft letter was sent to more than 15 specialists for feedback before it was to be forwarded to Metro South Health District chief executive David Theile.

In the letter, Dr Kay outlined the massive pressures the Princess Alexandra Emergency Department is under because of dire hospital bed shortages. "The PA ED has been in overload and on bypass multiple times per week, with up to 20 ambulances stockpiled on our ramp while the ED is completely choked off with inpatients waiting for beds that are not there."

The letter was written after a meeting at the Princess Alexandra Hospital on Wednesday morning was told of plans to close 16 medical beds, 16 surgical beds and five intensive-care beds. "This places us in a terrible and impossible ethical position regarding the level of care we provide on arrival . . . when we know there is nowhere to place them if they survive," Dr Kay wrote in the letter. "Where are they to go? It has already been clearly established that transferring sick and ventilated patients around a city at night in ambulances is potentially lethal.

"Why are these cuts being made right at the clinical face of the most-sick patients in a major base hospital, and at a time when you have already been told by all senior experts that it is in trouble?"

Acting Queensland Health director-general Tony O'Connell vehemently denied any plans for service cuts to rein in hospital budgets.

When Dr Kay was contacted by The Courier-Mail last night, he made it clear it was a draft to be finalised and sent to Dr Theile next week after feedback from multiple specialists. "I didn't leak it and I'm not sure how you got a copy," he said. "Everyone knows the pressure on emergency departments and I'll make no further comment.


Queensland State Government admits electricity grid failing to cope with solar power systems

Greenie fantasies run into engineering practicalites

THE solar power revolution is in danger of stalling, with the State Government admitting the electricity grid is failing to cope with its green vision.

Energy Minister Stephen Robertson confirmed new applications for rooftop solar systems were being rejected in areas where Queensland's high uptake threatened the safety and reliability of its network.

Thousands of homeowners hoping for promised power savings of up to $540 via a 1.5kW system are in limbo, with those wanting larger systems even being asked to pay more than $20,000 to help cover local upgrades.

Energex said the state's electricity network since the 1950s had been designed to deliver power from the station to the home and the voltage now heading "the other way" was causing a huge dilemma.

Following advice from engineering experts, no more systems will be automatically approved when the penetration of solar photovoltaic systems hits 30 per cent in neighbourhoods.

The penetration refers to the maximum capacity of the transformer supplying the local zone, which can include 50 homes.

In a bid to cut power bills, more than 107,000 Queensland households have jumped at the Solar Bonus Scheme, launched in 2008, exporting 72.5 million kW hours back to the grid.

However, unless significant, costly upgrades are completed, many who might want to add solar panels in the future may not be able to.


23 September, 2011

The cold hard proof Australia is getting warmer (?)

Contrary to what the author says below, the graph appears to cover just one ski location: Spencer's Creek, which reminds one of Keith Briffa's solitary Siberian tree. None of the other trees fitted Keith's global warming story so he relied on the one tree that did.

And Australia has had unusually early openings to its ski seasons in recent years so why is that not reflected in the graph? It could be that we are getting less extreme weather. The average depth rather than the peak depth would be more informative. The Greenies keep shrieking that were are having MORE extreme weather but a lot of data show the opposite. America has had unusually few major hurricanes in recent years, for instance

But the major point is that snowfall in most locations is more influenced by available atmospheric moisture than by temperature, and Australia DID suffer one of its recurrent droughts up until recently. If there is a real effect there, it's a drought effect

Look at this graph. Each blue bar shows the peak annual snow depth at Snowy Hydro’s five official snow measuring stations at Spencers Creek, about halfway between the NSW ski resorts of Perisher and Thredbo.

The black line shows the downward trend over the last 58 years. Pronounced decline, isn’t it. The consistent big seasons of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s are a thing of the past. On average, we’re losing three quarters of a centimetre of snow each year. That’s nearly half a metre since records were first kept.

Snowy Hydro has taken these measurements since the 1950s because they like to know how much snowmelt is going to end up in their dams each summer. The information is neutral, reliable, and untainted by ski resort PR. Even more crucially, it relies not on pie-in-the sky computer modelling, but on clinical, unhysterical observation.

And those observations reveal beyond doubt that Australia is getting warmer.

The problem with the climate change debate is that most of us can neither observe, nor feel, the data presented.

We cannot detect small annual changes in temperature, and are no hope of perceiving increases in CO2 or other gases. Moreover, popular graphs like the “hockey stick” championed by Al Gore, are endlessly open to misinterpretation and dispute.

But there’s no arguing with this snow depth graph. It is elegantly simple and best of all, it represents something tangible. The graph clearly shows that less snow is falling, and less snow is sticking around. And that ain’t happening because the world’s getting cooler, as some argue.

A warming globe impacts the Australian snow pack in two simple ways. Firstly, and most obviously, warmer weather means a greater likelihood of rain instead of snow, and quicker melt after snowstorms.

The second effect is a little more technical. Basically, a warmer globe makes it tougher for the snow-bearing cold fronts in the Southern Ocean to push north and make landfall on the Australian continent. Most experts agree that’s why areas like SW Western Australia are drying out so rapidly.

Now, no one’s saying the snow is going to disappear entirely this century, as predicted by a 2003 CSIRO report with a distinctly doomsday tone. But slowly, it’s going.

The $64 million question is why. Is all this part of a natural cycle or is the hand of human activity at work here?


Status and marriage

Australian demographer Bernard Salt below is almost certainly right in saying that women still like to "marry up" and is also right to say that educational attainment is not the sole criterion of "up". Many men have caught on to the education hoax and know they can do better financially in business. One rather pities women who are piling up debt to get a probably useless degree while their less gullible brothers are already out in the workforce both earning money and gaining the experience that often trumps education. Such women will be more in need of a rich husband than ever

I have been married four times so have had some time to think about these matters and my conclusion is that the best wife for a highly educated man is a smart working class girl without a university background. The ideas and aspirations of highly educated women ("saving the planet" etc.) can be a pain and a distraction whereas the working class girl concentrates all her intelligence and energies on her relationships, thus securing better results in that field.

And education does not automatically lead to shared interests. A man with a degree in mathematics is not thereby going to have much in common with a woman who has an equivalent degree in anthropology. Such a pair could in fact be totally incomprehending of one-another -- JR

LATE last month I participated in the Sustaining Women in Business conference in Melbourne. I was a panellist in a session titled a New Era of Work, which explored work habits.

My co-panellist for the session was Canadian author Avivah Wittenburg-Cox author of How Women Mean Business. I talked about how technology has changed the way we work; Ms Wittenburg-Cox made the point that young women were now more likely than young men to hold a university degree.

But rather than explore why tertiary education might be failing our young men, Ms Wittenburg-Cox expressed concern for her daughter: "Who is she going to marry?"

Clearly from this question Ms Wittenburg-Cox expects her daughter to select a partner from a modest and possibly shrinking pool of tertiary-educated men.

She raised the thorny issue of "partnering up" versus "partnering down". What could I do but defend the partnering prospects of the male gender by registering my protest. "But isn't love blind?" I implored. "If someone is a good bloke who cares deeply for your daughter, then what does it matter how smart he is?"

It is fair to say that the room of perhaps 300 women immediately erupted. My impression was that the room divided more or less equally: some agreed with me -- love is blind -- whereas others seemed to adopt a, shall we say, more pragmatic approach.

At this point it is worth recounting some demographic facts. Despite four decades of feminism, women still, on average, choose to marry an older man. In 2009, the age difference was 23 months.

If love and marriage are truly random selections, then women would be equally predisposed to choosing a partner who was older or younger. On this basis it can be concluded that women still marry up. Older men are more likely to be better established in their careers and therefore would be more mature and better providers.

But there are other issues. There are simply more men than women in Australia throughout childhood, puberty and into the twentysomething hooking-up decade. This oversupply of men enables women, in fact encourages women, to select the best available from of whatever's on offer.

By dint of the laws of demand and supply of potential partners, women have at least the opportunity, if not a downright proclivity, to partner up. At least that's the theory.

But here's the problem. As women increasingly gain access to tertiary education their inbuilt potential partner filter excludes more and more men.

Ms Wittenburg-Cox's concern for her daughter's prospects is justified because there are not enough smart men to partner smart (or at least university educated) women.

The solution is for women to reinterpret partnering up to include men who may be self-employed and self-confident, who are caring and connected and who are aligned with their partners in values and thinking. These men may meet other stringent potential partner criteria but not actually hold a university degree.

But there again I have yet another theory. If there is a shrinking pool of university-educated alpha men, snaring one of these rare and exotic creatures might be regarded as the ultimate symbol of corporate success for an alpha woman.

If such a man-in-demand commits to her, in the process forsaking all others, does this not reflect positively on the alpha female? Indeed, with the continued success of women in the workforce, might we see the rise of the trophy husband?

Here is a man who is university educated, sporty (code for athletic body), tall, cooks, supports his partner's career, looks after the children, is sociable, witty and charming, doesn't smoke or drink to excess, speaks a second language, plays a musical instrument, volunteers at a local homeless shelter and loves nothing better than going for long romantic walks on deserted beaches.

Oh dear, I can see half the room at the Sustainable Women in Business conference, including Ms Wittenburg-Cox, swooning at the very thought of the educated but the oh-so-elusive trophy husband. Sigh.


Aluminium company Rusal fears effect of carbon tax

THE world's largest aluminium company, Rusal, has launched a scathing attack on the Gillard Government's carbon tax and emissions scheme, saying it puts its key Queensland project at risk.

In a submission to the Federal Government, Rusal said the Clean Energy Legislative Package - the carbon tax and Emissions Trading Scheme - was a threat to the viability of the Russian group's major investment in Australia.

Rusal owns 20 per cent of the giant Queensland Alumina Refinery (QAL) at Gladstone, the second-largest alumina refinery in the world, which employs 1800 people and ships alumina to Siberia for smelting.

Rusal Australia's chairman John Hannagan said QAL would pay about $30 million to $40 million in the first year as a result of the tax. "Over the next 10 years that could be nearly $400 million, which would have been better spent going to expansion of the plant, future energy and co-gen opportunities," he said.

Mr Hannagan said the carbon tax threatened the long- term viability of the refinery and could stymie any expansion opportunities.

He said QAL had experienced a tough decade, largely because domestic coal prices, gas and electricity had risen sharply and the company was a big energy user. The strong Australian dollar had also hurt but he said the company remained profitable because of good management and the skill of the workforce.

He said the Government's impost on Australian CO2 emissions contained in the Clean Energy legislation would penalise local industry because most overseas competitors did not have such an impost.

The Government has recognised that the competitiveness of industries such as alumina refining will be adversely affected by the carbon tax and has introduced partial compensation but Mr Hannagan said the method of compensation was "highly prejudicial".

"Rusal believes that the proposed methodology of the tax and compensation regime for alumina refining incorporated in the (legislation) is quite outrageous and will put QAL at risk," he said.

A spokesperson for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet defended the legislation and compensation yesterday, saying the government's $9.2 billion Jobs and Competitiveness Program had been designed to support industries such as alumina production while providing incentives for those industries to become more efficient.

The spokesman said alumina qualified for the highest rate of assistance, an allegation Mr Hannagan denied, saying QAL would receive 25 per cent less than other industries and the Government was "fudging it yet again".


Queensland government hospitals could have bed closures and delays in outpatient treatment due to cost-cutting plans

Why can't these b*stards cut some of their army of bureaucrats? The bureaucracy has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. They can't all be needed

THE state's largest hospitals are under renewed pressure to cut spending, prompting senior medical staff to warn of bed closures and delays in outpatient treatment.

Staff say they are also being pushed to reduce the time patients spend in hospital, as a fresh wave of cost-cutting digs into the already stressed public system.

Specialist doctors are angered by the spending crackdown, particularly after the payroll debacle and other IT issues have sucked hundreds of millions of dollars from the public purse.

For the second time in six months, employees at the state's two biggest hospitals the Princess Alexandra and Royal Brisbane and Women's have been told to brace for bed closures.

The Courier-Mail revealed in March that senior doctors were warning of possible patient deaths if threatened budget cuts went ahead.

A meeting at the Princess Alexandra Hospital was advised this week that 16 medical beds, 16 surgical beds, five intensive care beds and haemodialysis chairs were under threat.

Sixty bed closures have also been discussed at the RBWH, which has been told to find $30 million in savings.

The threatened cuts come as district CEOs prepare to meet with Queensland Health bureaucrats next week for their scheduled quarterly budget discussion.

Queensland Health Acting Director-General Tony O'Connell made it clear last night he would not agree to service cuts if they were suggested by CEOs as a way to rein in budgets.

"Measures such as those suggested have not been approved,'' he said.

RBWH Medical Staff Association chairwoman Dana Wainwright said staff were under ``huge pressure'' to cut spending, including a push to reduce patient length of stay.

"We have major concerns for the safety and quality of clinical care if we become budget driven,'' she said. ``It's about patients.''

As outpatient waiting lists continue to grow, doctors say some clinics have been cancelled as part of a school holiday "slowdown'', also designed to save costs.

The possibility of haemodialysis chairs being cut at the Princess Alexandra comes after a briefing note, written by the Metro South Health Service District CEO David Theile in May, warning of growing demand for kidney dialysis.

"A number of haemodialysis patients imminently planning to relocate from Cairns, Metro North, Gold Coast, NSW and New Zealand into the Metro South HSD have been asked to defer their plans to move as their haemodialysis requirements cannot currently be accommodated,'' Dr Theile wrote.

"Private haemodialysis units within the greater Brisbane area are also nearly at full physical capacity. Previous attempts to outsource public patients to private dialysis facilities have failed due to limited dialysis capacity.''

Opposition Health Spokesman Mark McArdle said the hospital problems were evidence Queensland Health had mismanaged its budget.

"It has now reached the point that Queenslanders are going to be put at risk of significant health problems and potentially, fatal outcomes,'' Mr McArdle said.

AMA Queensland president-elect Alex Markwell said the organisation would have concerns about the potential impact on patient outcomes if the cuts went ahead.


Unbelievable: Qld. setting itself up for ANOTHER huge computer bungle

QUEENSLAND Health is poised to sign a multimillion-dollar contract for computer software similar to that labelled "defective" by an IT expert who audited its use in southern hospitals.

University of Sydney's Professor Jon Patrick said electronic medical records systems built by Cerner Corporation for the NSW Government crashed frequently and risked patient safety.

A similar Cerner system installed by the Victorian health department also has been plagued by glitches and is five years behind schedule.

"I don't think there's any reason for optimism that they can be improved," Prof Patrick said.

Leaked internal documents have surfaced detailing problems already looming within Queensland, as bureaucrats negotiate with US-based Cerner to build a $243 million electronic medical records system in Queensland hospitals.

Technical information for the proposed Cerner system and existing IT platforms that it must work with was "often incomplete, not-comprehensive, inaccurate and out-of-date", a leaked position paper found.

Another email addressed to chief information officer Ray Brown, released to the State Opposition under Right to Information laws, warned of the increasing need to document potential risks "even if we can't find the resources to remove them" in case of disaster and patient death.

"The no-surprises rule may be applicable and would help in a Coroner's Court," the clinical adviser wrote.

But, in a written statement, Mr Brown last night backed Cerner, which he said had successfully operated systems at the Royal Brisbane and Women's and Princess Alexandra hospitals for more than a decade.

Mr Brown said Queensland had learnt from interstate problems and would implement an "end-to-end solution", rather than trying to marry different systems across hospitals.

Independent experts had verified the rollout and more than 4000 staff had been consulted, indicating their support for Cerner software, he said.

The debate came after The Courier-Mail yesterday detailed Opposition claims that Queensland Health bureaucrats deliberately changed an independent report to favour Cerner when hunting for software suppliers in 2009, which QH vehemently denied.

Prof Patrick, chair of Language Technology at the university's School of IT, said problems with Cerner's NSW and Victorian systems were well documented in 2009.

He said Queensland bureaucrats likely knew of the faults, which should have served as "red flags". Cerner did not respond to a call for comment.


22 September, 2011

Huge rejection of government High Schools in Australia

On previous occasions, I have extrapolated from State statistics that about 40% of Australian High School students go to private schools. This compares with about 7% in England and probably reflects at least in part the greater Government financial support for private schools in Australia. But private schooling is still a considerable expense for families so the 40% figure probably represents just about every family that can afford those expenses.

Government schools are clearly on the nose. Discipline has largely been abolished there over the last couple of decades so such schools have a reputation for being chaotic and thus providing a poor learning environment.

Although I attended State schools myself, I sent my son to a local private school. There are so many private schools in Australia that one does not usually have to travel far to find one. At his school my son had (male) teachers who were enthusiastic about mathematics, something rarely found in State schools, I'll warrant. Since my son now has a B.Sc. with honours in mathematics and is working on his Ph.D. in the subject, he is an example of the effect that school choice can have.

Fortunately, my 40% estimate can now be firmed up. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has just released Australia-wide data on schools. See the excerpt below. It turns out that for Australia as a whole I was only one percentage point off. The figure is 39%, not 40%:

In 2010, there were 3.5 million students formally enrolled in all Australian schools (an increase of 7% since 2000). Of these students, seven in ten (66%) were enrolled in government schools, two in ten (20%) in Catholic schools and one in ten (14%) in Independent schools (compared with 69%, 20% and 11% respectively in 2000).

Although government schools continue to educate the majority of students in Australia, the number of students enrolled in non-government schools has been increasing at a faster rate over the last decade. Since 2000, Catholic and Independent schools had the largest proportional increases in the number of students (11% and 37% respectively) while the number of students in government schools increased by only 1.3%.

In 2010, there was little difference between the proportions of male and female students enrolled in government and non-government schools.

In primary and secondary schools

In 2010, around two million students were enrolled in primary schools and around 1.5 million students were enrolled in secondary schools. A higher proportion of students were enrolled in government primary (69%) and secondary (61%) schools than students enrolled in non-government primary and secondary schools. The proportion of students enrolled in Catholic and Independent schools was lower in primary schools (19% and 11% respectively) compared with secondary schools (22% and 17% respectively).

Many students may not remain in one particular type of school (government or non-government) for their entire schooling. For example, some students may attend a government primary school and complete their education in a non-government secondary school.

A media report on some other aspects of the new ABS data here. Private school graduates are much more likely to go on to univerity etc.

Even emergency patients have to wait in government hospitals these days

The report below is from South Australia but there are similar reports from all states

A PREGNANT woman suffering a miscarriage was stranded in an ambulance for more than two hours before being admitted to hospital as overcrowding in the state's health system reaches breaking point.

Queues of up to eight ambulances, with patients on board, are being forced to wait at Flinders Medical Centre as all of Adelaide's major hospitals this week reached the highest level of overcrowding - code white - and are stretched well beyond capacity. Patients who have been forced to wait in ambulances at Flinders include:

A 56-YEAR-OLD man with a suspected spinal fracture from a fall who had to wait 3½ hours.

AN 86-YEAR-OLD woman with a serious infection who waited 4¼ hours for admission.

A 61-YEAR-OLD female cancer patient requiring on-going pain relief who spent an hour in a vehicle before being admitted.

ANOTHER woman, 70, suffering an infection waited an hour and 40 minutes.

Ambulance officers will hold a crisis meeting with SA Health tomorrow as the ongoing strain revives threats of expensive industrial action.

The State Government admits problems exist at Flinders and has enlisted more nurses to cope with the strain. A spokeswoman for Health Minister John Hill said yesterday work on the new emergency department at Flinders was ahead of schedule and was expected to be completed before next winter. Medical staff were continuing to provide care "in sometimes difficult circumstances".

The miscarriage was reported late last week and involved a 33-year-old woman 10 weeks into her pregnancy. She was finally taken to the Women's and Children's Hospital and treated after waiting for an hour and 55 minutes in an ambulance parked outside Flinders Medical Centre.

Ambulance Employees Association state secretary Phil Palmer said it was unlikely faster admittance would have saved the child but delay would have exacerbated the mother's physical and emotional distress.

He said morale among paramedics had hit "rock bottom" and cases like the miscarriage distressed both patients and medical staff. "This was someone who needed some serious medical intervention," Mr Palmer said yesterday. "An ambulance is set up to do a lot of things, but it does not have the complex diagnostic equipment that a woman going into a difficult miscarriage needs. "That patient would have been suffering. That's not good patient care, that's an outrage."

Paramedics will tomorrow meet SA Health chief executive David Swan over the matter and are demanding immediate measures to increase hospital capacity.

Mr Palmer has called for more nursing staff for all emergency departments and an upgrade of Modbury Hospital, and for the Government to fund private hospitals in order to free public beds.

The union says it will refuse to accept billing information from patients and consider other industrial action if the Government does not take new steps to ease backlogs. The move would cost the Government an estimated $200,000 per day in lost revenue.

Mr Palmer said paramedics wanted to direct their protests at the Government and would not take action that affected patient care.


Abbott is a man of the people

But wrong on immigration

While dining out this week I was regaled by a friend who dismissed Tony Abbott as a "bogan" [uncultured working-class person].

I knew what he meant, and didn't even argue, because the quality he was referring to is Abbott's strength and Labor's nightmare.

Even though Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar; has three degrees in economics, law and philosophy; was educated at four elite institutions, St Aloysius, Riverview, Sydney University and Oxford University; is highly articulate; has written three books and raised three daughters who are all pursuing tertiary studies, Abbott does have a streak of bogan in his essence.

This essence has put fear and loathing into Labor because it connects to an electorate where a large majority have neither the time nor inclination to follow politics closely, and whose overriding concern is their own household's wellbeing.

Abbott understands that politics is a simple art beneath the mountain of detail, and he has mastered the art of the simple, pungent message, an art never as simple as it appears.

So when an inner-city Green voter like my friend scorns Abbott as a bogan, he is not merely indulging in cheap snobbery but referring to the cut-through quality that makes Abbott appear an island of humanity in a sea of spin.

At Sydney University he played rugby, in the front row of the scrum, not a place for the faint-hearted. At Oxford, he boxed. In Sydney, he lives a muscular life - surf lifesaver, volunteer bush fire brigade member, and up at dawn every morning for a long cycle. He's physical, not ethereal. He has a big mortgage, a swaggering gait and a history of making gaffes but these qualities have underlined his authenticity to an electorate with a bias towards authenticity.

It is why this accidental leader, who won the Liberal leadership on December 1, 2009, by a single vote in a contest not even he expected to win, has been able to transform federal politics, galvanise a demoralised party and would become prime minister with a thumping majority if an election were held soon.

But I think Abbott, for the first time, has not listened to that essence which connects him with blue-collar voters willing to desert Labor. His decision to join the Greens in opposing, and thus sinking, legislation that will toughen up the Migration Act to allow for offshore processing of asylum seekers is, I think, the first serious misstep of his leadership.

His decision may prove successfully pragmatic but as a matter of principle it has an aura of cant and hypocrisy. The great majority of the people who would vote for an Abbott-led Coalition want strong border protection. It is a core issue. It is a matter of principle. This large constituency loathes the human rights industry and immigration industry thriving off the chaos of current policies. This constituency wants punitive policies in place to end people smuggling. It hates the idea that people can self-select to come to Australia. Above all, this large constituency loathes the idea that thousands of people are gaining permanent residency in Australia after destroying their identity papers.

Abbott's move this week is the move of a gambler with a gambler's nerves. He gambled when he ran for the Liberal leadership, and won against the odds. He gambled when he bet the house on an election over a carbon tax, and won the campaign. That he did not become prime minister was thanks to the two politicians with the lowest Labor-Greens vote in the entire country, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who turned local anti-Labor landslides into a mandate for a Labor government.

Yesterday, the government introduced amendments to the Migration Act to enable asylum seekers to be processed in countries that are not signatories to the United Nations convention on refugees, such as Malaysia. The Coalition's opposition to these amendments has produced indignation in the government that is palpable and genuine.

When the Prime Minister stood at the dispatch box during question time on Tuesday to respond to Abbott's goading about her refusal to reopen an immigration centre on Nauru, she thundered: "The national interest requires us to work together to amend the legislation . . . There is only one reason that the Leader of the Opposition did not agree . . . he is terrified that the Malaysia arrangement will work. What he wants to see for this country is more boats because he believes that will serve his political interest."

Cynical words, harsh words, but I think most people will see them as true words.


"Extreme weather" in Australia?

Greenies claim that warming is global and that one of its effects is more extreme weather. So shouldn't we expect all that in Australia too?

Discussing: "Li, F., Roncevich, L., Bicknell, C., Lowry, R. and Ilich, K. 2011. "Interannual variability and trends of storminess, Perth, 1994-2008". Journal of Coastal Research 27: 738-745.


Among the highly publicized changes in weather phenomena that are predicted to attend global warming are increases in the frequency and severity of various types of storms. Storms are a concern of the residents of any coastal city, as high winds, water surges and high-energy waves carry the potential for damage via flooding and erosion.

What was done

Citing "unprecedented public concern" with respect to the impacts of climate change, Li et al. (2011) set out to examine the variability and trends of storminess for the region of the Perth metropolitan coast of Australia. To do so, they conducted an extensive set of analyses using observations of wave, wind, air pressure, and water level over the period 1994-2008. The results of their analysis, in their view, should serve "to validate or invalidate the climate change hypothesis" that rising CO2 concentrations are increasing the frequency and severity of storms.

What was learned

As shown in the figure below, all storm indices showed significant interannual variability over the period of record, but "no evidence of increasing (decreasing) trends in extreme storm power was identified to validate the wave climate change hypotheses for the Perth region."

Annual storm trends defined by (a) stormy hours and (b) number of storm events, as determined by wind speed, significant wave height, non-tidal residual water level, and mean sea level pressure. Adapted from Li et al. (2011).

What it means

As the earth experienced what the IPCC has characterized as unprecedented warming over the past two decades, Perth has not experienced an increase in storm trends. Thus, the results of this study lean toward invalidating the hypothesis of a CO2-induced influence.


21 September, 2011

Racist Greenies

A coconut is brown on the outside but white on the inside. It is a classic slur on blacks who co-operate with whites. For similar reasons Chinese sometimes get called "bananas"

KIMBERLEY Aborigines who support Woodside's $30 billion gas hub are being racially abused as "money-hungry coconuts" in an intensifying campaign involving hateful newsletters and graffiti attacks.

And the Aboriginal leader who helped to secure a 30-year package of indigenous benefits in exchange for a gas hub on Western Australia's far north coast says green groups have betrayed the region's Aborigines.

There is angst and tension in the resort town of Broome, where some of Western Australia's poorest Aborigines live alongside residents who want the hub to go ahead at a different site, preferably 800km south in the industrialised Pilbara.

A newsletter widely distributed in Broome labels Kimberley Land Council chief executive Nolan Hunter as Woodside's "chief coconut" for his role in securing a $1.5bn deal that will bring education, employment and social benefits to the region's indigenous population in return for their support for the gas hub project.

In an exclusive interview with The Australian yesterday, Mr Hunter told how the hate mail came so thick and fast he now instructed staff at the KLC office not to open letters with their bare hands.

Mr Hunter said green groups promised in 2007 to support a single site for a gas hub in the region, but now were campaigning hard against the project. "For them, the environment can stay pristine and the people in it can live in poverty and destitution," he said. "People who oppose the gas have housing, they have income and their kids have good educational opportunities. They want somewhere pristine to come and spend their money on holidays."

The proposed project has been dogged by controversy since April 2009 when Kimberley traditional owners signed a heads of agreement with the state government and Woodside for a gas precinct at James Price Point. In May, the Goolarabooloo Jabbir Jabbir native title claim group voted to support the project. The KLC considers the deal "a landmark exercise in democratic decision making" that will lead directly to hundreds of jobs and guarantee a social justice package of health, education, housing and training.

Protesters have been near the site of survey work since July. "The threatening, offensive and intimidating behaviour that some of our staff, contractors and traditional owners have been subjected to over recent months is unacceptable," a Woodside spokesman said last night.

The region's indigenous Labor MP, Carol Martin, is named along with nine others in the most recent newsletter as "black on the outside, white on the inside and full of the milk of white man's money". She said opponents of the development showed disrespect for Aborigines' rights to make decisions about their land. "I'm shocked at the level of vitriol that's come out . . . this is the worst I've seen it," she said.


Greenie hypocrisy exposed

The unions have hit the nail on the head with this one. What is the point of destroying Australian jobs only to transfer the "polluting" to China?

UNIONS have gone on the warpath after learning that the new headquarters for the federal Climate Change Department will use cheap Chinese aluminium, which they say is dirtier to produce than the Australian product.

The national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, raised the matter with Julia Gillard yesterday during a meeting of the unions, industry, the Prime Minister and senior ministers to discuss ways of helping the struggling manufacturing sector.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union was not ruling out a green ban on the site if Australian aluminium was not used. The secretary, Dave Noonan, said it was hard to see how the environment was being served by aluminium being produced in a high-carbon environment".

The use of the imported product was a classic example of dumping goods to corner the market and force Australian suppliers out. The union was considering what action to take to draw the issue to public attention.

The department has signed a lease for the Nishi development being constructed in Canberra's central business district.

But a spokesman said neither the department nor the government could be blamed for using the cheap aluminium because it was only a tenant. "The department does not have any input into the awarding of contracts for the base building, which would be a matter for the developer," he said.

Mr Howes said the contract was for 80 tonnes of aluminium extrusions, valued at about $5 million. "Emissions for aluminium made in China are around 50 per cent higher than Australian aluminium," he said. "The irony of the Climate Change Department importing aluminium made from China would be laughable if it wasn't such a slap in the face to Australian manufacturing."

Mr Howes said $5 million might seem like "small fry" to the government "but it's a lot of money to local manufacturers struggling to survive". The manufacturing sector is suffering the pressures of the mining boom, high dollar and cheap imports.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, the Industry Minister, Kim Carr, and the Australian Industry Group also attended Ms Gillard's meeting yesterday. Such meetings have become frequent since BlueScope Steel laid off 1000 workers a month ago.

Ms Gillard has put tax breaks for manufacturers on the agenda for the tax forum next month to help keep industries viable as they adapt to structural changes in the economy.


The friction of freedom comes with open debate

Janet Albrechtsen opposes press censorship from the Right

FOR most of his time in the White House, Ronald Reagan faced the sort of media hostility that our Prime Minister could only imagine in her worst nightmares. Yet the former Republican president had the right attitude when it came to sections of the media that irritated him. During his address to the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in April 1987, the Gipper said: "I'm sure we get exasperated with one another but that's just the friction of freedom."

As Tim Graham wrote in the National Review a few days after Reagan's death in June 2004, Reagan managed to transform America despite an antagonistic media. And critically, Graham noted: "He did it all before Fox News. He did it all before the Rush Limbaugh phenomenon. He did it all before the instant battle cry of his defenders could hit the internet." No doubt, certain politicians, academics and Fairfax journalists will probably avert their eyes at the very mention of Reagan. Yet they are surely in need of a refresher course on Freedom 101, given the new paternalism creeping into Canberra. The latest target of this paternalism is the print media. In fact, the target is narrower than that. The Gillard government and the Greens appear to have News Limited in their sights. Australians should not forget the history to this inquiry. It is a mix of political opportunism, revenge and ideology.

Opportunistic because the idea of an inquiry grew out of the News of the World phone-hacking scandals in Britain despite the absence of any phone hacking in Australia. Recall the Prime Minister announcing the day after the parliamentary testimonies of Rupert Murdoch and his son James in London that News Limited, the Australian arm of Murdoch's media empire, had "hard questions" to answer. By failing to provide details of those hard questions, Gillard's attack was simply an exercise in political expediency.

Vengeful because the Gillard government and the Greens have launched a curious public campaign against News Limited newspapers for daring to report, analyse and criticise its policies. Recall Greens leader Bob Brown, who labelled The Australian the "hate media", and Labor senator Doug Cameron concluding that "the biggest problem for democracy is the behaviour of The Australian and the Murdoch press". And last week Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described The Daily Telegraph as the "worst example" of a campaigning media, best read only for its sports pages. Ideological because there is something in the DNA of left-wing parties and politicians that reveals an illiberal attitude to press freedom in particular and free debate more generally.

At the micro level, the Gillard government's focus on the print media is a prime example of its paternalism. Conroy has not ruled out licensing the print media. By succumbing to the Greens, Gillard has effectively agreed with Brown that readers are too dim to read newspapers without an inquiry to guide them. That they are too stupid to discern bias, too influenced by the media and require government-instigated protection from newspapers -- especially those that disagree with the government and the Greens.

At the macro level, the very public protests against News Limited point to an all-too-familiar disregard for open debate. As former foreign minister Alexander Downer told The Australian last week, the Labor government is echoing the ideology of most leftist movements, which "expect a certain level of obedience from the media and when they don't get it they get terribly angry". That anger, so evident in comments from Gillard, her ministers, backbenchers, the Greens and their supporters in the media and academe, has the whiff of totalitarianism. Expecting the media to echo your political agendas, and getting angry when they don't, is rather fascist.

Like Reagan, John Howard faced a torrent of media hostility throughout his 12 years as prime minister. Even The Australian went hard against the Howard government on issues such as the bribery scandals at the Australian Wheat Board, the arrest and detention of Mohamed Haneef, the events surrounding the children overboard affair and so on. While Howard ministers corrected inaccuracies, there was no public outcry from the government over bias. Like Reagan, Howard saw it as the friction of freedom.

Alas, freedom doesn't count for much in certain left-wing salons. And that's why The Australian's weekend analysis of Robert Manne's Quarterly Essay is so important. Some have asked why this newspaper devoted so much space and so many words to challenge one Melbourne intellectual mostly unknown outside inner-city circles. In fact, contesting Manne's claims of bias against The Australian is an efficient way of contesting a broader leftist mindset long opposed to free debate. On that front, here's a little more history.

The arrival of commentators who challenged left-wing orthodoxy has upset many on the Left. Not just Manne, who has written fondly of the period between the rise of Gough Whitlam and the fall of Paul Keating, when the Australian commentariat was "overwhelmingly of a mildly left-liberal disposition". (Ergo, he bemoans the entry into the national conversation in the mid-1990s of what he calls "the dominant voices", "the attack dogs of the Right".)

Indeed, many on the Left have never quite understood or accepted the notion of diversity and free speech. Barely two weeks after the election of the Rudd government in 2007, people such as Crikey's Guy Rundle and the ABC's Jon Faine suggested we needed to purge conservative columnists at The Australian. It was time to "clean house", said Rundle, because conservatives "have no dialogue with the times". This mob does not really fancy free speech. Unless you agree with their sentiments.

That's why contesting Manne's criticism matters. And Manne and his illiberal comrades are not short on hypocrisy. Those calling for a purge of conservatives were not long ago complaining that Howard had stifled dissent within the media. Howard stifling dissent? No, what the stifling dissent crowd object to is the friction of freedom. Whereas previously people such as Manne had largely dominated the intellectual conversation in this country, the emergence of new voices means they have to share the stage with irritating opinions and analysis that challenge their views.

There are some long faces lamenting Conroy's inquiry will not go far enough. Take Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review: "The government has neutered any chance of a decent policy review." In fact, anyone genuinely concerned with open debate ought to be lamenting the Gillard government's eagerness to regulate newspapers. After all, if you don't like a newspaper, you don't have to buy it. And if you want to start up your own, feel free to do so. You can tweet, blog, start up your own online newspaper with little cost. Unless the Gillard government decides that regulation is needed to protect readers from activities at the heart of a modern liberal society. And how terribly illiberal that would be.


Let no one license truth and understanding

Jonathan Holmes opposes press censorship from the Left

WE must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks.

THUS John Milton in Areopagitica, his tirade against the licensing by British parliament of books and pamphlets in 1644. Milton failed to beat back the tide of censorship. Yet by the 1690s the attempt to license and regulate the printing presses had failed in England. An Australian government now seems to be contemplating a new attempt to "mark and license" knowledge in the land.

The federal government's convergence review that has been quietly proceeding for most of this year is looking at those parts of the media that have always been regulated by the state, radio and television. How should the rules that used to apply to them be recast to be relevant in an era when all media are converging into the digital stream?

The new media inquiry announced by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, will ask the same question about the print media, on paper and online. How should they be regulated? How do we strengthen the Australian Press Council?

The Press Council has its own ideas about that. A "draft discussion note" has been posted on its website.

In principle, it says, "a unified system should apply to the setting of standards and handling of complaints" for all news and opinion, no matter what the medium: TV, radio, newspapers, in print, on air or online.

The core of the system would be an independent council, modelled on the Australian Press Council (a voluntary, self-regulated body) as opposed to a statutory regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

But the discussion note is full of terms that make the system sound a lot less voluntary and a lot more statutory than the present Press Council. The new council would have the "power to require" this and "to call for" that. There would be "statutory inducements" to persuade media players to sign up. And the council could refer complaints about especially egregious media sins to "a specially established panel" that "should have statutory powers to require provision of information and to impose fines or other punitive sanctions".

In one sense this isn't surprising. The minister made it plain at his press conference that he considers the Press Council, at present, to be a "toothless tiger". And he said he would be open to a statutory regulator such as the ACMA being given authority over all news and opinion, in print and online.

The Press Council clearly feels that to head off the threat of fully fledged state regulation some concessions are needed in the direction of a tougher regimen, backed at some point by statutory powers.

Well, in my opinion that's conceding too much. It would be to turn at least 150 years of history on its head.

There is, or should be, a clear difference between regulation of the broadcast media and self-regulation of the press.

Broadcasters are subject to regulation because they are licensed semi-monopolists.

Free-to-air commercial TV and radio stations are granted a license to use the frequency spectrum, a common good, to make money for private investors. In return, they pay dues to the government, and they agree to submit to various rules that govern their broadcasts: how much advertising they will carry in an hour; how much Australian content in a week; how much children's content; and so on.

They also agree to abide by codes of practice drawn up by themselves but overseen by the statutory regulator, the ACMA. Those codes, in theory at least, commit them to report the news accurately and current affairs fairly.

But newspapers never needed spectrum or any other public good. Anybody can set up a printing press and churn out a rag. Other than the law of the land, there is not now, and has not been for generations, any state regulation of printed news.

It's true that for decades the freedom to set up a newspaper has been a merely theoretical liberty. It simply has been too expensive for just anyone to do. In recognition of that, governments have laid down rules about who can own how much media.

In the late 1980s, under Labor's watch, new rules designed to prevent one owner from dominating all the media in a particular market led instead to Rupert Murdoch's News Limited dominating the newspaper market through much of Australia.

That's done, and cannot be undone, at least by politicians. Technology, however, may be doing what they cannot.

Of course, News Limited still dominates the news agenda in most cities in Australia. Radio talkback hosts across the country still scan The Daily Telegraph, or the Herald Sun, or The Advertiser or The Courier-Mail, for the talking point of the day. ABC breakfast shows still take their cues from the front page of The Australian.

On the other hand, any citizen who wants to engage with world, national, state or local affairs has a hundred choices they didn't have 10 years ago, from chat rooms to blogs to community websites.

Yet just as, for the first time in decades, genuine media diversity is being made possible by the new technologies, we are suddenly talking about licenses and regulations, and codes of practice, and statutory enforcement, and state regulators, for the printed word?

At his press conference, Conroy solemnly read out the first three clauses of News Limited's Professional Conduct Policy and declared that in his view The Daily Telegraph was regularly in breach of all of them.

At Media Watch, we agree. We made the same point two months ago, and again on Monday night. But any attempt to fine or legislate that paper, or any other, into fairness would probably fail and would certainly cost too much in terms of our traditional liberties.

So, by all means, let's try to find a way to beef up and properly fund the Australian Press Council. Let's grapple with the vexed issue of how the blogosphere, from Crikey to Kangaroo Court, can be persuaded to submit to its adjudications.

But it should surely remain, in essence, a voluntary system. The state, and statutory regulators, should have nothing to do with it. We do not need an ACMA to levy fines on wayward bloggers.

The printing presses of the 1640s, through which the Levellers and the Diggers were able to spread their revolutionary creeds, have given way to the stream of 1s and 0s that enable any ratbag or rebel -- as well as, of course, the paid columnists of global moguls such as Murdoch -- to rant and rave.

And Milton's arguments are as valid now as they were then: "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolised and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards."


Lord's Prayer rejected by Primary School

A WEST Australian government school has banned students from reciting the Lord's Prayer before assembly in response to complaints from parents.

Edgewater Primary School, in Perth's north, ended the 25-year practice after some parents said it contravened the WA Education Act, which stipulates schools cannot favour one religion over another.

Edgewater principal Julie Tombs sent a letter to parents yesterday saying the prayer would no longer be recited before each fortnightly assembly.

She said although most students' parents favoured the tradition, only 36 per cent responded to a survey asking for their views. "We acknowledge that of the parents who did respond to the survey, many wanted to retain the Lord's Prayer and it is right that we continue to recite it at culturally appropriate times such as Christmas and Easter, as part of our educational program," Ms Tombs said in a statement.

"However, at this school we have students from a range of backgrounds and it is important to consider all views and not promote one set of religious beliefs and practices over another."

Ms Tombs said students would continue to recite the school creed, which includes a reference to God.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said although it was "desirable" for students to recite the prayer at assembly, it was ultimately the school's decision. "My own view is that WA is basically a Christian-based community and I think its desirable to have the Lord's Prayer said," Mr Barnett said today.

"(But) that decision rests at the school level. Certainly schools can, and I would encourage them to, have the Lord's Prayer. "I don't think it offends anyone; it just simply reflects the values and backbone of our society."

Mr Barnett said it was part of Australia's "culture, our history and it's reflected in our institutions and laws".

Anglican Dean of Perth John Shepherd said although religious demographics had changed in recent years, there was still a place for the Lord's Prayer to be recited at government schools. "I think there is a place, just as there is a place for exposing children to the full knowledge of other faiths," Dr Shepherd said.

"I do acknowledge that it's not simple, (but) it does embody values to which we all ascribe. "I think it is a valuable addition to the educative process."


20 September, 2011

Tough talk on immigration a boost for Australia's Leftist government

JULIA Gillard could be forced to accept onshore processing of asylum-seekers because of a political deadlock over legislation to revive Labor's Malaysia Solution.

Yesterday, Tony Abbott crushed the Prime Minister's people swap deal with Malaysia by saying he would process asylum-seekers in third countries only if they were signatories to the UN convention on the treatment of refugees.

The Opposition Leader's stance ruled out Malaysia but allowed him to cling to his alternative proposal of processing asylum-seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru using facilities built by the Howard government.

As the impasse continues, a Newspoll indicates Ms Gillard's battle for offshore processing has coincided with an increase in her personal popularity among voters.

After two weeks of daily battle over her plan to circumvent last month's High Court ruling, which scuttled her Malaysia Solution, voter satisfaction with the Prime Minister's performance lifted from her lowest level on record.

According to the latest Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, voter satisfaction with Ms Gillard jumped from 23 per cent to 27 per cent and dissatisfaction fell seven percentage points from 68 per cent to 61 per cent.

As the Coalition stridently opposed the Malaysia Solution, Mr Abbott's personal approval fell five percentage points to 34 per cent and his disapproval rating climbed from 52 per cent to 54 per cent.

The government's bid to revive offshore processing remained deadlocked last night, as neither major party has the numbers to prevail, while the Greens, who control the Senate, oppose offshore processing in any form.

Last night, as he attacked the Coalition's position, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen conceded that if Labor's amendments, to be introduced to parliament tomorrow, were not passed, offshore processing would remain unlawful - the Greens position. "Therefore the obvious result of that is onshore processing," Mr Bowen said.

Last week, Ms Gillard, determined to press ahead with the Malaysia plan to deter people-smugglers from bringing asylum-seekers to Australia by boat, proposed an amendment to the Migration Act that would allow offshore processing in a location to be determined by the government of the day.

Yesterday, responding to concerns from the opposition and Labor's Left faction about the human rights of those sent to Malaysia, Ms Gillard proposed new amendments that would clearly specify that Malaysia could not send any asylum-seekers back to their country of origin and that would guarantee asylum claims would be processed in Malaysia, which is not a signatory to UN conventions.

She later told parliament the changes delivered on the "basic tenets" of the UN convention and, when coupled with agreements between the Australian and Malaysian governments, provided ample protection for the rights of the asylum-seekers.

"The eyes of the Australian community are upon us," Ms Gillard said during question time. "At the end of the day, this is not a debate between two competing policy positions - it is about executive government having the power to put in operation arrangements it sees as appropriate.

"Australians want us to resolve this issue and put it behind us. Australians want us to find common ground on this and get this done."

Mr Abbott said he was not prepared to back the Malaysia plan because it was bad policy. He said offshore processing only in those nations that had signed the UN refugee convention would "restore offshore processing, while retaining offshore protections". "It's a much superior proposal to what the government has put forward," he said. "Our proposal is a win-win."

Mr Abbott said the Coalition's policy position had been "crystal clear" for a decade. He invoked former prime minister John Howard's declaration that "we will determine who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come".

Last night, Mr Bowen said the opposition wanted to stop the Malaysia agreement being implemented because Mr Abbott feared it would work.

But a meeting of Coalition MPs endorsed Mr Abbott's position. "If Julia Gillard wants to stop the boats she should support the Coalition's proposed amendments," Mr Abbott said after the meeting. "The right way to stop the boats is the combination of Nauru, temporary protection visas and turning boats around where it's safe to do so.


A remarkably wise Grand Mufti

Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed feels duty to 'cure' radicals

HOMEGROWN Muslim radicals are like "ill" patients in need of guidance and whose extremism is often fuelled by examples of injustice abroad such as the simmering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Australia's new Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, told The Australian young Muslims who were in the orbit of extremist preachers must be "corrected".

Speaking just days after his appointment, Dr Mohamed said homegrown radicalisation, considered by security agencies to be the most serious terror threat Australia faces, was the result of a distorted view of Islam. "Our duty is to clarify those matters," Dr Mohamed said through an interpreter.

"An extremist is like an ill person, an unhealthy person. You need to cure him and find the right cure for him more than just to destroy him and finish him off."

Dr Mohamed has earned a reputation as a bridge-builder between Australia's disparate Muslim communities. One law enforcement source contacted by The Australian described the Islamic scholar as "highly respected and very influential".

Dr Mohamed urged Australians to have some perspective on sharia law, saying the Islamic legal code was largely misunderstood and punishments were only a small part. "Sharia also calls for freedom, justice, right of speech and this is something we are very fortunate to have," he said.

"These are all matters that we already implement here as Australians, and we're proud to have it as Australian values."


Electricity bills will soar for decades

VICTORIANS will be $1050 worse off under the looming carbon tax, according to the State Government's controversial modelling.

In a report that was last night dismissed by the Federal Government, Victoria's Coalition predicts electricity bills will soar for decades.

The state figures suggest the typical income in Victoria would be $60,504 by 2015 without a carbon tax and $59,445 with the tax.

There would be 35,000 fewer jobs and investment would be down 6 per cent according to the report, which does not include all federal compensation.

The numbers are contained in the final report by Deliotte Access Economics, which was commissioned by the Department of Premier and Cabinet to assess the impact of the carbon tax on Victoria.

The report provoked outrage inside the Gillard Government, which has previously attacked the integrity of Victoria's modelling.

"Victorians know that the Liberals have repeatedly misrepresented the facts in the climate change debate, and it seems Mr Baillieu's at it again here with this report by a paid consultancy firm," federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said.

The State Government defended the report, which it will release today. "The economic modelling assumptions underpinning the analysis in this report have been aligned, to the extent possible, to the recently-released modelling undertaken by the Commonwealth Treasury," a Coalition spokesman said.

The Deloitte report names Melbourne, Gippsland and Barwon as the Victorian regions hardest hit by the tax and estimates electricity prices will rise 23 per cent by 2030.

Federal modelling predicts a short-term jump of just 10 per cent.

Mr Swan, who will release updated federal modelling this week, said Victoria's modelling was out of step with other states and federal Treasury.

Mr Baillieu was criticised over preliminary Deloitte figures showing 23,000 fewer Victorian jobs in 2015.


Tasmania Parliament first to vote in favour of same-sex marriage

THE Tasmanian Parliament is set to become the first in Australia to vote in favour of same-sex marriage after Premier Lara Giddings indicated she would support a Greens motion on the issue.

Greens leader Nick McKim will today table a motion in support of marriage equality and calling on the Federal Government to reform marriage laws.

He says he will push state legislation if Canberra does not act by the end of the year. Ms Giddings said last night the Labor Party would support Mr McKim's motion.

"The Tasmanian Labor Party supports the principle of same-sex marriage, on the basis that it provides equality for all," she said. "We will be considering Mr McKim's motion over the coming days and we want to ensure that the language is strong, so as to send a clear message that we are prepared to see reform in this area."

The announcement came as it was revealed a majority of Tasmanians supported changes to the law to allow same-sex marriage.

The EMRS poll of 1000 adults found 59 per cent agreed that gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry, with 35 per cent disagreeing and 6 per cent unsure.

Support for law changes was strongest among women, young people, those on higher incomes and those living in the state's south.

The survey's release coincides with a push by the Tasmanian Greens for the State Parliament to pass a motion in support of same-sex marriage.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said those opposing law reform were in the minority.

Liberal leader Will Hodgman said he was happy for his party members to vote according to their consciences on the issue. But he believed Parliament faced more important issues.


19 September, 2011

"Fast-tracked" defence equipment falls apart

This is absolutely typical of the Australian defence procurement bureaucracy. Have they ever got ANYTHING right?

A charming image of Australian military efficiency above. I think they do better than that in the Third World

Australian diggers are finding themselves exposed on the frontline by their American-made camouflage pants.

The hi-tech MultiCam pants were tried by special forces soldiers before the Government spent $2 million for 5000 sets of the combat clothing. But infantry troops in Afghanistan are apparently much tougher on the clothing, the Herald Sun reported.

"Special forces do a different job to us," one soldier said. "We are out for days on end living in the dirt."

The Diggers are generally happy with the MultiCam clothing, which is more comfortable and better suited to mixed terrain.

But in many cases the pants, which include special stretch sections and built-in knee pads, are tearing along seams where stretch fabric meets non-stretch fabric.

Some soldiers can no longer wear them, others have patched them up, some are happy to wear shredded pants. Some Diggers mix MultiCam tops with old pants.

"The problem is along the stitching where the fabrics meet," one said. "It seems the distance between waist and crotch is too small, especially for taller guys."

Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare, who fast-tracked the MultiCam clothing and lighter body armour, said the tearing problem must be fixed.

He said replacement uniforms and patching kits had been delivered to Afghanistan.


Housing affordability

What is causing the housing affordability crisis in Australia? Land restrictions and low interest rates are typical answers. But people forget about the impact of seemingly minor government rules like regulations that stipulate minimum dwelling sizes and quality.

Next year, the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency will require all residential properties, new and existing, to have consistent energy efficiency ratings. The idea is buyers and renters will then make better choices about energy efficiency – thereby mitigating climate change and saving themselves a few dollars to boot.

That sounds nice, but the reality is otherwise. Mandating ratings will impose real costs on sellers, lessors and taxpayers, which will exacerbate the housing affordability crisis. Licensed assessors will require training and charge fees to make assessments; bureaucrats will have to enforce and administer the assessments.

The supposed benefits – lower greenhouse gas emissions and household savings – are tentative at best.

Australian residential buildings emit 10% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions, and Australia as a whole contributes 1.5% of the world’s emissions. Even if slowing the growth of 0.15% of the world’s greenhouse emissions would effectively mitigate global warming, will these measures actually work?

As anyone who’s bought or rented knows, the energy efficiency of a home is a marginal consideration. Location, appearance, size and quality overwhelm any other factors. Indeed, renters tend to care even less about a dwelling’s energy efficiency if they are sharing (household utility bills tend to be split equally).

As for savings, everyone already has the ability to calculate the payoffs from more energy efficient fittings and appliances. And businesses have a natural incentive to advertise any potential savings from such installations. It is not the role of government to nanny how people manage their household utility bills.

The government claims buyers and renters suffer from ‘uneven information’: that owners and sellers have superior information. That might be true at first, but it is no bold feat for prospective buyers and tenants to inspect appliances and fittings. Indeed, inspecting a house is vastly easier than assessing the reliability of a used car’s engine – and the government does not mandate assessments there.

Moreover, the proposed mandatory efficiency standards undermine the role of real estate agents. Agents exist to bridge any knowledge gap between buyer, sellers and renters.

If the government wants to encourage energy-efficient products, it should alter the price of energy directly and make the installation of energy efficiency products more appealing. By contrast, the compulsory efficiency standards impose certain costs only to elicit dubious benefits.


How Victoria's Department of Human Disservices looks after handicapped kids

A hyperactive autistic boy was run dowm and killed by a car after he was left in the care of a 21-year-old woman who had only ever had one other job - working at a fast-food joint. Real professionalism!

"Michael was no Rain Man. He was smart, but he did what he wanted to do. Sometimes he was hard to control."

Eventually, he was so labour-intensive Lyn needed to convince the DHS they should fund one-on-one care. It became her first experience of fighting for Michael - and, she says, not her last. Michael's case managers were swapped regularly. They meant well, but they were there one week, gone the next. Lyn felt nobody took enough time to understand his complicated needs.

The DHS insisted Lyn have respite from young Michael. They insisted he spend weekends with their carers - usually three of them each weekend, rostered in shifts. She hated him to go, but she needed a break.

As the months wore on, weekend carers came and went. They moved him around from place to place, unable to find a person or accommodation he wouldn't wreck.

The little boy's life had been upended and his behaviour got worse.

Lyn says she complained to the DHS about the respite arrangements. Sometimes he was housed in on-site cabins in caravan parks, often with workers ill-equipped to handle severe autism like Michael's.

The company charged with his respite care, Vista Community Support, lost a booking at the back of the Kyneton Bush Resort estate - a unit hundreds of metres from the main road. Lyn says Vista failed to pre-book blocks of time in the safer unit.

Instead, Michael and his respite carer were housed closest to the road on the weekend he died.

That night, his carer was a 21-year-old woman who told Lyn she had only ever had one other job - working at a fast-food joint.


Love of the Left blinds much of the media

THE fact that many journalists, not so much in the News Limited "hate" media but in the progressive media at Fairfax and the ABC, missed the downfall of Kevin Rudd has been well documented, so you would expect them to be doubly wary of being caught out again.

Yet with Bob Brown and Stephen Conroy fuelling a debate about alleged media bias, and instigating an inquiry, the real media story is actually the ongoing insularity of the "love" media.

Journalists can be excused for failing to predict the final leadership coup against Rudd; it snuck up even on those involved. Not so the policy missteps, poor political management and breaches of faith with voters that many professional political observers either missed or ignored.

The coup not only surprised them but was a humiliating indictment of their sanguine coverage: Labor's caucus was more in touch with reality than the gallery.

However, the same commentators have spent much of the past year trying to make a case for the Gillard government; once again showing themselves to be out of step with political reality and the public they serve.

Julia Gillard's prime ministership has never really gathered momentum or authority. Her ascension was ugly and without a defining cause, her election campaign was shambolic and her government seemed terminal from the day she broke her carbon tax promise. Her last chance to discover a sense of purpose was the budget in May, but no narrative emerged. Since then, her fortunes have gone from bad to abysmal.

Regardless of previous affiliations, personal preferences or sympathy for people's best endeavours, commentators must be realistic. Labor's prospects are hopeless. Even ALP stalwart Graham Richardson has called it.

Yet in the past two months, many in the press gallery have tied themselves in knots trying to make a case for Labor. In The Sydney Morning Herald Lenore Taylor wrote: "It's not fast and it's not graceful, in style it's more Eric the Eel than Ian Thorpe, but Julia Gillard is starting to make good on her promise that 2011 would be a 'year of decision and delivery'." At The Australian Financial Review, Laura Tingle declared: "So the three issues on which the government had 'lost its way' have been dealt with but have not quite yet gone away altogether."

In fairness, these quotes pre-date the High Court decision on the Malaysia Solution, and these commentators have since become pessimistic about Gillard's prospects. The asylum-seeker mess, more bad polls and the Craig Thomson fiasco have combined to produce a dose of reality in most political commentary. But it seems, yet again, the public was months ahead of much of the media in drawing their conclusions. In fact, the awakening of much of the Canberra media cohort seems to have been led by Labor's descent in the polls.

Some progressive commentary still suggests it has all been unfair on Gillard.

The ABC's Richard Glover defended her this month in The Sydney Morning Herald, making excuses for her broken promises, asylum-seeker mess and loyalty to Thomson. "Why is she getting so much more heat than other politicians who have made mistakes?" Glover asked. "The role of the press gallery, as someone once said, is to come down from the hills after the battle is over and bayonet the already dying."

Well, no. But it does have an important role to try to connect voters to political reality, and vice versa.

Along with Glover-like sympathy for Gillard, the "love" media has switched to a new narrative, which amounts to "a pox on both your houses". Stretched to find anything positive to say about Labor, they tend to deplore the parlous state of politics, in which both sides are now deemed to be letting the nation down. "Why did Canberra this week feel like a grudge match between the Visigoths and the Zombies?" Annabel Crabb asks on ABC Online's The Drum. "What the hell is going on with the people we elected to the 150 seats of the House of Representatives a year-and-a-bit ago?"

In searching for answers on the big issues of asylum-seekers and climate change, the missing answer is that the government might lack authority for implementing positions it opposed at the last election.

ABC TV's Insiders program yesterday spent virtually its entire hour discussing the apparently reprehensible tactics of the opposition. Four journalists and a cartoonist seemed to believe the man with the insurmountable problem in politics at present is the "negative" Opposition Leader.

A new arrival in Australia would have been left with the impression that Tony Abbott is an objectionable opportunist blocking a government's mandate to impose a carbon tax and send asylum-seekers to Malaysia.

The futility of this Canberra play-acting is obvious. The electorate is not stupid.

Most voters are fully aware that Gillard promised not to introduce a carbon tax and not to send asylum-seekers to countries that are not signatories to the UN refugees convention.

Forget about the right side of history. Whatever your view on the merits of the policies, most voters can see Abbott is on the right side of the electoral mandate. He is abrasive but he is doing what he pledged.

Yet we see the daily absurdity of journalists who built reputations on diatribes against John Howard's offshore processing and the electoral overreach of Work Choices now arguing passionately for the adoption of the Malaysia Solution and mocking the Coalition for opposing a carbon tax that both main parties ruled out before the election.

It truly has become topsy-turvy world. In the real world, voters seem either to be disappointed about how the government has turned out, keen to put Labor out of its misery, or just underwhelmed and disengaged. You don't need polls to work that out.

But airing these media issues is important on two counts. First, because an entrenched disconnect between the press gallery and the mainstream Australians it is supposed to serve cannot help democracy.

And, second, because at a time when the government is exhibiting an extraordinary antipathy towards News Limited over an alleged political agenda, we need to consider whether this may have less to do with one media company shaping political events and more to do with other media missing them.


18 September, 2011

A shot across the bows for anyone who tries to gain from Gillard's carbon tax legislation

Since the government will almost certainly be turfed out at the next election (a maximum of two years away now), businesspeople would be wise to sit on their hands until then

COMPENSATION given to households and industry under the government's proposed carbon tax would be removed if the coalition wins the next election and unwinds the legislation, the Opposition says.

Debate will resume on the government's carbon price legislative package this week, with the opposition continuing to maintain it will not support it.

Not only has the opposition vowed to remove the legislation if it wins office, it says it will remove various compensation measures attached to it. "Well, we have to," shadow treasurer Joe Hockey told Sky News on Sunday. "We've committed to removing the carbon tax. I don't think it's hard to introduce legislation to abolish the carbon tax."

Further pressed on whether he thought it might be difficult to unwind the tax once it was legalised, he replied "No, I don't."

The government wants a $23-a-tonne fixed price on carbon to start on July 1, 2012, followed by a market-based emissions trading scheme in 2015 - with the aim of cutting 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020.

The carbon price will be accompanied by compensation for households and industry, new statutory authorities and extra funding for clean-energy projects, as well as a tender process to close down some of the dirtiest coal-fired power generators.

Mr Hockey said he did not believe it would be a problem removing compensation given to households and industries.

"We have sent a very clear message to business that if you enter into an agreement with the government, do not assume that we will not come along and try to unwind it," he said.


Tough "asylum seeker" laws proposed by Australia's Leftist Federal government

Conservatives dubious

Under the legislation the Immigration Minister could send asylum seekers to a third country of his choice.

Legal experts say they are concerned the draft legislation allowing asylum seekers to be processed offshore may be structured so it cannot be challenged in court.

The proposed changes to the Migration Act were announced on Friday night and have drawn strong criticism from the Opposition, the Greens and human rights advocates. Under the changes, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen would have broad powers to send refugees to a third country for processing if he can prove to Parliament that it is in the public interest.

The Government needs the changes to be allowed in order to resurrect the so-called Malaysian solution which was scuttled in the High Court last month.

Mr Bowen has stood by the draft legislation even after being heckled and chased by protesters at a press conference in Sydney on Saturday.

Among those against the changes are legal experts, who say the legislation would shred Australia's obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australian Lawyers Alliance president Greg Barns says he is concerned Mr Bowen will include a clause in the legislation that would mean the powers cannot be challenged in court. "Which means that it will say that a decision of the Minister is not appealable in any court of law in Australia," he said. "In other words, it'll just leave it to the Minister effectively to play God, with people's lives."

But he says even if that is the case the laws may still be open to challenge as Australia has obligations under international human rights conventions. "It may be that this particular clause is so offensive through the rule of law that the courts might find creative ways of dealing with it," he said.

David Manne, the lawyer who bought the landmark case to the High Court, says the draft changes would destroy human rights safeguards for asylum seekers. "These proposals go well beyond what the Government said the problem was that it wanted to fix after the High Court decision," he said.

"It's a matter of profound concern that they're seeking to strip the Act of key protections that the Minister was required to turn his mind to in deciding whether it was safe to expel someone
to a particular place; requirements that the Parliament agreed to a decade ago."

The draft legislation says it is for the Immigration Minister to decide which countries should be designated as offshore processing countries and the rules of natural justice would no longer apply. All the Minister would have to do is tell Parliament which country he plans to send asylum seekers to and why it is in the public interest.

The Government proposes the Minister gives Parliament a copy of any written agreement between Australia and the third country, but the agreement would not have to be binding.

Despite being mobbed by about 40 protesters shouting "shame Bowen, shame", Mr Bowen has stood by the proposal. "The government of the day should have the capacity to introduce its policies, to be accountable to parliament to do so. That's what our legislation proposes," he said. "As I've said, if there are constructive suggestions as to that legislation, we'll be happy to work those through in good faith, with people proposing them in good faith."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was briefed on the changes on Friday night and Mr Bowen has urged him to support the Government's plans. Mr Abbott so far appears unlikely to back the move, saying it would remove human rights protections, resulting in a system of "offshore dumping". "My initial response and that of my senior colleagues is that the draft legislation strips out protections that the Howard government thought was necessary," Mr Abbott said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has invited Mr Abbott to meet her on Monday to discuss offshore processing, saying despite their policy differences it is important to work towards "bipartisan
action" to restore a government's right to determine border protection policy.


Do bureaucrats hate volunteer workers? (1)

The ones in charge of the Qld. SES seem to

AN SES storm hero awarded for her dedication and bravery was stood down for six weeks because she forgot to wear her hat.

Brisbane State Emergency Service group leader Jan Irons was one of the organisation's shining examples, receiving two awards during her 31 years in the SES.

She received the Australia Day Emergency Services Medal in 2002 after placing herself in "very real personal danger" on helicopter rescue missions.

Three years ago she was named SES Member of the Year, and was presented the award by Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts at a Brisbane ceremony.

"Jan is regarded throughout the state as one (of) the most dedicated and hard- working members of the SES," Mr Roberts said at the time. "She is the kind of volunteer who gives 100 per cent, 100 per cent of the time."

But the praise faltered this year when Ms Irons was suspended from her group leader role for six weeks after arriving at an Anzac Day parade without her SES hat.

Ms Irons confirmed the disciplinary action when contacted by The Sunday Mail last week but said she had accepted the punishment as an order had been issued ahead of the parade for members to wear their hats.

However, she described feeling "disappointed" by the reaction.

"It was threatening rain. I was standing in the shade of a building. I had all the sunscreen on and I just didn't think about the hat," she said.

"I brought it with me. It was in the car. I just didn't think to put it on. The whole thing was so trivial. I disobeyed an order, so you pay the consequences."

Ms Irons said she was able to continue as an SES volunteer during the suspension, with a fellow volunteer temporarily stepping in as group leader.

News of the disciplinary action comes weeks after The Sunday Mail revealed frustrated volunteers were quitting over excessive safety rules and training requirements.

David Fahy has resigned from the SES after almost 30 years of volunteering over disciplinary action against another SES volunteer.

"I believe that gunboat diplomacy and military discipline have no place within a volunteer organisation like the SES," he wrote in his resignation letter.

An Emergency Management Queensland spokeswoman said Ms Irons was not suspended for failing to wear a hat, but for her "inappropriate response to the direction to wear a hat".

She said a directive to volunteers to wear broad-brimmed hats was in the SES Operations Doctrine, reinforced at this year's Anzac Day parade.


Do bureaucrats hate volunteer workers? (2)

The ones in charge of the Qld. rural firefighters seem to

RURAL firefighters say unrealistic training requirements are forcing volunteers to follow the example of their SES counterparts and quit the service.

Repetitious training, over-regulation and a broken prior-learning recognition scheme have been accused of pushing Rural Fire Service volunteers to the limit.

"There is that enormous frustration of people going through training levels then having to repeat them again and again because of some slight change," Rural Fire Brigade Association CEO Dick Irwin said. He said the problem was discouraging members at a critical time for the service, with prime conditions for a menacing bushfire season.

Training problems were among issues discussed at a Rural Fire Service conference in Cairns this weekend. Firefighter Ian Bell from Colosseum, south of Gladstone, said members were struggling to find time outside of their full-time jobs for repetitive training exercises. "They continually forget that we are volunteers," he said.

"Most of the people in this area, having lived on the land, they know more about the fires than the people doing the training anyway."

It comes as government documents substantiate claims in last week's Sunday Mail that more than 5000 SES volunteers had quit the service. The documents reveal 12,818 active SES volunteers and another 10,000 inactive members were identified following a 2001 audit. That compares to about 7000 active volunteers today.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts had previously denied a dramatic drop, saying clear records were not kept until a few years ago. "There were a lot of inactive members included on the list," he said of old SES records.

But former SES deputy director John Baker said an audit in 2001 had separated active volunteers from inactive members as part of an equipment roll-out. "It was imperative at the time that accurate numbers were established," Mr Baker, who worked for the SES from 1993 to 2006 as a paid employee, said.

He believed the SES had been starved of support and resources by the State Government for decades, resulting in volunteers leaving the organisation. Mr Roberts last week said a new SES funding package would provide another $9.9 million over five years on SES support and buy 56 new flood boats.



Four current articles below

Flying doctor service "too busy" to pick up badly injured boy from a remote location

A CENTRAL Queensland mother had to drive almost 200km to save her son because there were no doctors in her district and the Royal Flying Doctor Service was unavailable.

Riley Godwin, 8, ruptured his liver and suffered internal bleeding after falling off his pushbike and landing on the handlebars. "He was bruised on that side and in considerable pain so I rang the RFDS but they were busy," Tricia Godwin said.

"They were great and offered me advice and we thought we might be dealing with a fractured rib so I thought it best to take him to Emerald. "But by the time we got to Emerald he was quite sick."

The Godwins live on a cattle station in the central highlands, 200km south of Emerald, with their own RFDS airstrip.

They are no strangers to dealing with emergencies. "When you live out of town you learn to deal with the fact there is not going to be a doctor, or the skill level you get when you see some doctors is not there," she said. "It is not a position you like to be put in for the health of your family. "Yeah, I was afraid, but the adrenalin kicks in and you do what you have to do as a mother."

Mrs Godwin drove straight past Springsure because she "knew there would be no doctor there and it was best to keep going". By this stage, Riley was in considerable pain and going into shock.

He was stabilised at Emerald and was then airlifted to Brisbane to the Mater Children's Hospital for emergency treatment. The accident happened at noon and mother and son arrived at the Mater at 1am the next morning. He spent nine days in hospital recovering.


Babies die because of inadequate facilities at government hospitals

TWO babies have died and premature births have risen by more than 19 per cent in small hospitals not equipped for women to give birth, confidential data obtained by The Sunday Mail reveals.

The obstetric data shows maternity services are "high risk" and "vulnerable" at remote Queensland hospitals because of a reduction in qualified doctors and closure of operating theatres.

More than 50 doctors were briefed on rural obstetrics in a closed session at the annual conference of the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland. The data has been provided to Queensland Health.

Doctors were told that small rural hospitals with fewer than 250 births each year needed to "as a matter of urgency" implement "risk-management strategies". Verified obstetric data from 2009 shows more women "are having babies at facilities they shouldn't be". Ten extra level one hospitals, where there is no planned birthing or maternity services, have had deliveries since 2005.

The two baby deaths, the reasons for which are not explained in the report, occurred at hospitals with fewer than eight births each year. The number of premature births at level one facilities increased by 19.5 per cent in one year.

Health Workforce Queensland is a non-profit corporation that recruits medical professionals for remote areas. Its chief executive officer Chris Mitchell said maternity services were "woeful".

"There is a harsh reality the number of procedural doctors and midwives required and operating theatres that are functioning have reduced," Mr Mitchell said.

More than half of Queensland's maternity units have been closed since 1995, most of them in regional and remote areas. Mr Mitchell said there also had been "dumbing down of personnel" as well as a lack of equipment. "Then a woman having a baby presents and it is a disaster in the making," he said.

Queensland Health acting deputy director-general Bronwyn Nardi said state and federal governments were working to improve access to birthing for rural and regional Queenslanders.

"Queensland Health and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing have renewed the Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program for another year to June 2012, expanding it to include maternity services," she said.


85-year-old has heart surgery cancelled repeatedly

SIX times in two years Lionel Davis has readied himself for elective surgery to treat his heart condition. Each time the 85-year-old Port Pirie grandfather has been forced to endure the cancellation of his much-needed heart valve replacement and bypass surgery.

On every occasion he has made the 200km trip down to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, including twice where he was admitted, had blood taken and was prepped for surgery.

Mr Davis, a former farmer and truck driver, said the long-overdue surgery would give him his life back. "If I have this operation, I'll have a better quality of life and I'll be able to get out and do more things," he told the Sunday Mail.

"It's distressing because you build yourself up and the next thing it gets cancelled. "Too often I've been prepared for the operation and then at 9pm the night before they tell me to go home.

"I've had all the tests in the world and it's a 400km round trip, it's frustrating. "It's like being adrift. I'm going round in circles."

Elective surgery is classed as an operation that a doctor believes is necessary, but can wait more than 24 hours. But elective operations are often cancelled when hospital beds are full. SA Health data released last month showed nearly 14,000 patients were waiting for procedures across the state.

During the week, Mr Davis was rushed to the RAH with a suspected heart attack, just three days after his sixth attempt at surgery was again cancelled. His health has now deteriorated to such an extent he was at risk of being deemed unfit for surgery, after being diagnosed with a tumour on his liver and spots on his lungs.

His weight has plummeted 7kg as depression takes hold. Mr Davis said he was definitely stronger two years ago. "If it had all been done two years ago we wouldn't have to worry about these delays," he said. "Now I'm classed as high risk with the cancer I've got, so there's a danger of me not coming out of the operation. "They're worried about the risk of me having a stroke. "But if I had had the operation this would be a moot point.

"I just want to get through the operation so I can come out the other side and go fishing again."

In a statement to the Sunday Mail Royal Adelaide Hospital general manager Professor Villis Marshal apologised to Mr Davis for the cancellation of the planned surgery. "Mr Davis's surgeons decided that a more detailed understanding of the potential risks unique to Mr Davis's situation is required before he is subjected to the procedure," he said. "This has proved to be a complex process and unfortunately has led to the deferral of Mr Davis's case. "He should have been advised of this last week and I apologise for this breakdown in communication."


Family left waiting for an explanation of why their son was killed by a self-important male nurse

THE family of a schoolboy mistakenly sent home to die by a WA hospital are angry they've been waiting 12 months for an inquest date.

On the first anniversary of Andrew's death yesterday, the Allan family spoke of their "torture" at being no closer to getting the answers to bring them closure. Despite Andrew dying 12 months ago, no coronial inquiry date has been set.

Shadow attorney-general John Quigley said the hold-up was a " a calamitous tragedy", and the Government should act immediately to cut the backlog.

Andrew died just hours after an inexperienced male nurse sent him home with junior-strength Panadol and a pamphlet on gastroenteritis from Northam Hospital, 97km northeast of Perth.

He was not referred to a more senior nurse or a doctor standing just metres away in the emergency department, despite having a high temperature, sweating profusely and being barely able to stand.

The cherished urn containing the ashes of the 16-year-old at their home has been the subject of quiet and tearful vigils from his parents James, 47, and Kylie, 43, and their children Emily, 15, and 13-year-old Sean.

Mrs Allan told The Sunday Times the pressure of the inquest delay had changed her personality and put pressure on her marriage. At one point, the stress was so great the couple even considered selling their horse stud farmstead in Caljie, 45km east of Northam. "The last year for us has been torture," Mrs Allan said.

"We feel like we are being penalised when we are the aggrieved party. We are not at fault and have been told nothing. Our son has died after we put our faith and trust in the hospital system.

"This should have been sorted months ago. As each month passes, it just gets worse for us all. We just want to know why this was allowed to happen."

Andrew's death sparked an independent review commissioned by Health Department director-general Kim Snowball and conducted by Prof Bryant Stokes. His report was damning and found the correct triage assessment protocols were ignored and records were not made at the time of Andrew's visit.

The investigation led to sweeping changes in the way emergency patients are now assessed and the installation of CCTV cameras monitoring triage desks and emergency waiting rooms in all WA hospitals.

But the Allans believe Andrew's inquest will hold the key to exactly why their son was turned away in such a desperate state of health and shed light on the questions they long to have answered by the nurse himself.

"The report only shows what I said was all true," Mrs Allan said. "We know what happened, but we want to know how it happened. "What was the nurse's motive? Why did he do what he did? Was he following orders? "The only person who can answer that is him."

The nurse known only as RN-A in Prof Stokes' report has been sacked for failing to co-operate with the investigation. [I suspect that he is queer. A huge ego seems not uncommon among the more overt queers. A huge ego can be disastrous in anyone -- by leading to overconfident decisions]

Paying her respects to her son yesterday, the heartbroken mother realises her biggest challenge will be facing the nurse at the inquest.

The Allans have engaged a high-profile lawyer to represent them and pursue legal action against the State Government, but will not act until after the inquest.

Andrew died after swine flu and a bacterial infection he had at the time went undiagnosed.

Mr Quigley described long inquest delays in WA as a calamitous tragedy for families like the Allans. "How can they (the Allans) move on in their own family life without the resolution of these huge questions?" he said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the Government had allocated $1.8 million extra funding to the Coroner's Court allowing for six additional staff members and the backlog to be tackled. He said a decision regarding Andrew's inquest was expected to be made soon.


17 September, 2011

Oh No! Not another Ord-type boondoggle

Sadly, politicians of all stripes are prone to spending taxpayer money on projects that sound good but are a waste of money. Julia Gillards's NBN is a classic example. John Howard's Alice to Darwin railway is another example -- though it cost only a small fraction of what Julia is wasting. Now, however, Tony Abbott is trying to get in on the act, with a vast project of dam-building in Australia's sparsely-populated North.

It would be a great idea if you could sell the crops that the dams are meant to irrigate but that is the difficulty. Thanks to agricultural subsides in most of the world, most farm-produce is in chronically glutted supply. Even the much smaller Ord river scheme (a 1970s boondoggle) has had great difficulty in producing anything saleable.

Abbott thinks that developmnent in Asia will provide the markets he needs but is apparently unaware that China is already a big food EXPORTER!

THE Coalition is developing an ambitious plan to double Australia's agricultural production by the middle of the century through a network of new dams in the Top End, which would open up millions of hectares of under-utilised land to food production.

A Coalition policy development taskforce headed by opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb is eyeing projects across the Top End, including the third stage of the Ord River project in Western Australia and the Daly River in the Northern Territory, and developing dams that have been on the drawing board in far north Queensland on the Gilbert and Flinders rivers.

While Mr Robb said the policy was a "work in progress", it promises to reignite a development-versus-environment war in the north and further inflame tensions between the Coalition and the Greens.

Queensland's Liberal National Party, which is on track to win a state election due by next March, is already developing plans to greatly expand cropping and double food production from the state by 2040.

LNP leader Campbell Newman yesterday told the annual general meeting of producers' organisation AgForce that an audit of Queensland pasture and mine buffering zones would identify areas where more food could be produced.

"We are offering a new future for agriculture in the state," Mr Newman said. "We don't see agriculture as a shrinking industry."

Tony Abbott asked Mr Robb to lead the federal Coalition taskforce in January at the height of the Queensland floods as both a flood mitigation move and a means of boosting agricultural production.

The dams plan builds on a push by NSW Liberal senator Bill Heffernan for a dramatic shift in agricultural production to the north.

A government taskforce, established after Labor won office, found there was not enough water available to create a big new food bowl, but the finding was lashed by Senator Heffernan and other Coalition MPs, who accused Canberra of trying to lock up vast land tracts forever.

After meetings across every state, Mr Robb said Australia currently produced enough food for 60 million people, but a program to develop a "mosaic" of agricultural opportunities across the north could boost this figure to 120 million in two to three decades. "This is the century of food security," Mr Robb said.

"The biggest demand is probably likely to come out of the Asian region in terms of growth. "There really are millions of hectares, which, if you add water, you've got dramatically improved productivity and all sorts of agricultural opportunities open up that wouldn't exist.

"We are starting to form the view that, in the next couple of decades, we can materially develop the north and get to a point where we can feed not 60 million people but 120 million people."

Mr Robb said many dams could be developed by commercial interests and there were opportunities - particularly in Queensland - for hydroelectric projects to be attached to the developments. He said dams had become "persona non grata" during the past 30 years, and he lashed the Greens for opposing dam developments, thereby "knocking the stuffing out of regional communities".

Mr Robb said development had become a dirty word in some parts of the political debate and, in many cases, getting dams up and running was just a matter of "political will".

He said that even some farm dams faced potential delays of up to two years under current development regulations.

While dam approvals were largely a state government responsibility, federal government support could prove decisive in progressing developments and there would be a role for Canberra in facilitating the development of roads, rail and ports infrastructure.

"The role of government will be to ensure that the planning requirements are not onerous, that it doesn't collapse under the weight of regulation," Mr Robb said. "If major projects are identified, state and federal governments should work closely together to deliver the project and fast-track approval procedures.

"There needs to be a culture of development and backing our strengths." These included mining, resources, agriculture and education as the nation moved to take advantage of the Asian century.

Mr Robb said not all of the dams had to be massive developments and many could be developed commercially, backed by irrigation. He said the Coalition's dams policy taskforce had received 44 submissions and had found that a lot of local communities had sophisticated proposals that could be acted on quickly.


"Back to the future" for Queensland houses

I have owned many "old Queenslander" houses and have a special affection for them. I still live in one.

THE old "Queenslander" is set to regain its place as the state's preferred architecture. A landmark statewide planning guide to be released today encourages a resurgence of the old style of housing favoured by pioneers, based on its ability to better handle major floods.

The Australia-first planning guide will affect new commercial, residential, mining and agricultural developments across the state for the next generation. It will suggest to councils that development can continue on floodplains, provided new homes are on stilts. [Only a Southerner would call them "stilts". We call them "high blocks"]

The guide is set to play a key role in helping the state's flood inquiry develop recommendations about building codes and practices.

Premier Anna Bligh, who will release the draft Planning for Stronger, More Resilient Floodplains today, said the slab-on-ground approach was found wanting in heavy weather.

"We got it right 100 years ago with the design of the Queenslander," she told The Courier-Mail. "There's no reason we should be building unsuitable homes in flood-prone areas in 2011 and beyond."

Master Builders executive director Graham Cuthbert said the lesson of the 1974 floods had been forgotten as people turned to cheaper low-set homes. "Suddenly everyone was building-in down below with the rumpus room or another bedroom," he said.

While the style cuts the risk of more serious flood damage, builders warn the soaring cost of timber will make the Queenslander more expensive to build.

But Wayne Cook, head of Colonial Building Company which specialises in Queenslanders, said the style gave owners at least a 2.5m buffer. "That's the amount of space below that owners of Queenslanders have to spare when it comes to floods," Mr Cook said.

Insurance claims for Queenslanders hit by flooding were for substantially less than claims for low-set homes, he said.


Julia turning to conservatism?

It's probably just words. Individual choice is normally the last concern of Leftist governments

JULIA Gillard has sought to reposition Labor within the political mainstream, rejecting the Greens as "a party of protest" and vowing to focus her party on preserving individual choice and opportunity.

The Prime Minister has also committed her party to embracing small business and enterprise, and continuing to apply "expectations of personal responsibility" on welfare recipients.

Yesterday, Ms Gillard laid out a platform for reform of her party, including the trialling of US-style primaries to select candidates, in a speech to the Chifley Research Centre at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Since Labor's failure to win a majority in last year's election forced it into an alliance with the Greens, the government has found itself bouncing between their left-wing policy priorities and its own need to reassert its standing with mainstream voters.

The Prime Minister used yesterday's speech to place Labor's traditional commitment to collective action through unions and pursuit of social reforms, such as the introduction of Medicare, into the modern political context of a society in which she said technology was promoting new levels of choice and individualism.

She said Labor concepts of collective action, solidarity and unionism had driven the party's successes, empowering people to embrace new opportunities and demand greater choice, while also ensuring that the disadvantaged had not been left behind.

"Today, our ethos of collective action must respond to individual needs and demands for choice and control," she said. "Social democrats, with our understanding of social solidarity and our sympathy for individual freedom, are best placed to respond to the needs of today."

Ms Gillard said that for a long period, the labour movement believed lifting incomes and ending poverty would lead to a better life for all, but now understood that for the disadvantaged, welfare of itself was not enough. "Of course, ensuring people have life's basics is necessary, but change only comes by marrying a requirement for personal effort and responsibility with the customised supports that give people a hand up and out of poverty and dysfunction," she said.

"For a long period of time, our great movement believed that the highest aspiration of working people was for a decent job. Now we understand it can be to run a decent small business.

"Protecting rights at work will always be central, but building skills, rewarding enterprise, encouraging the embrace of risk, helping people be their own boss, is part of the dream . . . too. Australians want to make their own choices and control their own lives. But this can only happen if the power of collective action, in creating opportunity, sharing risk and not leaving anyone behind, is joined to meaningful individual empowerment, joined to personal choices and control."


Green bullies on the warpath

DEEPLY questionable tactics by environmental activists are taking away choices for consumers and business. The coupled collapse of trade barriers in developed countries and the globalisation of supply chains, creating export opportunities for developing countries, has understandably driven consumer awareness of the impact their purchasing has had on the world's poor during the past 20 years.

In response, there has been a push by global activist groups for consumers to voluntarily demand, and business to adopt, "ethical" regulations reflecting the environmental, social and economic impact of producing a product. Consumers can then identify these products through a recognisable logo certifying that from the extraction or production of the basic commodity ingredients through to their final retail sale, they have met non-governmental organisation-defined "ethical" standards.

The first mainstream scheme was the 1980s incarnation of Dutch group Max Havelaar's Fairtrade. The scheme targeted coffee and encouraged consumers to pay voluntarily a few extra cents a cup, on the understanding the mark-up would be passed through to growers in higher commodity prices.

At the time growers faced low prices because of a global oversupply from developing world producers allowed to grow the sought-after commodity following the collapse of international regulation that locked them out.

The merits and efficacy of the scheme continue to be debated. But it wasn't long before Fairtrade's voluntary appeasement of the conscience of coffee aficionados became a political tool.

In 2005 Oxfam International's Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup report advocated that Fairtrade certification for coffee should become mandatory. It didn't succeed and the market has corrected itself as farm consolidation and increased consumer demand have delivered higher coffee prices.

Oxfam's effort to create NGO-endorsed regulation is being replicated with the Forest Stewardship Council and the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, using far more subversive tactics.

Allegations of collusion by green activist groups to push businesses into certification schemes have traditionally been a speculative, connect-the-dots exercise. But the recently published book Good Cop/Bad Cop: Environmental NGOs and their Strategies toward Business shows green groups are gloating about their collusive efforts.

The head of research for Greenpeace, Kert Davies, wrote in his chapter about his employer that "Greenpeace is willing to play the role of good cop or bad cop in partnership with organisations". In particular, Davies argues that Greenpeace's "reputation for radical actions positions it particularly well to play the bad cop that can drive organisations to partner with [environmental] groups that seem more middle-of-the-road".

It certainly has been the experience of Australian and US businesses targeted over the products they stock. A report, Empires of Collusion, by a US-based consumer group, last year found bad cop NGOs, including Greenpeace, targeted office-stationery retailers through the media and political action about the paper they stocked for sale and its origins. The bad cops argued that stopping criticism required stocking only Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper products. Faced with sustained attacks, targeted businesses complied by then partnering with middle-of-the-road good cops such as WWF, which signed businesses up to stock only products approved by the certification schemes they founded and effectively own. In the process WWF also regularly licenses its logo's use on products and collects royalties for the honour.

Once a business has been pushed into these schemes, the obligations on it progressively rise, and with them so do costs, with no real avenue to leave.

The strategy works. Another chapter in Good Cop/Bad Cop by one of WWF's senior program managers outlines how in the "uncommon case where [certification] commitments have not been met [WWF has] expelled a company from its programs and publicly shared its concerns".

And the role played by the good cops is no less insidious. According to WWF analysis, it is actively targeting the full supply chain, having identified that "100 companies control 25 per cent of the trade of all commodities . . . affecting around 50 per cent of all production" and it is much easier to target them than to change the habits of six billion consumers. WWF's objective is to have "75 per cent of global purchases of WWF priority commodities sourced from WWF priority places".

And that won't occur voluntarily; government regulation is the next step.

Recent legislative experiences in Australia show progress is already being made. There are two bills before the federal parliament that legally require products be certified to avoid discrimination if imported into Australia.

A bill supported by South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens and, oddly, the opposition, sought to require the commonly used oil from the fruit of the palm tree to be labelled separately from vegetable oils. Before its passage through the Senate, the bill required that ingredients certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil be labelled differently, to shame manufacturers from using the non-certified variant. At least the bill still allows business and consumers choice.

By comparison, the government-sponsored Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill compels the certification of the origin of imported wood into Australia, effectively requiring compliance with Forest Stewardship Council standards.

These examples highlight a worrying trend.

Activist NGOs are targeting the global supply chain and forcing businesses to adopt standards that increase prices to avoid public criticism, taking away both business and consumer choice.


16 September, 2011

Labor plants poison pills in carbon tax legislation

Henry Ergas

IT was Mark Dreyfus QC, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change, who let the cat out of the bag.

Once the carbon change legislation is in place, he said, repeal would amount to an acquisition of property by the commonwealth, as holders of emissions permits would be deprived of a valuable asset. As a result, the commonwealth would be liable, under s.51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution, to pay compensation, potentially in the billions of dollars. A future government would therefore find repeal prohibitively costly.

That consequence is anything but unintended. The clean energy legislation, released this week, specifically provides that "a carbon unit (its generic term for a right to emit) is personal property".

This, the government says, is needed to give certainty to long-term trades. But that claim makes little sense, for even without such protections there are flourishing markets for fishing quotas and other tradeable entitlements.

And internationally, governments have generally ensured pollution permits are not treated as conventional property rights, precisely so as to be able to revise environmental controls as circumstances change. Rather, this provision serves one purpose only: to guarantee any attempt at repeal triggers constitutional requirements to pay compensation, shackling future governments.

Nor is it the only poison pill built into the legislation. Also crucial is what happens if a new government rejects the emissions reductions recommendations made by the carbon regulator, the Climate Change Authority.

In that event, unless the government can secure a majority for an alternative target, permitted emissions are automatically cut by up to 10 per cent in a single year, crippling economic activity.

A Coalition government, or even a Labor government less wedded to the Greens, would therefore find itself trapped.

To describe such poison pills as unusual would be an understatement. Provisions that merely hinder future parliaments have long been viewed as abhorrent, as they undermine the democratic process. But they are especially harmful where uncertainties abound, as is surely the case for climate change. With the Kyoto protocol dead, and complete uncertainty as to any successor, a government focused on the public interest would seek flexibility, not a straitjacket.

That is all the more so as the costs of that straitjacket could be so great. Global warming is a global problem. Unless major emitters engage comprehensive abatement efforts, action by Australia would not only be futile but also extraordinarily expensive.

After all, unless it lowers the risk of global warming, the only benefit of a carbon tax is that it raises government revenues. But like all taxes, it distorts economic behaviour, reducing national income. Its economic cost can therefore be measured by how much income loss it causes per dollar of revenue raised. Going by Treasury's modelling, that ratio is 2: for each $1 of government revenue the carbon tax secures, incomes decline by about $2. By comparison, the Henry review estimated that for each dollar of revenue raised, mining royalties cause an income loss of about 50c.

A unilateral carbon tax is therefore four times more inefficient than the royalties the Henry review excoriated as the most distorting tax on our books.

And it may be even worse than that. Treasury's estimates assume international agreement on emissions reduction is reached relatively soon. Were agreement not reached, the cost could be two to three times greater.

That is because unilateral action would undermine our international competitiveness. But it is also because Treasury expects massive purchases of abatement from overseas. By 2018, it says, those purchases will account for 60 per cent of Australia's total abatement, and they remain above 50 per cent right through to 2045.

So if we are creating a "clean, green future", as the Prime Minister asserts, it is not in Australia. Where then do all those low-cost emissions reductions come from? According to Treasury, well over half will come from the former Soviet Union and from "Other Asia". But many of these countries lack any ability to monitor carbon abatement, with corruption so pervasive they are at the top of Transparency International's list of offenders. To assume they will provide a credible source of abatement is wildly optimistic; to think they will do so absent a comprehensive international framework is fanciful.

Abatement costs could therefore prove far higher than Treasury's numbers suggest. But a precise estimate would require access to Treasury's models. And here Treasury's performance has been disappointing. Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Scrutiny of New Taxes, Treasury said its models were "publicly available" and that anyone willing to pay for those models could obtain them.

That evidence was misleading. For Treasury relied on a model developed by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. And ABARE has now confirmed it will not make available the model Treasury used.

Moreover, Treasury blended the ABARE model with other models and data sets. Given that, only Treasury can provide users with the capacity to test its modelling: and the government clearly does not intend it to do so.

The Regulation Impact Statement released with the draft legislation does nothing to fill the gap that leaves. Indeed, it does not even meet the government's own guidelines for such RISs: it is strikingly superficial, given what is at stake; it is vague and qualitative; and it completely ignores the risks created by locking in future governments. That it was approved by the Department of Finance merely highlights how flawed the RIS process now is. Decisions about this legislation will therefore be based on assertions, not evidence tested in the light of day. And that is a disgrace. Not only because it makes a mockery of the government's claims about transparency. But also because the consequences of those decisions could be so great. And the poison pills built into the legislation would ensure those consequences were felt for decades to come.

Dreyfus is to be commended for stating that frankly. But whatever one may think of the carbon tax, those poison pills are public policy at its worst. If parliament had any decency, it would throw them out. That it won't says it all.


Queensland Corrective Services figures show almost two-thirds of males and half of female prisoners are repeat offenders

So keeping them in custody much longer would greatly reduce crime

ALMOST two-thirds of male prisoners and half of female prisoners are repeat offenders, prompting concerns of inadequate rehabilitation programs.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said Queensland Corrective Services figures showed that as of June 30, 2009, 61 per cent of males in prison and 48 per cent of females in prison had previously served a jail term, and the cost per prisoner per year was akin to someone living 12 months in the Hilton Hotel.

"If any other government department had such an appalling record in doing the job, they'd be shut down," Mr O'Gorman told The Courier-Mail's Let the Sun Shine In forum.

"Prison is a total failure ... for those of you who say talking about rehabilitation is a limp-wristed, bleeding heart liberal response, let me make this economic argument - how much money are we spending on the 61 per cent of people coming in and out of prison when it costs $70,000 to $80,000 to keep them in prison?

"The Attorney-General Paul Lucas said the Queensland prisons were already filled to record levels despite steadily decreasing crime rates."

Mr O'Gorman said the money would be better spent on rehabilitation.

Police and Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts said in the past year the average cost to keep a prisoner was $66,000.

"This cost pays for staff, security infrastructure, rehabilitation and training, offender expenses such as food and clothing, utilities and maintenance," he said in a statement.

"Queensland Corrective Services regularly reviews its programs to ensure they are effective. If enhancements are identified, they will be considered."

ACT for Kids research and education executive director Dr Katrina Lines said that more early intervention programs for abused and neglected children were needed.

"We see a direct link in our work with kids who suffer abuse and neglect," she said.

"The goal is to keep them out of detention and out of the criminal courts and help them."

Dr Lines said a test intervention program undertaken in Cairns found that most participants did not reoffend and if they did, the offence was less serious.

Sisters Inside director Debbie Kilroy said 80 per cent of prisoners had mental health issues and many women were released from prison with just a garbage bag with nowhere to go.


This is a joke: An ex-cop who has shown no respect for the law wants her job back

A POLICE officer who allegedly smuggled in 20 cartons of grog into a dry zone is fighting to keep her job.

Sergeant Nicole Robyn Gee was sacked from the Queensland Police Service after nine charges of misconduct were substantiated by Queensland Police Service including one where she allegedly "transported 20 cartons of alcohol into a community subject to an Alcohol Management Plan in a manner specifically designed to circumvent alcohol restrictions", according to Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal documents.

Other allegations include the sexual harassment of a subordinate, the misappropriation of almost $2000 and a 'Trailblaza' portable camping fridge from the Mt Isa Police Citizens Youth Club, and several counts of dishonesty. The charges span 2007-09.

However, Sgt Gee said many of the documents relating to allegations made against her were not given to her and she was never told of details relating to the sexual harassment complaint, which was filed several years later.

"She thereupon wrote to the Tribunal complaining of the difficulty in preparing her written submissions unless and until she obtains the information required concerning the eight issues," QCAT documents state.

QCAT dismissed Sgt Gee's application for more documentation and ruled that she make written submissions on the matter by September 16, with QPS to reply to these by October 7. A hearing will be held at QCAT on November 30.


Leftist guru slams fibre network monopoly as deal 'will harm consumers'

KEY planks of the National Broadband Network business case are anti-competitive and will send Australia backwards, one of Kevin Rudd's "best and brightest" economic brains has warned.

In a blistering critique, economist Joshua Gans, who in 2008 was hand-picked to attend the then prime minister's 2020 summit to discuss productivity, has criticised plans to subsidise the rural NBN rollout through the prices that urban consumers pay.

The promise to put a cross-subsidy in place so that regional areas pay the same access prices for the NBN as people in the city was a key promise to the regional independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott that helped Labor form a second-term government.

This promise of uniform national wholesale pricing for the NBN is also one of the reasons for the proposed $11 billion deal between Telstra, the NBN Co and Labor, which Professor Gans warns might suit the needs of the government and Telstra, but "will lead to significant consumer harm lasting for 20 years or more".

"No one at the bargaining table appears to have represented consumer interests," he says, warning of a "return to monopoly network provision in telecommunications in Australia". Before deregulation in the 1990s, Australia had a public monopoly known as Telecom.

The comments are contained in a scathing submission that Professor Gans, a former University of Melbourne professor who is now at the University of Toronto, has co-written with US-based economist Jerry Hausman and sent to Australia's competition watchdog this week. Professor Hausman has been a director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Telecommunications Economics Research program since 1988.

The pair's paper warns that the key agreements between Telstra, the government and the NBN "are likely to be massively anti-competitive". And it says policy goals, such as the provision of broadband services in the bush, should be financed in "another and more transparent manner".

"Microeconomic reform has moved us away from this type of inefficient financing of government objectives," it states. "This proposal would move Australia back."

Last night, the NBN Co said the cross-subsidies were part of an explicit government policy designed to give all Australians "fair and equitable" access to broadband.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said it would be "inappropriate for the government to comment" and he encouraged people to put their views to the competition regulator. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is examining key planks of the deal between NBN Co, the government and Telstra, which is designed to boost the business case for the nation's biggest infrastructure project.

Under the deal, Telstra will shift its customers to the NBN, gradually shut down its copper and hybrid fibre coaxial networks and give the NBN Co access to its infrastructure.

While the ACCC has already sounded an alarm over Telstra's agreement as part of the deal that it would not promote its wireless internet services as a substitute for fibre for the next 20 years, the submission by Professor Gans and Professor Hausman goes much further.

"We can conceive of no greater anti-competitive action than the largest mobile service provider agreeing not to compete against the monopoly fixed line provider," they write. "The results will be less innovation, higher prices, and less choice for Australian consumers."

Instead of future-proofing Australia, the restrictions would just "future-proof NBN Co against competition".

Last night, NBN Co spokeswoman Rhonda Griffin insisted that Telstra and NBN Co had not agreed "to not compete". "To the contrary, Telstra has simply agreed not to market its wireless services as a direct substitute for fixed services."

She said the "complementary nature" of fixed and wireless services meant the NBN would drive innovation and lower costs in the wireless market. For example, homes and offices could use so-called femtocell technology, which acts as a small base station that piggybacks on a user's internet link to improve their mobile coverage.

But the economists' paper singles out the NBN Co's repeated claim that wireless is a "complementary" technology to the NBN, saying there is "no evidence for that".

Instead, as 4G mobile technology improves, consumers will prefer to watch broadband content on devices that allow them to move around.

Research for the British telecommunications regulator concluded that 4G could reach peak speeds of 2940 megabits a second by 2020. This compares to the 100mbps - and potentially up to 1000mbps - promised from the NBN.

Ms Griffin acknowledged that the so-called Long-Term Evolution standard for 4G - the successor to 3G mobile systems - could offer higher speeds in the future, but insisted "the inherent limitations of wireless don't change".

"The speeds experienced by the user will decrease the more users in a cell and the further they are from the centre of the cell," she said.

If the ACCC were to reject the deal with Telstra, the business case for the NBN would be badly compromised. The 9 1/2-year schedule for rolling out fibre to 93 per cent of Australian premises would have to be delayed and the costs of the project would blow out.

The NBN Co has told the ACCC it does not believe the wireless marketing clause will have an adverse effect on competition for wireless broadband services because Telstra is not blocked from competing with the NBN or marketing its wireless services "on the basis of their inherent features and value proposition".

The government-owned monopoly has told the ACCC there will not be less innovation because Telstra can still invest in improved wireless technologies if it wants, and other wireless service providers are free to market wireless services

Telstra's main rival Optus, however, has agreed to restrictions that stop it from being "expressly critical of" or making "any express adverse statement" about the performance of the NBN in the areas where it has agreed to shut down its cable network.

The economists stress in their paper that they are not opposed to the principle of restructuring Telstra. But they believe two parts of the deal - for Telstra to withdraw broadband capacity from its cable network and not promote wireless as a substitute for fibre - are "wholly anti-competitive". If accepted by the ACCC they would "set an extraordinarily poor precedent".


15 September, 2011

Amazing case: Single mother sues slimy cop -- and wins

She represented herself in court against a range of top legal brains and beat them all

I have in front of me a copy of the District Court judgment of today's date in the matter of Eaves v. Donnelly in which Renee Eaves was awarded the sum of $93,000 against Barry John Donnelly and the State of Queensland.

Ms Eaves is a very attractive blonde model from whom (I surmise) constable Donnelly wanted sex. He apparently was such a low character that he thought he could coerce her into it. She did not oblige him.

So he launched a campaign of harassment against her, secure in the assumption that a dumb blonde could never do anything to touch a Queensland cop.

He arrested her repeatedly on trumped up charges, all of which were thrown out when they came to court.

It was then that Renee showed her steel. She was NOT just a pretty face but a woman determined to get justice against the scum concerned.

And she stuck at it for years. She of course complained to the CMC -- where police investigate police -- and they rejected her complaint.

She then began to get media coverage of the matter, hoping that would shake some action loose. It didn't but it stressed out the cop. He went on stress leave for a year and then resigned.

But Renee still felt that the police had to be held to account -- to discourage oppression of other women by police. So she launched a damages claim in the District Court, where she showed she is not only a steely blonde but a smart one. She repeatedly cross-examined successfully.

During her long battle to get into the District Court, however, Renee ran out of money. Everything about the law is expensive and her means were slender. She in fact ran out just before the matter was due to come up so it looked as if her long battle was going to be for nought.

At that point I stepped in and paid her legal costs from that point on. I had never even met her but I have had a loathing against scum police ever since the extraordinary Barry Mannix case -- where the corrupt police got off Scot-free.

The real villain in this case, however is not the scum cop but rather the police service and the CMC who did nothing to pull him into line or attempt to make amends for his deeds. Except for the extraordinary courage of Ms Eaves, the guilt of the cop in the matter would never have been established.

And in the end it is the taxpayer who will pay -- well over $100,000 all up when legal costs are included.

I didn't actually meet her until the case was over -- when she brought around a copy of the judgment for me.

Media reports here and here. More background here

Abbott: We'll help, Julia, but only if you ask nicely

That seems a fair request -- but is a Leftist capable of civility in politics?

TONY Abbott is demanding Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally say "please" if the Government wants Opposition support for off-shore processing of asylum seekers.

The Opposition Leader is fed up with what he sees as "bile" from Ms Gillard and a lack of information from the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, sources told today.

And he's furious that last week Mr Bowen's office briefed reporters on what Mr Abbott was to have been briefed on later that day.

At hand is legislation the Government will introduce next week to amend the Migration Act to get around a High Court ruling which wrecked the Malaysian deal to swap asylum seekers for refugees, and put in serious doubt all off-shore processing of boat people.

The Opposition hasn't declared where it stands on the issue, but Mr Abbott is likely to back it to ensure a future Coalition government could send asylum seekers to third countries such as Nauru.

Any agreement would come with heavy criticism of the Malaysian solution, which would be reflected in proposed Opposition amendments.

However, Mr Abbott won't reveal his plans to the Government until he gets what he considers a full briefing on the legislation, and a personal appeal for support from the PM.

He'll receive a briefing on the bills in Melbourne at 5pm tomorrow and today Opposition sources said it must include all the legal advice the Government received following the High Court ruling.

"We've asked for it and haven't even had a 'thank you for writing' letter in reply," said one Liberal source.

Earlier this week, Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott clashed over the table during Question time with the Opposition Leader complaining, "I get nothing but bile from you, Julia".


Paramedics vent anger against QLD Health on Facebook page

QUEENSLAND paramedics are so frustrated with having to ramp their ambulances for hours outside public hospitals, they have set up a Facebook protest page to highlight the problem.

But Queensland Health has hit back, disputing many of the claims on the "Ramping QAS at QLD Hospitals" social networking site.

The Facebook page contains photos and video, and at last count had almost 400 "likes".

Several damning photos posted on the page show ambulances crowded outside the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane on August 16, after three other southside hospitals went on bypass. A paramedic said he counted 23 ambulances in the queue outside the hospital as he waited more than five hours with a patient, who went home before being treated.

The scene is a repeat of a similar one outside the hospital reported in The Courier-Mail in May.

Union organiser John Webb, of the ambulance section of United Voice, said the problem was getting worse.

"It's just not going away," he said. "At the end of the day, while our ladies and gentlemen are on hospital ramps, they can't respond to other jobs, they can't get their meal breaks, they can't finish on time."

Mr Webb stressed that the most critical patients, such as those with a cardiac arrest, were taken straight into hospital emergency departments. But he said less serious patients, including elderly people in pain, were sometimes languishing inside the back of ambulances for hours. "It's morally and ethically wrong," Mr Webb said. "This is 2011, not 1911."

Queensland Health acting director-general Tony O'Connell said emergency department staff had debunked "several of the photos and claims" made on the Facebook site. "For example, one photo depicts ambulances parked while not in use with no patient inside them," Dr O'Connell said.

"Misleading people with fraudulent claims only serves to scare them unfairly, and does nothing whatsoever to help our staff or patients. No patient is ever turned away from a public hospital ED, and no patient waits in an ambulance unless a professional triage nurse or doctor has assessed their condition and determined that it is safe for the patient to remain under observation while more urgent patients are treated. "That is entirely appropriate."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle called on the Government to "stop the spin" and fix the ramping, unacceptable waits and access block at emergency departments.


The hubris of an Australian Warmist professor: "We put the physics in and then the answer pops out"

The Australian global warming lobby is desperately trying to convince an increasingly sceptical audience about the blessings of their climate models Dr. Dave Griggs, from the Monash Sustainability Institute and Dr. John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research made the following claims at an online briefing organised by the Australian Science Media Centre:
"models were getting more accurate as scientists incorporated data from more areas. Scientists were often surprised by their results because the climate system was so complicated, Prof Griggs said. "We don't tune these models to get the answer we want. "We put the physics in and then the answer pops out - so yes, you can be surprised."

The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research's John Church says virtually all climate data is shared among scientists worldwide. While there is a variety of models in his study area of sea levels all show the same trend

Reality check:

There is a multitude of evidence about the total failure of the warmist climate change models. The fact is that the warmists are doing exactly what Dr. Griggs says they are not doing. Warren Myer, writing in Forbes magazine, summarizes what´s wrong with the models:
"a lot climate experimentation occurs within computers, rather than via direct observation of natural phenomena. For example, in the last IPCC report, their conclusion that most of the recent warming had probably been man-made was based mainly on computer study of the period between 1978 and 1998. They ran their models for this period both with and without manmade CO2, and determined that they could only replicate the temperature rise in this period with by including manmade CO2 in their models.

Believe it or not, that is the main evidence that global warming catastrophism is based on. Yes, I am sure you can raise all the concerns I have — what if the computer models don’t adequately model the climate? What if they leave out key factors or over-emphasize certain dynamics? Drawing firm conclusions from these models is like assuming you can be a rock star after winning a game of Guitar Hero.

But it is when these models are used to project catastrophic outcomes in the future that they are perhaps the most suspect. Scientists often act as if the projected warming from various CO2 forecasts is just an output of the models — in other words, “we built in a sophisticated understanding of how the climate works and out pops a lot of warming.” (exactly what Dr. Griggs is doing! NNoN) And in the details this is true. The timing and regional distribution of the warming tends to be a fairly unpredictable product of the model. But the approximate magnitude of the warming is virtually pre-determined. It turns out that climate sensitivity, the overall amount of warming we can expect from a certain rise in CO2 concentrations, is really an input to most models.

This means that the inputs of the model are set such that a climate sensitivity of, say, 4 degrees per doubling is inevitable. The model might come up with 4.1 or 3.9, but one could have performed a quick calculation on the inputs and found that, even without the model, the answer was already programmed to be close to 4. Rather than real science, the climate models are in some sense an elaborate methodology for disguising our uncertainty. They take guesses at the front-end and spit them out at the back-end with three-decimal precision. In this sense, the models are closer in function to the light and sound show the Wizard of Oz uses to make himself seem more impressive, and that he uses to hide from the audience his shortcomings.

And if you want the opinion of a real scientific heavyweight, here is what Dr. Freeman Dyson thinks about the climate models:
The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world we live in ...

John Church is partially right when he claims that virtually all climate data is shared among scientists worldwide. The truth is, of course, that all the warmists share the same false data (obtained from the false models) worldwide.

It may very well be true that all the warmist sea level models show the same trend , as Church claims, but studies based on real observations tell another story: Reality check:
AGAINST all the odds, a number of shape-shifting islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are standing up to the effects of climate change.

For years, people have warned that the smallest nations on the planet - island states that barely rise out of the ocean - face being wiped off the map by rising sea levels. Now the first analysis of the data broadly suggests the opposite: most have remained stable over the last 60 years, while some have even grown.

Paul Kench at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and Arthur Webb at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji used historical aerial photos and high-resolution satellite images to study changes in the land surface of 27 Pacific islands over the last 60 years. During that time, local sea levels have risen by 120 millimetres, or 2 millimetres per year on ...


Memorandum by Professor Nils-Axel Mörner, Head of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics, Stockholm University, Sweden President, (1999-2003) of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, Leader of the Maldives Sea Level Project:
It is true that sea level rose in the order of 10-11 cm from 1850 to 1940 as a function of Solar variability and related changes in global temperature and glacial volume. From 1940 to 1970, it stopped rising, maybe even fell a little. In the last 10-15 years, we see no true signs of any rise or, especially, accelerating rise (as claimed by IPCC), only a variability around zero. This is illustrated in Fig 3. ...

In conclusion; observational data do not support the sea level rise scenario. On the contrary, they seriously contradict it. Therefore, we should free the world from the condemnation of becoming extensively flooded in the near future.
There are more urgent natural problems to consider on Planet Earth like tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc.


It is not surprising that Dave Griggs and John Church are so busy promoting climate alarmism, when one considers their background:
in 1996 he was appointed Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific assessment unit. IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2001 he became Deputy Chief Scientist and Director of the Hadley Centre for Climate Change, widely acknowledged as the world's leading centre for climate change research. After a brief spell as Met Office Director of Government Business, in September 2007 he moved to Australia to become Director of the Monash Sustainability Institute (MSI). Dave is also CEO of ClimateWorks Australia.

Dr Church has recently accepted a position as coordinating lead author of the Sea Level Change chapter for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, to be completed in 2013.
He was co-convening lead author for the Chapter on Sea Level in the IPCC Third Assessment Report.


ANOTHER computerization failure! When will they ever learn?

New multi-million dollar police security card system an IT misery for Bligh Government

IN the latest IT misery for the Bligh Government, a new multimillion-dollar police security card system has flopped. Electronic smartcards, meant to improve building and computer security, are proving problematic for officers who have found themselves shut out of their workplace.

Police officers revealed the new contactless cards were "introduced with much fanfare early last year, but never really enforced". "They give you a blank one to stick behind your card at headquarters so you can get into the building. You're no chance with the smartcard," an officer said. "The pics rub off on them, too."

The Queensland Police Service was the first in Australia to adopt the new electronic ID cards, which were supposed to increase protection against external threats, such as hacking.

Queensland University of Technology's Emeritus Professor of Computer Science Bill Caelli said the problem appeared to be with the management and organisation of the system's software. "If the commands on the card are incompatible with those on the door, it won't work as it should," Prof Caelli said. "If the mastercard is working, then the problem lies with the messages between the individually assigned smartcards and the doors."

Opposition police spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said there were "serious questions that needed to be answered" about the security card failure. "We need to know how it's happened and why we've got another computer problem from a Government that's wasted millions of dollars on unreliable systems," Mr Langbroek said.

In another smartcard glitch, public transport go card users are finding information is being over-ridden by other cards, causing anxiety and confusion.

Brisbane commuter Dominic Cole experienced the problem himself when he swiped his go card in his wallet and it came up as being out of credit. He now believes interference from his gym card caused it to access another person's go card.

"When I scanned the card to check the balance, it came up with someone else's account history - where they had recently travelled and the balance on their account," Mr Cole said. "But it didn't come up with a card number or name."

The problem was solved by taking his go card out of his wallet and scanning it separately.

A TransLink spokesman said their user's guide recommended people "always remove their go card from their bag or wallet before touching the reader, to ensure there is no interference".


14 September, 2011

Tony Abbott launches stinging attack on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over carbon tax

THE parliamentary battle over the Government's carbon price scheme has begun with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launching a ferocious attack on the Prime Minister.

Mr Abbott opened his 30-minute speech by declaring the package of clean energy bills amounted to a bad tax, based on a lie, that should be rejected.

He finished by declaring it "the longest suicide note in Australian history".

Julia Gillard sat stony-faced opposite him throughout the speech, which was delivered to a nearly full chamber.

But the chamber emptied when parliamentary secretary for climate change Mark Dreyfus started the Government's counterattack in a debate that will dominate today's proceedings. Mr Dreyfus accused the opposition of "being in hysterics" over a policy that was essential to save the world from catastrophic climate change.

Mr Abbott began with a sustained attack on Ms Gillard, calling her claim to be on the side of history "arrogant presumption". In fact, she was on "the wrong side of truth".

He said she'd sabotaged Kevin Rudd on the issue, had a variety of positions herself and finally said there'd be no carbon tax, a promise that haunts the Government and makes the debate "fundamentally illegitimate".

The Opposition Leader moved on to say the scheme would make the essentials of modern life, like power and fuel, more expensive. Now, when the world economy was so fragile, was not the time to add to the burdens of business and families.

Mr Abbott jeered at the Government's claim the policy would create jobs, calling it "nonsense on stilts".

However at the heart of his objections was that the scheme wouldn't reduce emissions. All the bold claims about emissions cuts were disproved by the government's own figures, he said.

Mr Abbott finally turned to a "much better way" - the Opposition's direct action plan which encourages Australians to do intelligent, sensible things like plant trees. Businesses were reducing their power and fuel bills.

Mr Abbott said part of the Government's motivation was to satisfy the Greens.

"Also, deep in the DNA of every Labor member there is an instinct for higher taxes and more regulation and that's exactly what we're getting," he said.

Mr Dreyfus said the scheme would curb pollution and increase investment in clean energy. It would mean a better, cleaner place for our children's children. Mr Dreyfus said carbon pollution could no longer be free and the Government had to act to correct "the greatest market failure the world has seen". A carbon price would "break the link between pollution and economic growth".

"If we don't reduce emissions, the world risks catastrophic climate change," he said.

Mr Dreyfus said the Opposition was pandering to climate change deniers while attacking scientists and economists.


Tiny crab v $900m mine - the money's on the crab

A NEWLY-discovered crab about the size of a 10c piece might stop mining giant Rio Tinto's new $900 million Cape York bauxite mine.

Scientists contracted by Rio to prepare an environmental impact statement on the project 50km south of Weipa have found what is thought to be a new species of freshwater crab.

They have also discovered a shrimp not previously recorded in Australia, prompting conservationists to call on federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to immediately halt the project.

The Wilderness Society's Glenn Walker said yesterday the crab would be threatened, nearly 30,000ha of bush cleared and a river destroyed if the big mine was approved.

"Incredibly, Rio Tinto still plans to mine in this area and threaten this new species, so greedy are they to make an extra buck," he said.

"The crab hasn't even yet been assessed for protection under federal environment laws, which would likely list the species as endangered and potentially stall approval of the mine."

The find has been referred to Peter Davie, Queensland Museum senior curator of crustacea.

Mr Davie said he believed it was a new species, although it would be about two years before this would be confirmed.

"We have very little information for (about 20 species of) freshwater crabs but they are all potentially endangered or vulnerable," he said. "There's a bit of detective work to go but many are restricted to single catchments. They may well be vulnerable to climate change and all sorts of things."

A Rio Tinto Alcan spokesman said it was now up to the State and Federal governments to assess the findings. "We've had the best experts out there studying the area ... and we're pleased to have been able to make a contribution to understanding the ecology of the cape," the spokesman said. "We're being quite open about this. It was our people that turned this up."

Rio's EIS said a total of six species of crustacean were found. "These species are unlikely to be significantly impacted by the project," it says. If any species are found to be which the crab could be Mr Burke will have to rule on whether the project can proceed. A comment has been sought from Mr Burke.

Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa employs about 870 staff and wants to begin what is known as the South of Embley mine in about two years.


Don't blame sexism for the PM's woes

Janet Albrechtsen

SEXISM again? Think again.

Tonight, our national broadcaster will air the second of a four-part comedy series called At Home with Julia. When the first episode screened last week, immediately we heard the whispering lament of sexism at work. The Prime Minister is being mocked and ridiculed because she is a woman. Alas, as with most claims of sexism used in the same sentence as Gillard, this one is also off the mark.

Before it becomes part of the political orthodoxy, take a closer look at Aunty's new political sitcom. Described by Radio National's Fran Kelly as part of "the great tradition of Australian political satire", At Home with Julia is far less political than it is personal. But it's certainly not sexist. The real problem is that the comedy invades a private space that even our most public figures deserve to keep to themselves.

But again and again, sexism rears its outdated head as the knee-jerk reaction to so much about Julia Gillard's travails. Indeed, from the moment she became Prime Minister, sexism claims have been fast and furious. Each claim is a diversion from the main event, a refusal to take the analysis a little deeper.

Take this from independent MP Rob Oakeshott. Trying to extend his moment in the political sun by skating over the real problems of minority government, he tried to explain Gillard's woes on the basis that "Australians are still trying to come to terms with the fact that they have a female leader".

Ditto, some in the media. In a radio interview, The Sydney Morning Herald's Phillip Coorey put the vocal unhappiness of a female voter down to "a large element of misogyny because the Prime Minister is a woman, people feel they can go harder at her than if she was a bloke and treat her with less respect". More again from Fairfax when The Age's Shaun Carney explained Gillard's fall from political grace on the basis of sexism.

Even the international press has climbed aboard the sexism train, with Chloe Angyal in Slate accusing the Australian media of hitting "all the sexist notes about Gillard", reserving a "special level of censure for ambitious, high-achieving women". Apparently, Australian voters are a bunch of "pearl clutching" conservatives who cannot cope with a single woman in a de facto relationship setting up house in the Lodge.

A more intellectually curious look at the waning popularity of Gillard points to a realisation in the electorate that the PM has failed to put a stamp of authority on her prime ministership.

From her history of opportunistic factional twists, to policy backflips and failed policies, Gillard simply lacks legitimacy and credibility as a leader. Her lack of convictions, not her gender, is the reason voters have turned away.

Yet the more unpopular Gillard grows, the louder are the claims that sexism is bringing down and denigrating our first female Prime Minister. A few weeks ago, on ABC1's Q&A program, Graham Richardson described the tendency to refer to the PM as Julia as appalling. And "Yes, I do think it's because we haven't had a woman prime minister before."

Once again, the sexism charge is too shallow. Even a cursory look at Gillard's own campaign strategy - when she unveiled "the real Julia" - reveals that the PM invited us to think of her as Julia. Just as Kevin Rudd said, "My name is Kevin and I'm here to help", at his first ALP national conference as opposition leader and then went on to become Kevin07. There is a reason John Howard was not known in the electorate as John and it has nothing to do with gender or sexism.

Neither does sexism explain ABC1's At Home with Julia. Yet we seem to have reached a point where any strident commentary or even comic send-up of the PM is now sexist just because the PM is a woman. The national broadcaster's latest foray into political satire is hardly sexist when tested against the torrent of political send-ups aimed at former prime minister Howard. Count the weeks that comedy duo on the then 7.30 Report, John Clarke and Brian Dawe, aimed their Friday night fire at Howard. It became tiresomely predictable.

What marks out At Home with Julia as different from previous satires is that it intrudes into a private arena that is, to be blunt, none of our business. By focusing its lens, even a comical one, on the private lives of Gillard and her partner, Tim Mathieson, the show crosses the privacy line. Even politicians are entitled to a private life and the partners of politicians are especially entitled to be spared such intrusions.

Satirising private moments between "Jugs" and "Teacup" may amuse some by exploiting our natural inclination to treat comedy as just that. Inevitably, critics will be seen as humourless killjoys. In fact, the ABC's At Home with Julia is not a clever political satire in the league of the BBC's 1980s classic Yes, Minister and later, Yes, Prime Minister. That series was clever because it was generic. Parodying the political class as a whole, the British sitcom will stand the test of time.

By contrast, by poking its nose into even a fictional lounge room of Gillard and Mathieson, At Home with Julia is a series of short-term gags that offends an important principle best described by former PM Paul Keating.

Speaking at the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne last year about privacy and the media, Keating said "the social contract we are subject to involves the surrender of certain rights in exchange for other societal benefits and protections. But at the core of that contract there must never be derogations such that the notion of individuality is materially or permanently compromised. The essence of the dignity of each of us goes to our individuality and our primary need to be ourselves."

Yet, even here, one has to ask, have our politicians, particularly Gillard, invited the intrusion that breaches a contract that should allow politicians to be themselves away from prying, prurient eyes?

From dressing up for a glossy spread in Women's Weekly to giggling for the 60 Minutes cameras outside Mathieson's shed at the Lodge, Gillard has encouraged a level of voyeurism into her private life that does nothing to educate or inform us about the things that really matter. Gillard is not alone here. By trying to manage the media with carefully controlled puff pieces about their private lives, politicians invariably fuel intrusions that may not be so carefully controlled.

And therein lies the reason the ABC is now screening At Home with Julia. If you invite the cameras into your private life, don't be surprised when the cameras also appear without an invitation. The shame is that our politicians are not more careful to guard their privacy. We might respect them more if they did.


Breakfast food bans could be counterproductive

IF you buy junk food at a drive-through in NSW it may astound you to learn from new mandatory labelling that popcorn chicken is basically fat suspended in a superstructure of chicken eyeballs. This will no doubt shock the people who missed the memo that health food doesn't come in buckets.

Last week the Cancer Council NSW continued its war on fast food with an assault on Bubble O'Bill, the Paddle Pop lion, the Coco Pops monkey and Toucan Sam, long-serving avian ambassador of Froot Loops cereal. Should the Cancer Council succeed, parents can rest assured any food promoted by a jungle creature in drag will be taken off the shelves and replaced, presumably with a plain olive green box.

Once again the food nannies will have succeeded not only in taking the fun out of another meal but in removing what effectively has served as a warning sign for parents that products are junk food. Foods such as Nutri-Grain, many mueslis and "healthy breakfast spreads" such as peanut butter and Nutella are promoted not by cartoons but by sports people.

If Nutella had a cartoon bird on it perhaps people would have worked out faster that just because a marathon runner promotes it, chocolate isn't a breakfast food. Certainly the San Diego mother who sued Nutella for selling her fake health food would have had a harder time proving she was not a complete idiot.

Bans on food and beverage advertisements for products that are high in fat, salt and sugar are defended with studies such as the 2006 Access Economics report on obesity in Australia that claimed it cost us $8.3 billion. Obesity certainly is a serious health problem with links to cancer and diabetes, but picking on the fun foods as the sole culprits and treating parents like idiots reveals an agenda based as much on cultural prejudice as health consciousness.

Mass-produced, commercial junk food is easy to recognise; certainly the mascots help. However, posh food is often as bad for your health but is rarely marketed with anything as crass as a cartoon toucan. Wagyu beef has become increasingly popular in part because it has a high fat content and consequently is full of flavour. Perhaps a Pokemon-style cow mascot would help us remember at the butcher that Wagyu is not a healthy alternative to lean beef, fish or lentils.

At the ice cream fridge the poshest ice creams have the highest milk fat content. That's why they are so delicious. While Paddle Pops are clearly labelled junk food by the presence of the Paddle Pop lion, Maggie Beer's ice cream has a picture of very dignified and grown-up looking treats on the box. Eating a little of either won't hurt you but if you're planning to watch The Notebook, the Lion represents more value for your money.

My waistline has been enhanced by a range of foods both healthy and unhealthy, gourmet and gourmand. There are a remarkable number of kilojoules in fast and slow, fancy and plain, wholesome and junk, the amount of sugar in "diet" foods being an obvious case in point.

The Cancer Council's bans won't address the avalanche of kilojoules available in our prosperous society. What they can look forward to is enabling parents such as the San Diego Nutella mum to blame food producers or the government for their failure to meet a basic parenting requirement: feeding their kids properly.


13 September, 2011

Tony Abbott stalls on bid to legalise Malaysia "refugee" deal

Abbott is right. On Nauru, the illegals would remain under Australian control so there is no basis for a legal challenge

THE Coalition insists an Abbott government could sends asylum seekers to Nauru without amending the Migration Act in a sign it will take a hardline approach to Labor's demands for legislative change.

As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott refused to say whether the Coalition would back Labor's amendments to the Migration Act, Ms Bishop rejected Immigration Department advice given to the Coalition that Nauru could now be on shaky legal ground. "I don't believe that we need amendments to the Migration Act for us to reopen the detention centre on Nauru and for it continue to work as it has in the past," she said. "We believe that the fact that Nauru is now a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees is an important factor."

Ms Bishop said a "desperate" Ms Gillard was talking down the Nauru option for her own purposes. "It would be the final humiliating admission for her that she has been wrong on every aspect of her border protection policies," she said.

Labor has challenged the Coalition to back its changes to the Migration Act designed to place offshore processing beyond doubt following a High Court ruling declaring the Malaysia refugee swap unlawful. Labor says the changes would allow the Malaysian Solution to go ahead, while ensuring a future Coalition government could process asylum seekers on Nauru if it desired.

Mr Abbott said he wanted to see Labor's amendment's to the Migration Act before agreeing to support the government. "I'm not going to pre-empt the government and I'm not going to give them a blank cheque," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott reiterated his support for offshore processing, but maintained his political attack on the Malaysia deal. "I make the point that it's bad policy," he said.

"I mean, a five-for-one people swap is just a bad deal and sending people to a country where they're caned is hardly a fair deal."

The Greens a strongly opposed to the offshore processing of asylum-seekers, which leaves Labor needing Coalition support to ensure it can proceed with its Malaysian swap deal.


Foolish government spending on propping up dying industries

The strength of the Australian dollar, caused by a combination of a once-in-a-generation mining boom and a weak US economy, is causing waves through our economy. In fact, it has been a long time since economic reform has been so critical to our future. The boom in the mining industry is a massive positive, but the repercussions of this boom for other sectors have some negative consequences.

Given this, it is sad that some in the debate insist on playing the populist card to provide economic false hope. For instance, in recent days we've heard the manufacturing union demand more government intervention to save Aussie jobs in heavy manufacturing at the same time as it marched its vehicle builders off the job at Toyota as part of an exaggerated wage claim. Such an economically irresponsible act, at this moment, not only damages the prospects of these workers but it puts into doubt the credibility of those who claim to speak on their behalf.

The truth is that we can't save jobs by government protection, no matter what self-interested players promise. I say this because we are spending billions now trying to protect jobs and the evidence says it is not working.

The most reliable evidence is the independent annual analysis of government assistance to all industry sectors is contained in the Productivity Commission's Trade and Assistance Review, which shows that since 2004-05 the manufacturing sector has received $48.3 billion in government assistance.

The report makes the point that while net tariff assistance has declined in recent years, government assistance has increased by more than 20 per cent in real terms. In effect, the government has replaced one failed protection regime with another. At least with direct assistance, the cost is obvious for all to see.

It poses a legitimate question: is the Australian taxpayer receiving value for its nearly $50bn investment?

Take the tale of vehicle production at Mitsubishi in South Australia. For many years, South Australians were told that if Mitsubishi left it would be economic catastrophe for the local economy, thus the government had to intervene to save the jobs. While the local operations made losses every year after 1989, the taxpayer made up the shortfall. In the end, the patient refused treatment. While the end was sad on many levels, the closure of the vehicle manufacturing plant did not destroy the South Australian economy. It raises the question: why is it that some jobs are worthy of government subsidy while others are not? Ultimately, protection for one is at the expense of another. Economically, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Again the Productivity Commission put it best: "Although assistance generally benefits the firms or industries that receive it, it typically imposes costs on other sectors of the economy."

There is a role for government to assist industries to adapt to changing environments, but taxpayers funding a romantic attachment to a bygone era is not a position the Australian economy can afford or sustain.

No one wants to see jobs lost and traditional industries leave, but providing false government hope is simply prolonging the inevitable to the cost of all taxpayers. We simply can no longer afford to be throwing good money after bad to satisfy the political posturing of a chosen few.

There will be manufacturing in Australia. It will be smart and efficient and it will not require massive government assistance to survive. Now is not the time to return to our protectionist shell; rather, it is the time to be economically ambitious so Australia can take advantage of the enormous markets of the flat world, increasing our prosperity.

John Howard said economic reform is like a running race with an ever receding finish line; the job is never done and the competition is never far away.


A sad demise

Iconic character Louie the Fly has finally been killed off

IT has taken 54 years, but the iconic cartoon character Louie the Fly has finally been killed for good.

The cartoon ambassador for pest control brand Mortein announced he no longer represented the brand's "broader range".

AdNews is reporting Mortein decided to ditch Louie to focus on the "high-tech nature of Mortein products".

Louie the Fly was created in 1957 by cartoonist Geoff Morgan and the accompanying jingle was penned by author Bryce Courtenay.

Louie would get killed in every ad, only to be resurrected in time for the next campaign.


From Brisbane to Brussels – ‘Why should we listen to you?’

Senior Australian Senator Ron Boswell takes a dim view of advice from Europe, given their much poorer economic performance than Australia, and says that Australian farmers already suffer enough from European policies without adding a carbon tax

As European stocks fell another 3% in the last week of August on the back of the basket case economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain, it seems absurd the President of European Union Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, should be offering Australia economic advice, Senator Boswell said.

On the Sunday before last, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stressed the European Union’s desire to see Australia join the “business case for fighting climate change”.

On the back of Mr Barroso’s comments the Prime Minister stated that the Federal Government wanted to make “sure that the world doesn’t take a step backwards towards protectionist measures, which ultimately destroy jobs”.

Senator Boswell said “Perhaps I could offer the President of the European Union Commission some advice, his carbon pricing remarks would be taken seriously if he would allow for Australian products to fairly enter the European market”. Currently, the European system of agricultural subsidies and programmes, or its technical name, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), represents 48% of the European Union’s budget.

The hypocrisy is Ancient Romanesque. “Why should we listen to the president of a body that cannot even effectively command the European economy?” Senator Boswell said.

As the economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain continue to cause volatility in domestic and international markets, there is wide criticism of economically vulnerable schemes such as the EU CAP. The scheme artificially inflates food prices through high import tariffs (estimated to be between 18-28%) that lock out non-EU producers.

Australian National Farmers Federation economics committee chair John McKillop notes that Australian primary producers “compete on an entirely unlevel playing field”. There is 19% discrepancy between EU and Australian farm income subsidies - a potentially multi-million dollar loss in income.

President Barroso said that Europe wanted a global emissions trading agreement but “unfortunately we have not seen the same commitment from other parties, namely some of the major emitters”.

Senator Boswell said that “Australia also wants a global trading scheme where it can get access to European markets. Australian primary industry is already handicapped by the EU freezing Australian products out of their markets”. “We don’t want to put more lead in our saddle by further handicapping our primary and secondary industry with a Carbon Tax”.

“As Mr Barroso points out, the reality is a global emissions trading agreement will not happen anytime soon. Why should Australians suffer Carbon Tax pain for no environmental gain?”

Press release from Senator Boswell, Senator for Queensland. Email:

12 September, 2011

Teacher sued for insult to dad

A choofer is a type of camping stove known to be rather smoky and noisy -- so the word is used as a derogatory term for a marijuana user. It seems unlikely that the teacher made the allegation without knowing it to be true so the case should only hinge on whether truth is a defence. It seems likely however that Victoria's anti-discrimination laws will be dragged into it

A TEACHER who allegedly told a student his father couldn't get a job because he was a "choofer" who smoked drugs is being sued in possibly a Victorian legal first.

An Aboriginal father and son have hired top lawyers to sue the teacher and the State Government for defamation, seeking tens of thousands of dollars.

Legal sources said it was probably the first action of its kind and could set a precedent that could affect any teacher who ridiculed a student in public.

The father and son from Swan Hill are not only seeking damages, but also "aggravated" damages because as Aborigines they suffered extra humiliation.

Queen's Counsel Jeremy Ruskin is appearing on behalf of the boy, with barrister and Williamstown Football Club president Trevor Monti. In a writ lodged in the Supreme Court, the teenager claimed the teacher ridiculed him in front of others in class on June 29, saying the boy's father was "a choofer".

"Does (the boy's) dad have a job? He won't get a job if he keeps doing what he does," the Swan Hill College teacher allegedly said. "(His) dad smokes weed (and) goes into (the boy's) room and gives him weed."

The writ said the teacher's comments could be understood to mean the boy's father was a drug user who could not work because of his addiction and who gave drugs to his son.

It claimed the comments were spoken with a "reckless indifference to the truth", knowing they would cause significant humiliation to the plaintiffs because they were Aboriginal.


Lesbian foster couple put six year old boy in girl's clothes and post photos on Facebook

How did such messed-up people get given a boy to look after? Political correctness has got a lot to answer for

A SIX-year-old boy placed in the care of a lesbian foster couple was dressed in girl's clothes and the humiliating pictures were posted on the couple's Facebook page. One of the women was preparing for a sex change to become a man at the time, while her girlfriend was undergoing fertility treatment.

The boy and his 12-year-old sister have since been moved but former Children's Court magistrate Barbara Holborow yesterday called for a full inquiry into the decision to put them there. "Oh my God, what are we doing?" Ms Holborow, who has fostered eight children, said.

Families Minister Pru Goward has demanded a full explanation from child welfare service Barnardos, which had recruited the couple. "I am seeking advice from Barnardos to confirm that care arrangements were appropriate and the wellbeing of the children was paramount," Ms Goward said yesterday.

The children's story, described as one of the saddest in the state, has been revealed in a Supreme Court judgment posted last month in Children's Law news compiled by the NSW Children's Court.

Their mother had tried but failed in the Supreme Court to win back custody of her son, given the pseudonym Campbell by the court. His current foster parents want to adopt him.

Campbell was taken into care in November 2006 at the age of 18 months along with his four stepbrothers and two stepsisters after complaints of physical and mental abuse at the hands of the parents.

Campbell and his sister Abby, then 12, were placed with the lesbian couple in early 2009. The placement did not work out for Abby and after she was moved, Campbell was dressed in girl's clothes and his photograph placed on the couple's Facebook page.


Amazing: Welfare benefits paid to fugitives

THOUSANDS of South Australian fugitives are funding their lifestyles on the run with Centrelink benefits.

The bizarre situation has prompted a call for Centrelink to share its client information with police to help track down those people with outstanding arrest warrants who are receiving regular welfare payments deposited into their bank accounts.

A Centrelink spokesman said that while legislation prevented payments to people in jail, "it does not specifically prevent payments being made to people who have outstanding arrest warrants". Several convicted criminals have told the Sunday Mail restricting or even cutting off payments would severely affect the ability of fugitives to evade police.

One offender who evaded police for more than a year after breaching his parole conditions, said his Centrelink payments were instrumental in his freedom.

"I can tell you they were the only thing that kept me going," said the man. "If I did not have the cash going into my account during that period I probably would have surrendered within a month. "It is actually quite bizarre. You have one government department actually assisting you to stay on the run from another government department".

Centrelink benefits can range from the basic Newstart allowance of $474.90 a fortnight for a single person with no children, through to higher payments for supporting parents.

SA Police launched Operation Trace a fortnight ago in a concerted bid to apprehend 8710 people, who between them, have 10,852 outstanding arrest warrants.

While police have no data on how many of the 8700-plus fugitives they are hunting are receiving Centrelink benefits, legal sources said the figure would be "at least half" of those being sought for outstanding warrants.

"The majority of the villains police are looking for in this operation do not hold down 9 to 5 jobs," a senior lawyer said. "I would anticipate a considerable percentage of them would be unemployed."

Commissioner For Victim's Rights Michael O'Connell said he believed police and Centrelink "should collaborate to ensure justice is done", and that the public would be surprised to learn that in many serious cases, police were constrained in obtaining the information they needed to apprehend a suspect.

"When victims report crime, one of the main expectations is that police will investigate that crime and apprehend the offender," Mr O'Connell said.

"While we should respect the privacy of our citizens, there are occasions when it is necessary to intrude. I would say when a person is suspected of a serious offence, that is one of those occasions".

Attorney-General John Rau said a recent meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General had asked for greater data-sharing between agencies to help track down known fine defaulters. He could see no reason to not expand it "for this sort of purpose which is in the public interest".

"If SAPOL were to formally ask for us to give some consideration to some form of data-sharing with the Commonwealth for this purpose, I would certainly have a good look at it," he said.

"If we are to get data-sharing for the purposes of fine defaulters, and I emphasise if, then it would seem odd if we could use it only for that purpose and not for these other purposes."

Mr Rau said he stopped short at suggesting benefits should be cut to those on the run. "As to the actual termination of benefits, that is beyond our control," he said. "It is possible in some instances that might be counter productive because a person who is on the run and suddenly cut short of money will find something else to rectify the problem."

Under existing arrangements with Centrelink, police can obtain only information on people wanted for certain categories of offences and cases.

These include missing-persons cases and those instances when a person being sought is a danger to the community, such as a manhunt for a murder or armed robbery suspect.

Fugitives wanted under Operation Trace have outstanding arrest warrants, the majority issued by Magistrates Courts for offences ranging from murder, rape and assault through to fraud, property and breach of bail offending.

Many fugitives have multiple warrants outstanding.


New Victorian government to crack down on union thugs

STATE-HIRED workplace investigators will use special powers to target Victoria's notorious construction industry on building sites for the first time as part of the Baillieu government's promised crackdown on union rorts.

The government will use the $5.3 billion regional rail link project in Melbourne's western suburbs as a test case to contain costs on major state-run developments the government argues have blown out by billions due to a lack of control over the unions.

The government is conducting a review of the industrial relations principles that form part of the code of practice for the Victorian building and construction industry.

Finance Minister Robert Clark has argued the existing principles are too general and do too little to curb costs and that unions have capitalised on the lack of scrutiny.

He said state-employed workplace inspectors - effectively, union police - would be free to roam around worksites on government-run projects, such as the Regional Rail Link under construction in Melbourne's west.

Victoria, considered the home of militant unionism, intends to use the new monitoring provisions in tandem with

the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, a federal body created in 2005 to police the construction industry.

Under the Victorian model, parties winning a tender to work on state government construction projects will have to agree to provide access for the new investigators.

The action on the rail link is seen as a pre-emptive strike by the Baillieu government before it outlines its full policy to crack down on unions in coming months. It promised to strike at the unions after a series of major project blowouts, including the $5.7 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant east of Melbourne.

Mr Clark said previous tender evaluation processes had not been robust enough and too little regard was given to industrial relations management by tenderers. He said that because the existing compliance monitoring was based on a complaint-triggered system, there was too little scrutiny, leading to "unacceptable and unlawful behaviour" that was entrenched in the industry.

Procurement of the multi-billion-dollar rail link is already under way, meaning the government has had to amend the tender processes for key sections of the rail project.

This means the tenderers and their related parties will have to comply with the new Victorian code and to enable government access to sites and documents to ensure scrutiny of the workplace, briefing notes provided to The Australian show.

The notes also stress successful tenderers will have to have a demonstrated track record of productive work practices.

This clause will put construction companies on notice, given that there is a widely held view that major building firms have failed to take on unions over massive pay deals and restrictive work practices that date back decades.

Mr Clark said the government would not tolerate unlawful behaviour and misconduct on worksites.

"The previous Labor government's construction industry code had no effective enforcement regime," he said.

"Labor continually failed to take action against inappropriate conduct on building and construction sites, sending millions of Victorian taxpayers' dollars down the drain.

"These changes to the tender conditions for the Regional Rail Link will enable the government to identify which tenderer provides the lowest risk to the Victorian taxpayer at tender evaluation stage and over the life of the project."

The crackdown comes amid growing pressure for the Liberal Party federally to overhaul Labor's industrial relations laws.

The Weekend Australian reported how Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford had taken aim at Labor, claiming it had been "hoodwinked" by unions.

Mr Clifford's call for an overhaul of the Fair Work Act was embraced by the audience of more than 300 senior Liberals at a party function in Melbourne last Friday.


11 September, 2011


The Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard walks into a Perth bank and asks to cash a cheque for $2000..

Teller: "No problem madam. Could you please show me your ID."?

Gillard: "Well, I didn’t bring my ID with me as I didn't think there was any need. After all, I am the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard"

Teller: "Yes, I know who you are, but with all the regulations, I must insist on seeing ID."

Gillard: "Just ask anyone here who I am and they will tell you. They all know who I am."

Teller: "I am sorry, but these are the bank rules and I must follow them."

Gillard : "Is there some other way around this?"

Teller: "Look, here's what we can do: a while ago now, Greg Norman walked into the bank without ID. To prove he was Greg Norman he pulled out his putter and a golf ball and trickled it ten metres across the floor into a cup. Then we were sure he was Greg Norman and cashed his cheque.

Another time, Pat Rafter came in without ID. He pulled out his tennis racquet and lobbed a tennis ball fifteen metres - right into my coffee mug. After that spectacular shot we cashed his cheque.

So, what can you do to prove to me that you are really the Prime Minister of Australia?"

Gillard stands, deep in thought for what seems like minutes then finally says: "My mind's a complete blank. Honestly, I can't think of a single thing"

Teller: "Would fifties be OK, Prime Minister?"

Fallout from Greenie dam-hatred is expensive

Desalination is the crazy alternative that Greenies have forced on governments around Australia, even though there is plenty of potential for more dams to serve the growing population

Fifteen months ago workers at a dam 200 kilometres south of Sydney switched off a set of high-pressure pumps that have played a critical role in safeguarding Sydney's precarious water supply.

Transfers from Tallowa Dam, on the upper Shoalhaven River, had added more than a trillion litres to Warragamba Dam over the past decade before the taps were turned off.

The absence of that extra water, which fell from 152 billion litres in 2008 to zero this year, has been crucial to Warragamba remaining below 80 per cent full - the trigger point at which the Kurnell desalination plant must be shut down.

Had those Sydney Catchment Authority engineers - acting on the instruction of the state government - kept the pumps running, Sydney's water supply would today stand at 94.6 per cent, according to expert projections supplied to The Sun-Herald.

With the Warragamba catchment at 78.9 per cent in reality, experts say the government is clinging to a reason to push ahead with the $1.5 billion sale of the desalination plant. While it is running, the cost of the electricity-guzzling plant adds $96 a year to Sydney water bills.

"The state government has an incentive to keep the Warragamba Dam below full," says Professor Stuart White, of the University of Technology, Sydney, who helped write the current Metropolitan Water Plan.

"When we're paying 70¢ per cubic metre of desalinated water, it would not be a good look to have it spilling over the top of Warragamba for free."

It is also arguably not in the government's interests for consumers to be aware of pure water flushing out to sea from Tallowa while they are paying for seawater to be transformed into drinking water.

White is one of a number of experts who believe the O'Farrell government will go through with the privatisation against the best interests of the populace.

"The government has the opportunity to pursue a sale for a one-off capital win or take a one-off hit - but do the right thing by the consumer and shut the plant down. It's a radical step to shut it down but that's what should be contemplated to save this needless waste of energy."

White describes the planned sale as a "win, win, lose" situation in which consumers are the losers. "The state government wins with a capital windfall and an investor locks in to a long-term, guaranteed return," he says.

For the past two years Tallowa Dam has been full and is currently allowing excess "environmental flows" to flush through the Shoalhaven and out to sea.

The Greens, who support environmental flows for the Shoalhaven, nonetheless believe the switch-off at Tallowa is part a strategy to justify the existence of the desalination plant. They have accused the government of scrapping a range of water recycling schemes for the same reason.

"Tallowa has been ramped back to make the desalination plant look like a much more attractive investment when it is privatised," the Greens MP Dr John Kaye says. "It's a much cleaner deal if there looks like there is at least a need for the desalination plant. It's all about appearances."

The government recently appointed the investment bank Goldman Sachs to run the sale.

Bankers familiar with the tender process told The Sun-Herald that investors, probably from overseas, would line up to buy the plant because the contract would stipulate a return whether it was operational or not.

The government has established a taskforce consisting of representatives of Sydney Water, Treasury and the Finance and Premier and Cabinet departments to establish the guidelines for privatisation.

A spokeswoman for Sydney Water, Emma Whale, confirmed the 80 per cent threshold for switching off the plant remained under the O'Farrell government. "The dam levels should not have bearing on the sale or the contract. IPART is currently determining both a water usage and availability charge," she said.


Cancer Council wants to kill Paddle Pop lion and Coco Pops monkey

Even though the best evidence is that there is NO harm in sugar, fat and salt

THE Coco Pops monkey and Paddle Pop lion would be scrapped under a Cancer Council proposal to ban cartoon characters and sports stars from spruiking unhealthy kids' food.

Cancer Council NSW, backed by the Obesity Policy Coalition and The Parents' Jury, are seeking a ban on promotional characters, movie tie-ins and the athletes who promote foods high in sugar, fat and salt.

Although stopping short of calling for plain packaging, Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said regulations around the marketing of foods to children were urgently needed.

"What we'd like to see is the removal of these promotional characters - whether they're cartoon characters, sporting celebrities or movie tie-ins - from all foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt," she told The Sunday Telegraph.

Research by Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney's Prevention Research Collaboration found that nearly 74 per cent of promotional characters on Australian food packets promote products to children that would fail healthy nutritional standards.

Among the foods targeted are Bubble O'Bill ice-creams, which have 25 per cent of a child's recommended daily saturated fat intake in one 65g serve, and Kellogg's Froot Loops, which have almost three teaspoons of sugar per 30g serve. Coco Pops are more than one-third sugar and contain nearly a third of a child's daily sodium intake in one 30g serve.

It is estimated that one in four children are overweight or obese. Obesity Policy Coalition senior policy adviser Jane Martin backed the Cancer Council's call.

"We'd like to see these powerful kinds of endorsements by licensed characters, company-owned cartoons and celebrities not allowed on unhealthy foods," she said.

"Children in particular are vulnerable to this thing. They are familiar with the character so it's not surprising when you are using Sponge Bob Square Pants and Bart Simpson to advertise food that children relate to these characters."

Ms Martin said packaging was a key part of a promotional arsenal. While her organisation welcomed cricketers fronting Weet-Bix, which were high in fibre and low in salt, she said Ky Hurst spruiking the high-sugar cereal Nutri-Grain misleadingly gave it "a healthy halo".

Parents' Jury campaign manager Corrina Langelaan said plain packaging would be the first step in attacking pester power.


Widow attacks SA government hospital after her husband's death

Bureaucrats trump doctors

A grieving Mrs Sherwin is blaming bed shortages at public hospitals for her husband's death. SA Health figures show major metropolitan hospitals have been operating above capacity several times in recent months.

Mrs Sherwin said her 53-year-old husband was discharged from FMC last month before he had CT (computed tomography) scans to determine the cause of blood clots on his lungs.

"Why did this happen? Because the Government wants to get people out of hospital beds to make themselves look good," said an angry and traumatised Mrs Sherwin, 50, of Whites Valley, near Aldinga. "I've decided to go public about this because if raising the issue saves one life then my husband won't have died in vain."

Mr Sherwin first had trouble breathing in July and on Friday, August 5, went to his GP who referred him to Noarlunga Hospital, where an X-ray showed blood clots on his lungs. He was transferred to FMC. Mrs Sherwin was in the emergency department with her husband of 26 years when they were told by a female doctor his condition was "life threatening" and he could not be released from the hospital until CT scans had been done.

Mr Sherwin, a former welder at Mitsubishi, was transferred to a respiratory ward. Mrs Sherwin said her husband told her he had one CT scan in the emergency unit and was advised he would need further scans. "He kept asking what was happening about the other scans and they said they couldn't get him in yet as he was not considered a priority," Mrs Sherwin said.

"Tuesday morning comes and he rings me and says they are releasing him. I asked him about the CT scan and he said that they told him he would have to come back as an outpatient and would be sent an appointment (mail)."

Mrs Sherwin took her husband home about 11.30am. About 1pm, Mr Sherwin collapsed in the bathroom, saying he "can't breathe". "I heard him hit the floor before I got back to the bathroom - I was there for 20 minutes performing CPR and then I saw his eyes dilate, so I held my hand over them and saw no reaction and I knew he was gone," Mrs Sherwin said. "I really want to know that no one else will ever have to go through this."

Mrs Sherwin said she believed her husband would be alive today if the tests he needed to have were carried out in hospital. "Instead, having to get out of the hospital bed and having the clot move around resulted in his death," she said.

SA Health would not comment until a coronial inquiry was completed.


Dumb teachers: Errors in Queensland Core Skills test highlighted by students themselves

EUROPE is not a country! That's just one of the duh! messages a fed-up student has sent in a letter to the creators of the Queensland Core Skills tests who claim their tests are "world-class".

More than 30,000 Year 12s across the state recently sat the tests, which are used to help calculate overall position (OP) scores.

Infuriated by the "appalling standard" of testing, the student who declined to be named, insisted the Brisbane-based authority take a closer look at how many countries there are in the world. A multiple choice question claims there are 188. Much less than the current widely accepted 196.

One part of the student's complaint to the Queensland Studies Authority reads: "The unit included a graph plotting the 'number of countries' against 'global GHGs (%)'. The graph not only claims that there are 188 countries in the world but classified Europe as a country.

"Europe is a continent. It is widely accepted that there are about 196 countries in the world. Even if the whole of Europe is classified as one country in this graph, Europe has more than eight countries in it. It was frustrating to have to lower myself to the appalling standard of calling Europe a country in order to calculate an appropriate response."

These are just some of gripes in the long letter, which also questions the use of the word quote as a noun and argues the difference between the meaning of the word tone and tonality.

Social blogging site Tumblr was red hot last week with student post mortems on the tests.

A QSA spokesperson said in a statement that the QCS tests were of a world-class standard. He confirmed the graph used was 12 years old. The QSA statement said: "We have not been contacted by any school about perceived errors in the 2011 QCS Test."


10 September, 2011

ANOTHER Collins submarine goes close to disaster through equipment failure

The story below does not mention the Dechaineux incident but I will

JUST after midnight off the coast of Perth, navy submarine HMAS Farncomb was slicing below the surface of a rough sea when its engines cut out.

For the 60 men and women aboard the Collins-class boat, the next few minutes would be among the longest of their lives. Like a Hollywood thriller, the sailors found themselves grappling with a double engine failure followed by a terrifying, powerless descent towards the bottom of the Indian Ocean, stemmed only by the cool actions of a veteran commander.

This real-life drama, which took place at 12.30am on August 23 about 20km off the northwest coast of Rottnest Island, was not revealed by Defence at the time. When quizzed by The Australian the following day, officials gave only a brief, sanitised version of the incident, omitting key facts while praising the competence and training of the crew for following "standard operating procedures".

Many of the Farncomb's crew are far from relaxed about what took place under the Indian Ocean that night. "I said to myself, 'I'm gone, I'm dead',' one recalled thinking as the powerless submarine began to slide towards the ocean floor. Another on the submarine has told friends: "When we started going down, I just tried to accept it and make peace with myself."

In their eyes, the Farncomb incident came uncomfortably close to being Australia's worst naval tragedy in almost 50 years. Defence denies this, claiming crew had "positive control of the submarine throughout the incident".

An investigation by The Weekend Australian reveals discrepancies between Defence's official account and first-hand accounts now circulating in Perth from the Farncomb's crew.

What is undisputed is that Farncomb was conducting operational training in the waters northwest of Rottnest Island soon after spending a month in dry dock where it had its emergency propulsion unit replaced. In charge that night was veteran submarine commander Glen Miles, a ruddy-faced archeology and rugby enthusiast who once served on the old Oberon submarines and who was dux of his submarine officer's course. Also on board was a Sea Training Group assessing the crew's competence.

Shortly after midnight, the Farncomb was gliding at a periscope depth of 20m while undertaking a routine known as "snorting", where air is drawn into the submarine to run the diesel motor in order to recharge the boat's batteries. At 12.30am, without warning, a fault in the control switchboard of the submarine's electric motor caused the motor to stop. "Propulsion failure, propulsion failure" rang out across the Farncomb's address system, as crew ran to emergency stations.

Propulsion failure in a submarine is both uncommon and serious, but it is usually quickly offset by a procedure that allows the motor to be restarted in emergency mode. Faced with a powerless, slowing submarine in a rough sea, Commander Miles ordered the submarine to glide down from its depth of 20m to 50m in order to assess the problem.

It was a bad time to lose propulsion because it meant the submarine had to stop snorting. When snorting stops, a submarine instantly becomes much heavier because the snort masks and exhaust, which are outside the hull, fill up with water.

Normally the submarine balances this extra weight by pumping out compensating water, but this takes time. So Commander Miles suddenly found himself in charge of an overweight submarine with no power, sliding south.

By the time the Farncomb reached its desired depth of 50m, there was more bad news. Despite the frantic efforts of crew, they could not get the emergency mode of the main motor to work. Defence said this week: "The reason for delay in restoring propulsion in emergency (mode) remains the subject of a technical investigation."

Commander Miles faced a full-blown emergency. He had lost both his engine and his emergency back-up.

Defence declined to tell The Weekend Australian how deep the Farncomb sank, saying only that such details were "not openly discussed".

According to several crew members' versions, the Farncomb slowed to a virtual halt, tilted nose up and began to slide backwards towards the ocean floor. The tilt was so steep that sailors eating in the mess room had to grab their dinners as they slid off the table. Those in the sleeping quarters found themselves "on top of each other".

In the control room, Commander Miles was not panicking, but was watching the sliding depth gauge hoping that the propulsion motor would restart before the Farncomb sank too deep. He knew that, as a last resort, he could take the dramatic step of blowing the submarine's ballast tanks to stem the descent.

In those long, agonising seconds - perhaps a minute or more - as the submarine kept sliding towards the seabed, some of the Farncomb's crew started to consider the unimaginable. The submarine is believed to have been operating in more than 1300m of water off the continental shelf. This meant that if they continued to sink, the water pressure would crush the submarine and its crew long before they hit the seabed.

Their fate would have mirrored the 129 men of the US navy submarine USS Thresher, which was crushed by water pressure when it sank in the Atlantic Ocean during deep diving tests in 1963.

Crew accounts of how deep the Farncomb sank differ. The consensus is that it plunged to between 150m and 190m. If so, this is uncomfortably close to the submarine's permissible deep diving depth, the actual figure of which is classified.

At some point during the Farncomb's powerless descent and without any sign of life from the motor, Commander Miles ordered a partial blow of the submarine's main ballast in which air expels water from the ballast tanks, making the boat lighter.

"Because the submarine was still heavy as compensating water was being pumped (out), the commanding officer chose to blow main ballast to arrest descent," a Defence spokesman said.

What happened next depends on whose account you believe. Defence says that the initial ballast blow stemmed the descent and that the Farncomb actually began to slowly rise. Some crew members maintain the submarine was still sinking, although at a slower rate.

Either way, Commander Miles then decided to take the most drastic step available to a submarine commander: to order a full emergency blow of all ballast tanks. "That was the last resort available to the crew at that time and if it did not work, there would have been no hope for them," one source said.

To the enormous relief of its crew, the plan worked and the Farncomb - powerless, overweight and stricken - began to rise at last. Once back on the surface and with no further ballast to blow, Commander Miles ordered the crew to try again to get emergency propulsion back. This time, they succeeded, regaining emergency propulsion and the Farncomb was able to limp back to Fremantle.

Navy argues that Commander Miles was not completely out of options because there was an autonomous Emergency Propulsion Unit on board that was manned during the incident but was not activated.

Navy claims the EPU "would be sufficient to maintain control of the submarine in such situations". Submarine experts dispute this and say that, if this was so, why did Commander Miles not use this option rather than order the more drastic blowing of all ballast tanks.

"The EPU is only designed for surface propulsion and there is no way that it could have controlled a 3000-tonne submarine heading backwards towards the seabed," said one expert, who asked not to be named.

The incident will not help the troubled reputation of the Collins-class fleet, which has been plagued by technical problems, but it will be seen as good example of the ability of a well-trained crew to get out of sticky situations.

When asked this week by The Weekend Australian how serious the Farncomb incident was, Defence avoided giving a direct answer, saying only that "standard procedures were employed to recover from this propulsion failure while snorting". "These procedures are regularly exercised," Defence said.

The Farncomb has been repaired and is now back at sea, but at least one crew member, an engineer, is said to have stayed behind in Perth to deal with the stress of what happened on August 23.

As one submariner put: "This (incident) shows that even when things go wrong on a submarine, there is usually a way to get out of trouble. "But those blokes would have been very glad to get home."


Union fraud

A HEALTH Services Union official has lodged a complaint with NSW Police alleging "systemic and organised fraud within the HSU, including the procuring of secret commissions and corrupt rewards from suppliers and contractors".

The Herald revealed yesterday that the national president of the union, Michael Williamson, and the federal MP Craig Thomson, formerly the general secretary of the union, were given credit cards by a big supplier to the union.

John Gilleland, who is paid $680,000 a year to produce the union's newsletter, Health Standard, has previously given Mr Thomson and Mr Williamson credit cards attached to his American Express account. This year, Mr Gilleland's wife, Carron, told union officials that Mr Williamson had "run amok" with the credit card and used it to pay for a variety of things, including wines for his cellar and his children's private school fees.

The official who lodged the preliminary complaint yesterday has sought a meeting with police on Monday to provide a detailed statement. The shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, referred yesterday's allegations to the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione.

Mr Williamson, who is on the national executive of the ALP, issued a statement rejecting the allegations. He said he was seeking legal advice and had "no further comments on this matter".

Nicknamed the "million-dollar man", Mr Williamson is also the vice-president of the NSW ALP. He is on the boards of the State Government Employees Credit Union and First State Super.

Apart from his union salary, Mr Williamson's company, United Edge, bills the union hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for mobile phones and IT services.

His directorship of United Edge is not revealed to members in the union's annual reports.

Nor is it revealed in advertisements in the union newsletter where the company offers discounts on union membership in return for signing up to United Edge mobile phone plans.

Mr Thomson, who quit the union in 2007 to become a federal MP, is already under fire for using his union credit card to make more than $100,000 in cash withdrawals during his time as union boss, and using it to pay for escort services.

One union member recalled the astonishment in the head office in Melbourne years ago when Mr Thomson excitedly showed his new black American Express card. "It even came in a special presentation box," the unionist said.

The card, made from titanium, is the most exclusive of all credit cards and is offered by invitation only to those who spend more than $25,000 a month. The holder pays $4000 a year for having a titanium card.

Another former HSU official spoke yesterday of the free-spending ways under Mr Williamson and Mr Thomson. "If you went somewhere you didn't just buy a bottle of wine you bought the best bottle of wine. Everything was put on the union credit card," he said.

On most Thursdays, 10 or 12 people from the union would enjoy boozy lunches. The tab was always picked up by Mr Williamson, who put in on his union credit card.

"We would go to the Chinese down in Goulburn Street. We would start eating at 12 and we would still be drinking at 6 or 7 at night," the former official said. "We would sit around thinking, 'we're the union with money, with power'. We were quite conspicuous in the way we just consumed the members' money."

None of this behaviour was secret within the ALP, he said. " "When this was going on, the party in many ways lost its moral compass. No one of any ethical authority said to these guys: 'You are not doing the right thing'.


Is Labor now so toxic with the Australian people that it is unelectable?

The Labor Party's national conference is the brief moment every three or so years when the faceless men show their faces, all in one place, all together. Marshalling their forces of delegates around them, the union bosses and faction chiefs sat in serried ranks in the cavernous Sydney Convention Centre in April 2007 to listen to the man who had been elected their leader five months earlier.

After the ritual standing ovation, an expectant moment of complete silence fell as the most popular politician in Australia prepared to utter his first words as Labor leader to the true power of the party. He seemed a touch nervous. He decided to break the ice with an attempt at self-deprecation: "My name's Kevin, I'm from Queensland and I'm here to help."

It fell flat. It was also the key to Rudd's position as Australia's 26th prime minister, though the full meaning of it wouldn't become clear for three years. His words were the salutation of an outsider. Not geographically, but politically. He was not part of any union or factional power bloc. And the party was deeply conscious of it. He was there on sufferance.

A couple of years earlier, Bob Carr had come to the conclusion that Labor was a spent force, a relic, and could not hope to take power federally again. In a memorable punchline to his argument, he once drafted an epitaph for Australia's oldest political party: "It's game over, comrade," he told me after John Howard won the 2004 election and Labor returned Kim Beazley to the leadership.

But in 2007, Rudd led Labor to victory. Was Carr wrong? Or was Rudd just an aberration, giving the brief flicker of life to a party destined to die the moment it reasserted its true character? "The party got a boost from a cyclical trend against John Howard, and it took Kevin Rudd to dramatise it," Carr says today.

The cycle moved in Labor's favour, and Rudd was tolerated long enough to exploit the moment. The moment his polling weakened, the faç¸ade was ripped away.

The faceless men, after three years of sullen backroom acquiescence with the Rudd leadership, were suddenly visible again as they went to work installing Gillard in a coup so abrupt that the heir to the Chinese leadership, Vice-President Xi Jinping, on a visit to Australia at the time, could not comprehend it and yelled at his ambassador to Canberra:

"Why didn't you tell me this was going to happen?" The ambassador spluttered helplessly before the Australian ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, stepped in to save him during a meeting in Darwin: "Mr Vice-President, no one knew this was going to happen."

Yet there has been no shortage of warning for Labor itself. John Faulkner, a former national president of the party, spoke of Labor's deep cultural problems and likened the people who control the party to "the ship's captain steering for an iceberg." Since Faulkner made those remarks three months ago, what's changed? Nothing substantial, except that Labor's poll numbers have grown worse.

The longer-run trend is downward. Labor in NSW lost power in March with a punishing 25 per cent of the primary vote, a record low. Federal Labor has recently recorded 27 or 28 per cent in the Herald-Nielsen poll, a record low for either major party in the four decades of the poll's history.

For the first time, Labor faces not only the conservative Coalition on its right but a rising parliamentary party challenging from its left. The greatest beneficiary of Labor's travails, Bob Brown, the Greens leader, thinks it is too late for Labor:

"We are in a new age of politics in Australia where the Greens are becoming a major party and the reform party for the 21st century. The nearest analogy is the rise of the Labor Party a century ago … They will try to take some of the steam out of the Greens cooker, but they can't do what we can do because they're too tied to vested interests."

If Labor continues to stagnate and the Greens continue to build, Labor ultimately will lose its ability to contest elections as a stand-alone party able to govern in its own right. Indeed, that is exactly what happened at last year's election.

"We have shown we're not the Democrats," says Brown. "We have broken into the House of Representatives. We have the highest share of the vote for any minor party since World War II," 12 per cent of the primary vote. "We aren't there to keep the bastards honest" - the famous slogan of the now-defunct Democrats. "We're there to replace the bastards."

The chaos of the Gillard government's asylum-seeker policy is a case study in Labor's new torment on the political rack - Tony Abbott draws voters away from the right and the Greens from the left, ripping the left and right arms from the Labor support base and leaving a helplessly bleeding government in the muddling centre.

This is a new world for Labor. In the ALP of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, there was a simple rule for any electoral dilemma. Facing a choice of moving left or right, the no-fail electoral option was to move right.

Why? Because if Labor alienated voters on the right, they could storm off and vote for the Coalition. That hurt. But voters on the left were captive. Even if they voted for the Democrats or some other minor party, their second or third preferences would always bring their ballots back into the Labor column. That tactic no longer works. The default move to the right is now just as electorally risky as a move to the left. The Greens have demonstrated they now have the critical mass to take seats from Labor.

Is Bob Brown right that the Greens have supplanted Labor as the reform party of the new century? Has Labor exhausted its historic purpose?

"It was set up specifically to make the lives of working people better," says the historian David Day of LaTrobe University. "Workers' compensation, the age pension - but once these sorts of things are in place and society has become more bourgeois and Labor supporters have become more wealthy, Labor needed to reinvent itself."

And it did. Hawke and Keating transformed the economy, and with it they transformed the electoral alignment of the country. By deregulating the economy, they set in motion the market forces that restructured Australia's moribund industrial-protectionist economic-political complex.

The electoral implication? With the old economy went the old unionised workforce. Labor has never really adjusted to this reality. Keating said in 2005 that Labor never comprehended what had happened to it, never understood the market-based economic model that he and Hawke had created, never understood the new electoral reality that came with it. Hawke and Keating had created a new voter base for Labor, but the party threw it away:

"It's a fundamentally flawed strategy. The Labor Party has given up the middle-class, middle-ground, sole-employer, self-employed, small-business voter that Bob Hawke and I generated for it."

How? According to Keating, "because the Labor Party had already run away from our record." The truth is that Keating had become so personally unpopular that the party had no stomach to defend him, or his policies.

It was years after Keating had been voted out of power that the full political consequence of the remade economy became strikingly evident: during the Howard years, but largely because of Hawke-Keating reforms, the number of self-employed people outnumbered the unionised workforce.

In 1978, 57 per cent of the workforce belonged to a union. In 2009 it was 20 per cent. Last year, it stood at 18 per cent, according to the Bureau of Statistics, shrivelling before our very eyes.

How has Labor adjusted? In 2002 it cut the proportion of union delegates to its paramount body, the national conference, from 60 per cent to 50 per cent. Simon Crean drove this change, and he paid for it with his leadership. Fifty per cent is where it stands to this day. And 50 per cent, in laws governing corporate takeover, is the threshold of control. This union hold on Labor is exercised through the factions, wielded by the factional bosses, the faceless men.

This structure guarantees that Labor is increasingly unrepresentative with every passing year. The industry minister in the Hawke and Keating government, the late John Button, argued that this close affiliation was a "bad habit". Button, a wit and a highly effective minister, was factionally unaligned.

He wrote in a perceptive 2002 contribution to Quarterly Essay: "What the ALP and the union movement have most in common now is a membership steadily declining, and for similar reasons. Both have been slow to adapt to changing social circumstances; both share, in various degrees, an aversion to democratic member participation; both have hierarchies often seen as out of touch.

"The ALP and the unions are like two old mates waiting at a bus stop on shaky legs, leaning on each other for support, reminiscing about the past and hoping something will turn up; a bus, an ambulance or someone like Bob Hawke."

There is no one like Hawke; Rudd occupied the same stratosphere of popularity, but where Hawke came from the party's power centre, Rudd was and is on its power periphery. Rudd was its bus and it rode the Rudd phenomenon until it dispensed with the ride, but now Labor increasingly looks like it needs an ambulance.

Button pointed to the increasing disconnect between the union-controlled Labor Party and the union-free voters that the new economy was creating: "Membership of unions in the growth sectors of the economy - information technology, telecommunications, electronics, biotechnology and financial and business services - is low, sometimes tiny."

What should Labor do? In their review of Labor after the 2010 election, three of the party's wise men - Carr, Faulkner and the former Victorian premier Steve Bracks - recommended opening up the party to allow its ordinary members to have a bigger voice, diminishing the dominance of the unions and the machine men.

Faulkner has publicly despaired at modern Labor's state of permanent genuflection to the focus group, made up of uncommitted voters hand-picked for their lack of belief. Faulkner has decried the mentality of a party that puts more emphasis on the views of the people who do not belong to it than the ones who do.

These recommendations to democratise the party are supposed to be debated at the Labor national conference in December. But who controls the conference? The same people that Faulkner, Carr and Bracks want to yield up some of their power.

A former education minister in the Wran government, Labor's Rodney Cavalier, a political historian, has said of Faulkner's calls: "What John said was unassailably correct. There's probably fewer than 30 people in the whole of NSW who would disagree with him, but every one of those 30 people has a vested, material interest in seeing [reform] defeated.

"If John Faulkner's thoughts come to pass, it is the end of the political careers of most of our senators and a good number of lower house members and machine operatives. They cannot survive with the oxygen of democracy."

He is talking of the faceless men and, in particular, the Right faction bosses and union leaders who dominate the party's decision-making machinery. The chance that they will surrender control? "Zero," says Cavalier who, like Faulkner, is from the party's Left faction.

There has, however, been some reform already along the lines recommended by the review. In NSW, for instance, the Labor state conference has agreed to allow 48 of its 112 delegates to the national conference to be chosen by its branch members instead of the unions and head office. "This shows that, even in the belly of the beast - the NSW Right - change is possible," said a Left operative.

The catch? There are two. First, the 48 delegates will still constitute a minority of 43 per cent, and, second, the change will not take effect until the national conference after this year's. So the change seems to be mainly cosmetic, and, in any case, delayed until 2014. It may be change, but it's not enough to break the party free of its union-faction stranglehold. This deep institutional, structural change is the hardest. That's why it's probably the most important.

Other change is needed. The Liberals' pollster Mark Textor posed this question: "You've got to ask: what does Labor stand for? It's the most important thing in politics."

It's hard to answer at the moment. The Prime Minister tells us she believes in setting the alarm clock early and the value of work. Is that the best Labor can do? Belief is central to purpose and to appeal. Labor has a crisis of belief.

History counsels against the last rites for the Labor Party. The conservative New Zealand prime minister, John Key, recently suggested his Australian counterparts resist the temptation to write off Labor with its primary vote of 27 or 28 per cent. His party, the Nationals, slumped to a nadir of 20 per cent. Now they are in government.

Does Bob Carr still think it's game over, comrade? "There is a greater volatility, but I think it is recoverable. We have to counter the Greens by talking about how Labor can deliver Greens environmental ambitions, whether pricing carbon or saving forests, but with an economic edge. We have to be the party that wins on economic management. Can we straddle both? Absolutely."

His second key point is the centrality of the leader in revitalising a party. "The leader - and his or her office - really are the party, or at least a large section of the party. In the end it's the creativity of the leader who persuades the electorate that their side of politics is still relevant."

But changing leader is the easiest part, as Labor has demonstrated, time and again. It's a trick with diminishing returns. It was the casual and brutal dispatching of Rudd that has brought Labor to its greatest crisis since the Split of the 1950s and '60s. For a party in a crisis of belief, purpose and representativeness, a change of leadership by itself is pointless. Yet, with the collapse of popular trust and authority of Julia Gillard, a new leader - or perhaps an old one - may be the change that is the prerequisite to all other change.


Marriage and children

The middle class are OK but not so those at the bottom

It dawned on Paul Watson after his bucks party that of the nine mates in attendance eight had children but only one was married. "That's why there wasn't much talk of weddings," he recalls.

The 31-year-old data engineer from Marrickville had stumbled upon a phenomenon that has been highlighted in a controversial report about Australian families: an increasing number of children are being born out of wedlock.

The author of For Kids' Sake, Patrick Parkinson, a law professor at Sydney University, says the rise in ex-nuptial births and the prevalence of divorce and lone parent families are major reasons for a deterioration in children's well-being. The remedy, he argues, lies in strengthening relationships, in particular in encouraging people to get married and stay married. The nation needs a mass expansion of relationship and parent education courses, led by trained volunteers, he says.

But not everyone agrees with Parkinson's premise that life for children is much worse than a decade or two ago, and some see in his remedy just another example of middle-class welfare.

Michael Dunne, professor of social epidemiology at the Queensland University of Technology, says data from around the developed world, including Australia, shows that for most children, life is getting better, not worse.

An avalanche of notifications to child protection agencies has been prompted by mandatory reporting and greater sensitivity to children's welfare, but the actual proportion of physical and sexual abuse cases that are substantiated has declined, Professor Dunne said.

The same is not true for emotional abuse and neglect, so there is still plenty of work for child protection agencies, "but at the very serious end of child abuse there is no indication things have got worse".

Bullying of school children has declined dramatically since the 1990s, according to a study in 27 European countries and North America, he says, and there is no reason to believe the situation is different here. "There is no increase in nastiness to children that they're reporting," he says.

Bryan Rodgers, professor of family, health and well-being at the Australian National University, said the evidence showed Australians in their 20s reported less abuse and neglect than did the generation aged in their 40s.

This was despite younger people being more likely to have parents who were divorced or separated. "In the period where the likelihood of parental divorce doubled, kids were saying they were less likely to be abused or neglected," he said.

The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, author of Delinquent-Prone Communities, pointed to a fall in most categories of crime over the decade, and a plateauing in assaults, as indication that parents are doing something right. Deaths from heroin overdose are also one-third of what they were in 2001. "I'm not saying it's not a good thing to have close family relations, and divorce can be highly traumatising, but pressing the panic button is unjustified," he said.

What we may be seeing, says Dunne, is a concentration of problems in a relatively small proportion of families, rather than the population-wide crisis that alarms Parkinson. In NSW, for example, the top 11 per cent of "frequently reported" sibling groups account for half the child abuse reports to Community Services.

And that's why Dunne calls Parkinson's plan for an exponential increase in family education courses as "middle-class" welfare.

What is needed, he says, are better interventions for seriously dysfunctional families.

"You don't see family life falling apart for the majority," he says, "but it is definitely under threat for those suffering multiple disadvantages."

Experienced social workers, such as Linda Mondy, of UnitingCare Burnside, say they encounter families with much more complex problems than 20 years ago. "What I've noticed is an increase in alcohol and other drug use, and domestic violence," she says.

Some drug users from the '80s and '90s have carried the habit from their youth into their parenting years, says Professor Richard Mattick, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

And increased alcohol consumption due to the switch to wine and higher alcohol content in beverages is a big problem for many families.

Life for some children has always been cruel. Are greater proportions suffering today? That can depend on the statistics used, experts say, while applauding Parkinson for trying to improve children's well-being.

Whether a focus on marriage, rather than say on alcohol abuse and domestic violence, is useful remains contentious.

For most, marriage is a logical step. Paul Watson, who marries Anja-Mia Woodward on October 2, after having lived together for five years, wants a public celebration of his commitment. He believes marriage can provide children with a sense of security. "It's not completely rational but it was something we felt was right," he said.


9 September, 2011

Face-saving deal that would include Malaysia, PNG and Nauru may solve boatpeople impasse

A FACE-saving deal that includes Labor's Malaysian refugee swap and offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island has emerged as the most likely solution to the nation's border protection impasse.

The Australian Online understands Labor and the opposition are considering a compromise which would put offshore processing beyond doubt, while allowing transfer arrangements in which asylum-seekers are relocated to third countries such as Malaysia.

It's understood an Immigration Department briefing to Tony Abbott this week, which echoed similar advice to the government, made a strong case for both the Malaysian transfer and offshore processing.

Julia Gillard is convening a crisis meeting of senior ministers in Canberra today to finalise the government's strategy on border protection, as well as finding a way forward for its $11 billion mining tax, which is struggling to find support in the parliament.

Officially, both the government and the opposition are refusing to cede ground following last week's High Court ruling declaring the Malaysian Solution invalid and putting offshore processing in doubt.

But without a deal to break the stalemate, both sides are left without an effective border protection policy.

Reopening Australia's detention centre on Nauru remains the opposition's preferred solution, while the government says its Malaysian Solution is now the only effective deterrent against people-smugglers.

There is bipartisan agreement on restarting processing on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

Mr Abbott said he was awaiting a formal proposal from the government.

“It's up to the government to give us its new policy and at the moment the Prime Minister appears to be paralysed; paralysed on the one hand by the prospect of more boats and on the other hand by the prospect of a revolt from the Greens and the Left,” the Opposition Leader told Nine's Today Show.

Former immigration minister Amanda Vanstone said immigration department predictions of 600 asylum-seeker arrivals a month under onshore-only processing were conservative.

She warned of a “come on down approach” unless offshore processing was restored.

“Look I haven't seen this briefing (but) you are going to get thousands of people coming,” said Ms Vanstone, who served as immigration minister for three years under the Howard government.

“I thought the 600-700 a month figure was a bit conservative myself. If you had onshore processing you would absolutely have overflowing detention centres.”

Ms Vanstone said a tougher approach was needed on boatpeople and urged for Howard-era temporary protection sisas to be revived and Nauru reopened.


Sleazy unions

CRAIG Thomson and Bill Ludwig are merely the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that tip lie far deeper issues of union governance. Simply put, the Industrial Relations Club is back in control. That is the system and culture that produced these characters. And that is the system and culture the Gillard government is doing all it can to entrench.

The paradox is that while government is making unions ever more powerful, they have become ever less relevant to ordinary Australians. At their peak in the late 1950s, 60 per cent of employees belonged to a union.

This year, despite the Fair Work Act, barely 20 per cent of full-time employees, and only 14 per cent of part-time employees, are union members. That is a lower share than in 1911, before Australian unionism entered its growth phase.

It is a myth that that collapse is due to the decline in manufacturing. In fact, less than a 10th of the fall in union membership since the early 90s reflects reductions in manufacturing's share of total employment. If anything, the changing structure of employment has favoured unionism, as growth in the public sector has swollen education and health, which now account for 40 per cent of all union members.

And it is also a myth that many non-members would like to join a union. In fact, 80 per cent of non-members say they prefer not being in a union. Rather, unionism's problem is that it faces a crisis of declining demand, as social and economic change makes its services less attractive to potential consumers.

Rising education levels and more efficient labour markets mean fewer employees are locked in to their present employer, eroding unions' role as protection against unfair treatment. And even where those protections are needed, they are increasingly provided by statutory and common law rights, for example, against unfair dismissal.

Nor are unions still needed to give employees a voice in setting working conditions. Rather, that function is met through human resource management, albeit more effectively in some workplaces than others.

Finally, unions are no longer able to secure for their members wages durably above competitive levels. Rather, with firms exposed to ever greater competition, the monopoly rents in which unions once shared are largely a thing of the past. And as they have gone, so has union membership as an entry ticket into the benefits of a price-raising cartel.

But monopolists never opt for euthanasia. Rather, faced with collapsing market demand, they invariably seek government protection. And few monopolists are as well placed to do so as the unions. Their block votes grant them a controlling ownership stake in the ALP. And as well as giving Labor's factions crucial votes, the unions provide jobs that are springboards for tomorrow's faction leaders and refuges for yesterday's men.

Nor is that on a small scale. In 1975, when the unions had nearly three million members, they employed barely 2000 officials. Now, with only 1.8 million members, they employ more than 4000. In no other activity has productivity declined so sharply, reaching a ratio of officials to members five times that in Britain. Even more importantly, the composition of that employment has changed dramatically.

In the early 70s, union officials were overwhelmingly drawn from their members' ranks. As a study found, "the typical leader of a manual union worked as a labourer from the age of 14". In contrast, today's officials are twice as likely as their members to be university educated, with an even greater gap in the unions whose members are in the private sector. And it is in those unions too that officials are least likely to have worked on the shop floor.

Rather, with amalgamations making their membership more diverse and fragmented, and hence poorly placed to monitor union decisions, union leadership has become a co-option game, marred only by turf wars between rival factions.

It is those sinecures that unionism's decline threatens. But Julia Gillard's agenda goes far beyond protecting factional fiefdoms. Rather, she has sought to give Labor a renewed union power base, with unique access to coercive and financial resources.

The coercive powers centre on Fair Work Australia: of the 11 full-time appointments Gillard made to FWA as workplace relations minister, nine have a union background. And those nine have performed to script, not merely in re-regulating the labour market but in failing in their statutory duty to hold unions such as Thomson's to account.

As for the financial resources, they centre on the industry super funds. Under the Fair Work Act, the funds have become default recipients of two-thirds of the compulsory savings collected by the super guarantee.

And they will be the largest beneficiaries of that guarantee's increase. With those moneys flowing in, by 2025 the industry funds will control some $1.5 trillion dollars in assets, exceeding Australia's present national income.

That wealth brings patronage opportunities on an unprecedented scale. True, they may have to be shared with those other relics, the employers' associations, who split the directorships with the unions.

But whatever their disagreements, unions and employers have united in opposing moves to fully align the funds' governance and disclosure standards, and those for unions and employers' associations more broadly, with those for public companies.

The predictable result is scandals such as that enveloping Bernie Riordan, Labor power-broker and national secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, over claims (that Riordan will vigorously defend) that he received $1.8 million in fees for serving on four boards connected with members' super funds, despite those funds' shockingly poor performance. And while government and unions could barely contain their outrage about executive remuneration, they have had nothing to say about making these directors, who manage their members' forced savings, as accountable as directors regulated under the corporations law.

This then is the Gillard vision: ever more powerful unions controlling ever larger shares of national savings, but subject to fewer disclosure and governance requirements than the smallest listed entity.

What a resource for Labor to draw on in the future. And what a magnet for the sleaze buckets it could drag in its wake.


Tax exemption for Aussie ship owners

This is an understandable move but to have any effect, some way would have to be found to nobble the very Bolshie MUA. Their union is the main reason why nobody wants to crew ships with Australian seamen. They have very effectively done themnselves out of a lot of jobs

AUSTRALIAN companies that register a vessel in Australia will be exempted from company tax from July 2012.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has described the reforms as "the most far-reaching overhaul of our shipping industry ever undertaken".

Mr Albanese said the vessels would have to be Australian flagged and remain registered in Australia for 10 years.

"What many people do not know is that 99 per cent of Australia's international trade is carried by ships, yet only half of one per cent of that trade is carried by Australian-flagged vessels," he told a forum at Sydney's Australian National Maritime Museum on Friday.

"Our ports manage 10 per cent of the world's entire sea trade."

Mr Albanese said the reforms would have safety and environmental benefits. The reforms include an Australian international shipping register and a new licensing regime applying to Australian resident companies.

The commonwealth defines them as firms that are incorporated in Australia or have business with central management and control in Australia with shareholders who are residents of Australia.


Rescue me

Meegan Cornforth

Where once it was a mark of pride to take care of oneself in difficult situations, there is now an expectation that the government should save us, salve us, and secure us in all areas of our lives.

For example, travelers and expats are increasingly expecting the government to rescue them from volatile foreign hotspots.

A further example of our coddled citizenry comes from a couple who, according to Richardson, queried whether they could claim frequent flyer points from a government-arranged emergency flight out of Egypt during the recent upheavals – where the taxpayer was footing the bill.

Government is a mechanism to ensure a degree of order, national security, and representation in our lives. It is not a substitute parent whose role is to fund, soothe and cater to the demands of overindulged and heedless children, although with pandering to the polls and policy-on-the-run, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

A recent commercial on television showed a fit, young man offering his dole cheque to win tickets to a rugby competition. What was most striking about this ad – its tongue-in-cheek nature notwithstanding – was the assumption that it’s normal for a healthy and able-bodied man to be on welfare.

Such attitudes are becoming commonplace in today’s dysfunctional welfare society, but this is certainly not desirable. Welfare statism effectively reduces elements of its citizenry to an enfeebled and dependent state, unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives, actions and decisions. And it infuses the culture with a widespread belief that it’s up to the government to fix and manage just about everything, including help in claiming air miles.

The final word goes to acting Foreign Minister, Craig Emerson, who said recently: ‘There are limits to what the Australian government can do in a consular crisis.’ There are indeed limits to what the Australian government, or any government for that matter, can do – and should do – in our lives. Period.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 02 September 2011. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

8 September, 2011

Abbott being pigheaded over illegal immigration

He wants the Labor Party to eat crow by going all the way back to the old conservative policy

TONY ABBOTT is refusing to help the government revive the Malaysia plan despite being told by senior Immigration Department officials that a return to the Pacific solution will not stop the boats and that a "game changer" like Malaysia was needed.

The same officials warned separately yesterday that the proposal by the Labor Left to revert to onshore processing would result in more than 600 arrivals by boat a month, swamping domestic detention facilities in a year, and resulting in the cultural problems facing European cities with a high influx of immigrants.

The Opposition Leader was unmoved last night, ensuring the policy stalemate will continue. Before the briefing he said that "as far as I am concerned, Malaysia is out" and that remained his position afterwards.

He said the briefing by officials was "helpful" but he then wrote to Julia Gillard offering only to help revive the Pacific solution locations of Nauru and Manus Island.

Last week, the High Court ruled invalid the Malaysia plan which would have seen 800 asylum seekers returned swiftly to Malaysia in return for Australia accepting 4000 extra refugees. The ruling also cast a legal cloud over the Pacific solution locations of Nauru and Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea,

The government wants Coalition support to legislate to circumvent the High Court decision to bring Malaysia and Manus Island back in play.

In yesterday's briefing, provided by the departmental secretary Andrew Metcalfe and other senior officials, Mr Abbott was told that the Pacific solution, scrapped by Labor in 2008, would not work a second time.

It was now known that the vast majority of asylum seekers who were sent to those islands ended up in Australia or New Zealand and if the Pacific centres were reopened, they would be regarded as little more than processing centres, and be no more a deterrent than Christmas Island. The most effective measure the Howard government took was to "tow back" about seven boats to the departure point of Indonesia. "It had an intensely powerful effect," and official said.

Towing back boats was dangerous, the Indonesians would no longer allow it, and anyway, people smugglers had learnt to sabotage the boats to prevent being towed back, Mr Abbott was told.

But Malaysia, which the officials called "virtual tow-back", would send the same strong message by sending people swiftly to the point of departure.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, urged Mr Abbott to get behind Malaysia. "The advice to us is that the most effective deterrent is to return people to where they began the boat journey and tell them that they do not receive any preferential treatment in terms of resettlement in Australia," he said.

"As opposed to Nauru - where people do end up in Australia if they're regarded as genuine refugees; 95 per cent of people regarded as genuine refugees ended up in Australia or New Zealand under the Howard government Pacific model. That's not a disincentive."

Ms Gillard, who is in New Zealand for the Pacific Islands Forum, said she had no intention of discussing asylum-seeker policy with the President of Nauru, Marcus Stephen.

Mr Stephen said he had met Ms Gillard twice since the forum began Tuesday, but the Pacific solution had not been raised. "I believe it's an issue that Australia needs to sort itself out first, it's a domestic issue for them," Mr Stephen said. "If Australia wants to raise it, that's up to Australia."

Mr Stephen called for an end to criticisms of the Nauruan government over conditions in the privately run detention centre when it was used to process asylum seekers. "I've been saying last year that this Nauru bashing, which I didn't appreciate, the centre wasn't run by us. I hope people are clear that we don't run the centre. I would prefer that Nauru is left out of the debate," he said.


Seven Queensland teachers still in classrooms despite sex, violence offences

SEVEN teachers who have committed serious offences are currently teaching in Queensland classrooms. Two committed robberies with violence, while the rest faced court for a range of sexual offences.

The teachers are set to be deregistered under proposed laws but because they weren't sentenced to imprisonment they will be able to reapply for registration. Six out of the seven did not have convictions recorded against them.

The State Opposition has questioned the appropriateness of some of the seven teachers potentially being allowed to teach. It follows legislation introduced into State Parliament which proposes a lifetime classroom ban for any teacher convicted of a serious offence and sentenced to jail.

Education Minister Cameron Dick said the proposed amended legislation would allow those convicted of serious offences but who were not sentenced to imprisonment to gain registration under exceptional circumstances. Their registration would be cancelled automatically and they would have to reapply to teach.

Mr Dick said they would be required to go through a two-stage process to reregister, including an eligibility test and a presumption against their registration when reapplying to the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT).

QCT director John Ryan said that of the seven teachers, four had been charged with carnal knowledge-type offences involving girls aged 10 to 16 years. Three of those offences involved 16 or 17-year-old boys dating back to the late 1960s.

Mr Ryan said six of the seven registered teachers did not have a conviction recorded against them and all of the cases had been reviewed by the QCT, with registration granted under exceptional circumstances.

But opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg raised concerns about those charged with robbery with violence, in particular, still being allowed to teach.

Dr Flegg agreed that if a teacher was not sentenced to jail the case should be decided on its merit. But he said the impressionable nature of children needed to be taken into account and the QCT should err on the side of caution. "I don't think that Queenslanders would be particularly keen to see violent robbers teaching children in a school," he said.

"And I think there is also the potential problem that information, particularly in the modern technological era, is likely to become public information if somebody is holding a position like a teacher, which therefore undermines the authority of that teacher anyway. "Therefore I think (those convicted of) serious violence offences of that nature ... should be looking for careers other than teaching in the classroom."


Former Victorian Labor government couldn't even run a railway station

New government has to pick up the pieces after design failure

LIFTS at a recently rebuilt western suburbs railway station have broken more than 100 times in 10 months, repeatedly leaving wheelchair passengers stranded on platforms or unable to get to trains.

The $93 million Laverton station, which opened last year, has stairs and lifts to get people onto platforms. Unlike most other stations with elevated entrances, it has no ramps.

Complaints to the Department of Transport about the station after it reopened were passed to train operator Metro. It in turn said the department had been responsible for the station's design, but attempted to resolve the issue by giving disabled passengers taxi vouchers to get to other railway stations with ramps.
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Greens MP Colleen Hartland tabled a question in Parliament asking how many times the lifts at Laverton broke down between July 2010 and last April.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder told Parliament in his reply that they were inoperative on 105 occasions. And he said that a $15 million footbridge at Footscray station, also built last year without ramps, had lifts that broke down 117 times over the same period.

"It is quite clear that they didn't put any thought into these two stations," Ms Hartland said.

The stations were unsafe without ramps, she said, because in an emergency wheelchair passengers and parents with prams needed an alternative to broken lifts. "They need ramps at these stations before someone is seriously injured."

Altona Meadows resident Shanika Dannangoda was at the station yesterday with her daughter Hasara, and the lifts were working. Ms Dannangoda said she had previously carried her pram down the station's steep stairs when the lifts were out.

"Luckily my parents were there. If they hadn't been and someone wanted to help me I could've done it, but you can't expect people to come and help you all the time. For a wheelchair person it's even worse."

Ms Dannangoda couldn't understand why the ramps on the old station hadn't been replaced. "It was easier to walk on the ramp rather than climbing up a heap of stairs."

Mr Mulder said the former government approved plans to build the station without ramps. "Commuters left stranded at places like Laverton and Footscray have every right to be angry," he said.

But he stopped short of promising to install ramps at the two stations - although escalators and perhaps ramps will be installed as part of a pending Footscray station upgrade.

Mr Mulder said lifts at both stations needed fixing quickly when they broke. "I have spoken to the department and Metro about this."

The reliability of the lifts at Laverton has not been the only problem. A man who died at the station last year had to be carried out across tracks because an ambulance trolley would not fit in the lifts.


Costa on Rudd and Gillard

Former NSW ALP treasurer and strongman of economic realism points to half-baked Federal policies and says Federal Labor must ditch the Greens

At the heart of Labor's problems are internal structural conflicts and policy failings that Rudd created or exacerbated. Gillard's chalice was well and truly poisoned when she received it.

It was Rudd who undermined Labor's economic credentials with his overblown anti-capitalist rhetoric and overcooked policy response to the global financial crisis. So desperate was he to avoid a small technical recession that he unleashed an undisciplined spending spree that, despite its Orwellian marketing, provided little in quality economic infrastructure. Rudd was able to manipulate the short-term quarterly aggregate economic data sufficiently to avoid a technical recession, but this manipulation has left Labor with the political legacy of programs such as Building the Education Revolution, the pink batts installation and the cash for clunkers scheme, which have become synonymous (rightly or wrongly) in the public mind with government incompetence and mismanagement.

Massive spending programs, such as the National Broadband Network, have added to the perception of a clueless administration spending recklessly on frivolous luxuries that are high risk and of no immediate consequence to the real day-to-day concerns of people struggling with cost-of-living pressures and urban congestion.

Rudd was allegedly removed by the self-styled Labor powerbrokers because of his personal style and his dysfunctional management of the cabinet and caucus. Clearly he upset the wrong people. But the wrong people removed him for the wrong reasons.

The greatest long-term damage Rudd did to Labor was to overturn the successful Hawke-Keating governments' approach to economic management. The Hawke-Keating governments provided economic prosperity through competition policy, product market deregulation, strategic privatisation, flexible labour markets and a targeted improvement to the social safety net. The Rudd-Gillard governments have resurrected discredited naive Keynesianism (stimulus and high levels of government spending), economic cargo cultism (big government-funded projects such as the NBN) and labour market reregulation as the preferred approach to economic policy. In the public mind, the Rudd-Gillard governments are a rerun of the disastrous policy approach of the Whitlam government, without Gough Whitlam's arguable defence that he was blindsided by stagflation.

Gillard supporters, like many sympathetic political commentators, desperately have sought to shore up support for Gillard with the claim that a change of prime minister would entrench the so-called NSW disease federally. Superficially, this analysis appears correct. Changing leaders alone will not improve Labor's medium-term prospects.

But the analysis is superficial and misses the key element of the so-called NSW disease. The political undermining of the Iemma government by the party machine and sections of the union movement destroyed the historically successful division of labour between the party machine and the parliamentary caucus on the formulation of government policy.

Rudd, it should be remembered, despite a deal with Morris Iemma, chose to stand back and allow this situation to occur.

The party, through its structures such as the party branches and the party conference, worked successfully when it provided policy direction and policy guidance to parliamentary Labor. It failed miserably when it sought to directly dictate to the caucus and government on how it should govern in the interests of the broader electorate.

As unpalatable as it is to some in the Labor Party, the Labor Party conference should determine Labor Party policy, not Labor government policy. Political parties are dominated by sectional interests; governments govern for the general interest.

The NSW disease is as much about policy formulation responsibility as it is about frequent leadership change. When governments are forced to govern to meet the concerns of sectional interests rather than the general interest they are doomed to political failure. Sectional interests rarely align well with the general interest. This is the key lesson of NSW. Having destroyed the Iemma government and successfully imposed its sectional agenda on the new government, the union movement and the party machine paralysed successive government policy formulation, largely contributing to the disastrous election defeat.

The real lesson from NSW for Gillard is that her alliance with the Greens is killing her politically and will lead to inevitable electoral disaster of NSW proportions for Labor if a circuit-breaker is not found. The alliance was ill-conceived from the start. It forces the government, in key policy areas, to promote the sectional interests of the Greens above the general interest of the electorate. Gillard's real NSW disease is her alliance with the Greens.

Gillard's government may be terminal but the Labor Party, if it is to continue as a credible independent political force, needs to consider how it can best position itself for recovery. Gillard, in the interests of Labor's political future, needs to be bold and, if need be, self-sacrificing. She needs to jettison Labor's formal alliance with the Greens and reassert Labor's policy independence even if it triggers an early election.

Labor cannot afford to fight the next election with the baggage of political and policy failure the alliance with the Greens has inflicted. Labor's future lies in winning back a large part of the near 90 per cent of the electorate that won't vote Green.

It can never do this while it remains in the policy straitjacket the formal alliance with the Greens requires.


Geert Wilders to visit Australia?

A DUTCH MP accused of racial vilification for his hostile views on Islam has been invited to visit Australia by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi.

Geert Wilders, who narrowly avoided conviction in his own country for likening the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf, hopes to visit here this year or next.

In an interview with the ABC's Foreign Correspondent which aired last night, the right-wing MP depicted Liberal Senator Bernardi as a kindred spirit.

"I met one of your senators, Senator Cory Bernardi, not so long ago. He invited me to help him at least when I would visit Australia, and I will certainly do that," he told the ABC.

Privately, other Liberals were fuming about the incident claiming it was another embarrassment from Senator Bernardi.

Senator Bernardi told The Advertiser he had met with around a dozen people while on a parliamentary study tour in April and had extended all a courtesy invitation, along the lines of "if you're in Australia, look me up".

But in a separate statement, he did concede that he had also offered to help with introductions and logistics.

"He (Mr Wilders) did indicate that he was considering coming to Australia and I extended an invitation to assist him with his schedule," Senator Bernardi said in a statement.

Senator Bernardi has courted controversy himself on previous occasions for campaigning against the Islamic head-dress the Burqa, and against Sharia Law and Sharia banking.

The Liberal frontbencher said he supported the right of free speech but had no involvement in planning an Australian visit for Mr Wilders.


7 September, 2011

Julia Gillard enlists Tony Abbott on offshore processing of asylum-seekers

JULIA Gillard has taken her first step towards enlisting the opposition to restore offshore processing of asylum-seekers, writing to Tony Abbott in defiance of pressure from the Labor Left and the Greens to switch to an onshore regime.

And the Opposition Leader has agreed to co-operate on legislation to circumvent last week's High Court ruling that struck out Labor's existing border security system, conceding that the national interest demands collaboration. The move to bipartisanship came yesterday as senior government figures admitted to a sense of urgency about the need to deliver a policy response to the High Court declaration that Labor could not proceed with its plans to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 proven refugees.

With the policy aimed at discouraging people-smuggling, it is understood a cabinet meeting on Monday night heard it was vital to deliver a swift legislative response to avoid a new flood of boats arriving off northern Australia.

But cabinet delayed a resolution, calling for more information amid concern any decision made in haste could expose the government to further High Court challenges.

Since last week's verdict shifted the goalposts on border security, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have traded blows. Mr Abbott has urged Labor to reopen a Howard-era processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru; Ms Gillard has insisted her legal advice makes it clear that the court decision put a cloud over offshore processing in any location. As Greens, Labor and Liberal MPs and former Labor ministers yesterday continued arguing against offshore processing, the phony war ended.

The Prime Minister wrote to Mr Abbott to offer him briefings from senior bureaucrats about the implications of the High Court decision and "their analysis of

the different policy approaches that are available to respond".

"I note your recent comments about your willingness to work in the national interest to restore the capacity of the executive to enact legislation which will establish appropriate processes for Australia's management and handling of asylum-seekers," Ms Gillard wrote, before leaving Australia for a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in New Zealand.

In a written response accepting the briefings, which are expected to be given today, Mr Abbott made it clear he agreed with Ms Gillard on the need to re-establish the legal framework to allow offshore processing.

"Since the High Court's decision last week, the government has effectively lacked a policy to deal with illegal boat arrivals and it's hardly in the national interest for this to persist," he wrote.

He told Ms Gillard he still believed the High Court ruling did not affect processing on Nauru and he supported the use of temporary protection visas and turning boats around as they approached Australia if it was safe to do so.

"Still, if the government remains committed to offshore processing, as it has been since you first announced the so-called East Timor solution, the opposition will co-operate in putting this beyond legal doubt," he wrote.

As necessity drove the political enemies together, Greens leader Bob Brown accused them of being out of step with public opinion on the matter. "When you do look at the most recent Nielsen poll, 53 per cent of Australians believe that asylum-seekers should be brought ashore and processed," Senator Brown told ABC radio.

He said offshore processing eroded the nation's belief that it observed the concept of a fair go.

Michael Lavarch, who was attorney-general in the Keating government, questioned the effectiveness of amending the Migration Act to allow offshore processing to continue.

Professor Lavarch, the executive dean of the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology, said the High Court had signalled it was uncomfortable with offshore processing and attempts to lock up people for indefinite periods.

"Maybe it's time to go back to the starting blocks and accept that Australia should be dealing with asylum-seekers in mainland Australia through onshore processing and assessment regimes," he said.

Another former Keating government minister, Carmen Lawrence, said the government should view the High Court's decision as an opportunity to move towards mainland processing of asylum-seekers, saying it was "beyond the pale" to transfer people to third countries.

"They should take the opportunity to rethink entirely the offshore processing of asylum-seekers and move to what is the only sensible option in my view, which is onshore processing with brief detention and put the money that's saved into working in the regional community and beyond into trying to reduce the pressures that are pushing people out of their homes and into boats," she said.

Dr Lawrence quit the Labor front bench in 2002 because Ms Gillard, then the party's immigration spokeswoman, developed a policy that retained the concept of mandatory detention.

Current Labor backbencher and former human rights lawyer Melissa Parke said the High Court judgment made clear that the Howard government's Pacific Solution was illegal under the Migration Act.

"The terrible irony is that while the Coalition wrongly demonised asylum-seekers as illegals, they were busy administering an illegal policy," Ms Parke said. "My view is that onshore processing is the safest, most humane and cost-effective approach to what is a difficult issue, but not a particularly big problem."

Liberal MP Judi Moylan, who during the Howard government's term strongly rejected offshore processing, said she remained opposed to processing in Nauru and believed the Malaysia Solution was "dreadful".

"I think we should be processing onshore and we should put an end to mandatory detention - just long enough to do the necessary health and security checks of people," Ms Moylan said.


The real danger to our children

Frank Furedi

SOMETIMES the most well-intentioned initiatives to protect children end up with unexpectedly disorienting consequences for everyone concerned.

The experience of the past three decades indicates that an understandable concern with the safety and wellbeing of children can swiftly mutate into a zealous crusade that often incites parents into a state of panic. That is why the announcement by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh that the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Program will become part of the school curriculum for Prep to Year 9 students fills me with dread.

The Daniel Morcombe Foundation will receive official support for its campaign to promote awareness about child protection in schools. Bruce and Denise Morcombe, whose 13-year-old son was allegedly abducted and killed eight years ago, were appointed as child safety ambassadors by Bligh, who stated that she hoped the child safety curriculum would be adopted nationally. At first sight there appears to be little that is objectionable about the initiative. To his credit Morcombe has stated that his program does not aim to scare children but to give them "lifesaving skills". Apparently aware that a lot of previous stranger danger initiatives have led to a dramatic erosion of adult-child encounters, Morcombe indicated that "we're not saying everyone is bad; we're saying you need to trust some people".

Unfortunately in today's climate, where intergenerational relations are fraught with tension, the institutionalisation of this initiative in Queensland schools is likely to make a bad situation worse. Teaching children to trust "some people" conveys the idea that it makes sense to mistrust every other adult. Take the example of one of the first stranger danger campaigns launched in 1988 in Leeds by the British Home Office. The campaign created a profound sense of anxiety and as far as the children were concerned the message was that they should mistrust people they did not already know.

Other campaigns organised by the Home Office offered a list of "grown-ups you can trust" -- police officer, security guard, shop assistant, mum with a pram. But apparently everyone else signifies danger. It is likely that children in Queensland who will be instructed that it is OK to trust some people will draw the conclusion that other adults are potential threats to their wellbeing.

What children are likely to learn from such instructions are not so much precious life skills but the habit of suspicion towards the adult world. In circumstances where so many adults are perceived as potential predators, children are actually disempowered from developing the kind of intuition that helps them to distinguish between friend and foe or how to anticipate trouble. The division of a world into people who can and cannot be trusted provides little guidance for the negotiation of the ambiguities of routine personal encounters.

The questions that Australian policymakers and educators should be asking themselves is do we need to introduce even more suspicion towards intergenerational interaction in schools? Parents already carefully scrutinise the behaviour of adults who talk to their children. Time and again, mothers and fathers will tell you that "the world has changed" and "you just don't know who is out there". Australia already possesses a flourishing child protection industry and anxieties about the prevalence of pedophilia are widespread. So if there is a problem, it is not that Australians are not suspicious enough but that when it comes to adult-child relations they are often prone to suspecting the worst.

That's why it is difficult to understand Bruce Morcombe's statement when he stated that "Daniel's abduction is a defining moment in terms of Queensland parents collectively recognising that child safety is important".

Queensland parents may have many failings but a failure to recognise the importance of child safety is not one of them. And the last thing Australian children need is yet another safety campaign that will have the unintended consequence of discouraging them from engaging with an uncertain world.

The most regrettable outcome of child protection policies that target strangers is the diminishing of intergenerational encounters. It is no exaggeration to state that a growing number of adults feel awkward and confused when they are in close physical proximity to children that they do not know. Nor is this sense of unease confined to intergenerational interaction between strangers. Many teachers and nursery staff confide that they often feel self-conscious in their relationships with children in their care. They understand that frequently an unintended remark or a physical gesture can be easily misinterpreted by others and that they will be judged guilty until they can prove their innocence.

In the present climate adults often feel uneasy about acting on their healthy intuition and feel forced to weigh up whether, and how, to interact with a child they have encountered. Such calculated behaviour alters the quality of that interaction. It no longer represents an act that is founded on doing what a man or woman feels is right -- it is an act that is influenced by calculations about how it will be interpreted by others and by anxieties that it should not be misconstrued.

Worse still is the fact that many adults have decided the best policy to adopt is to keep their distance from other people's children. Such a course of action is motivated by the conviction that they should avoid putting themselves in situations where their actions can be misinterpreted. Arguably, the disengagement of many adults from the world of children represents a far greater danger than the threat posed by a -- thankfully -- tiny group of predators. The best guarantee of children's safety is the exercise of adult responsibility towards the younger generation. It is when adults take it on themselves to keep an eye on children -- and not just simply their own -- that youngsters can learn to feel genuinely safe.

Instead of fostering suspicion towards grown-ups, society should encourage and cultivate a sense of trust in the good intentions of the older generations. Instead of disrupting inter-generational trust, schools should be cultivating it.


Extraordinary: Optus signs up to National Broadband Network gag order

A government business must not be criticized???

OPTUS has promised not to criticise the National Broadband Network in key regions for 15 years under a deal that raises new warnings the $36 billion project will stifle competition.

Just a week after the competition regulator warned that parts of an $11bn deal with Telstra could prove detrimental to competition and consumers, official documents reveal that an $800 million deal with Optus includes an "anti-disparagement" provision.

The provision, designed to help shore up the number of customers using the NBN, stops Optus from being "expressly critical of" or making "any express adverse statement" about the performance of the network.

The ban would apply in the areas where the No 2 telco has agreed to shut down its cable network, which presently passes 2.4 million premises, and is also likely to affect the 504,000 Optus customers who would be migrated to the NBN.

The deal also stops Optus from marketing its wireless data services to target those households in a way that criticises the NBN. But Optus is still "free to compete in the market for the supply of wireless services".

Telstra has promised not to promote its wireless internet services as a direct substitute for the NBN for the next 20 years.

But last week the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission warned Telstra that a clause in its deal with the NBN Co, which is building the network, had the potential to undermine the competition for wireless services.

The development comes as The Australian can reveal that despite forecasts in the NBN Co's corporate plan that up to 35,000 premises at new housing developments would be connected to the NBN by June 30, the first development was not connected until August 8.

NBN Co's executive general manager of new developments, Archie Wilson, said when the corporate plan was issued in December last year it was expected developments already under way would receive fibre.

But the government later clarified that only developments that received council development approval after January 1 would receive fibre, typically about nine months after works start on a new estate.

Mr Wilson said there were already more than 2000 applications to connect about 175,000 premises on so-called greenfield estates over the next three years, with about 50 new applications a week.

The first fibre rollout to a major housing development will be unveiled today at Bunya in western Sydney.

Yesterday, NBN Co said it had reached 600 premises as part of its main rollout on the mainland, 200 more than expected.

The comments came as NBN Co chief Mike Quigley said it had awarded two key contracts that would take to 60 per cent total construction activity to have been allocated.

NBN Co yesterday signed construction contracts for work in Victoria and in Western Australia, following a deal to build in Queensland, ACT and NSW. The timing of the awarding of contracts for the Northern Territory and South Australia remains unclear.

NBN Co has asked the ACCC to authorise its $800m deal with Optus. This is where the ACCC provides immunity for otherwise anti-competitive arrangements on the grounds that the public benefit outweighs the detriment.

The restrictions that NBN Co is seeking with both Optus and Telstra are more akin to the types of clauses found in severance arrangements in employment contracts that restrain employees from speaking negatively about a former employer.

They can also be used in other contracts to protect an investment where the size of the investment is particularly large.

Last night, opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull lashed the provisions as anti-competitive and said they were evidence that federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy would "sacrifice consumers so that the holes in the NBN business case don't become a political problem before 2013".

"The NBN Co's deal with Optus has not been provided with the same statutory waivers from ACCC oversight that the Telstra deal was granted. I would expect that the ACCC will find these anti-competitive measures to be very objectionable," he said.

Prominent economist Henry Ergas said the clause appeared to be designed to restrict Optus's ability to comment freely "because it will create the fear that the comment they make could be viewed as disparaging".

NBN Co spokeswoman Rhonda Griffin would not comment on whether the company would seek to revise the restraint clause in the Optus contract after last week's ACCC concerns, saying the "marketing of Optus wireless services will continue in their HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) areas and elsewhere".

"What it does is restrict the use of adverse statements about the performance of the NBN, and even then, only within the confines of Optus HFC service areas," she said.

Optus defended the provision as limited in scope.

An Optus spokeswoman said that to the extent that further developments in wireless technology enabled faster wireless services to be provided to consumers, Optus would be free to offer those services to its customers.

NBN Co has admitted that wireless internet services in some areas could reach 12 megabits per second -- the NBN entry-level speed -- although in reality advertised rates of 10-25Mbps for wireless connections can drop to less than 2-3Mbps when there are more users.

NBN Co insists that the anti-disparagement clause will have no effect on competition for wireless broadband services because the plan was "to support the migration of customers by ensuring a discouraging marketing environment does not arise".

"In this regard, it is important to note that Optus does not currently promote its wireless services with reference to either its HFC network or Telstra's copper network," NBN Co has told the ACCC.

"On the contrary, Optus promotes its wireless network in terms of speed, coverage, reliability and the value for money that it provides."



Three current articles below. It's all a far cry from my recent experience in the private healthcare system

Patients are experiencing long delays in Queensland emergency departments

SOME patients at Queensland emergency departments are waiting more than two days to be admitted to hospital, a study has found. A snapshot of 19 Queensland emergency departments at 10am on August 29, found three had patients who had waited more than 48 hours for admission to a ward.

The hospitals were included as part of a national study by Australian National University researchers on behalf of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Study author Drew Richardson, a Canberra-based emergency specialist, said while most states had improved since a similar study a year ago, the situation in Queensland and NSW had worsened.

Among 13 Queensland emergency departments which took part in both the 2010 and 2011 studies, the number of patients waiting more than eight hours for admission to a hospital bed a situation known as access block increased from 55 to 78. Thirty-six patients had waited more than 16 hours, up from 23 in 2010.

"Queensland really needs to get its act together," Associate Professor Richardson said. "Overcrowded emergency departments, unfortunately, are dangerous places to be. You're still better off in hospital than not in hospital if you need to be there but when waiting times blow out because the departments are overcrowded, the hospitals just can't deliver the high quality care that they'd like to."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the State Government needed to do more to address the problem. "No matter how much money this Government spends on health, they can't get it right," he said. "Access block is a killer and until we start tackling this issue as a whole-of-government hospital question, it will not improve the outcomes for patients in this state.

"If you try to look at the emergency departments in isolation, you miss the point. You have to consider bed numbers, elective surgery waiting lists, discharge of patients and other factors."

Queensland Health's Centre for Healthcare Improvement acting CEO Michael Daly said while the number of people attending public hospital emergency departments had increased by 9.6 per cent in the past year, the time taken to admit patients to a ward had remained "relatively unchanged".

"Queensland Health is investing significantly in initiatives to improve flow through its emergency departments," Dr Daly said.


Patients diverted from RAH for a second night

PATIENTS have been turned away from the Royal Adelaide Hospital for the second night in a row as the state's health system buckles under record demand. It is thought to be the first time in history ambulances have been placed on diversion two nights in a row.

The Advertiser today revealed ambulances were diverted from the state's main hospital for two hours on Monday, the second time in three weeks. AdelaideNow has today learnt a diversion was put in place last night from about 10pm to midnight.

The practice of diversions is put in place when an emergency department reaches full capacity and non-critical patients are sent to the closest available hospital. Patients suffering from life-threatening conditions are received and treated.

Before the August 11 incident, the RAH had only diverted patients three times since early 2007.

The RAH is usually used as the hospital of last resort when others reach capacity and the Australian Medical Association has warned that the recent diversions are a sign of systemic strain.

In statement yesterday, acting RAH general manager Di Rogowski said that ambulances were diverted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital between 7pm and 9pm on Monday evening after "an unexpected peak" in emergency patients.

"While the hospital had bed capacity, emergency department staff asked for a diversion to allow them to treat and clear nearly 90 patients who arrived in a short space of time, including nearly 30 in the space of an hour," she said.

"Such diversions are a fact of life within any health system and the RAH regards this as normal operating procedure to ensure the proper treatment of patients during times of peak load."

Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge said the system was clearly in crisis and there was no sign of looming improvement.

"This is not just a winter crisis. This is a rolling crisis which has been going on month after month after month," he said. "All we are being given is promises of more beds in two years' time. "(Health Minister) Johh Hill is in complete denial."

Data from the SA Health's emergency department dashboard shows four hospitals had emergency department average waiting times of over an hour as ambulances were diverted from the RAH.

These included Lyell McEwin Hospital - which had a wait time of up to 107 minutes - Noarlunga Hospital and Women's and Children's Hospital.

Health Minister John Hill said the diversions were the sign of an integrated hospital network functioning well.

"These things happen from time to time and there was capacity in other hospitals which was utilised."

Surveys showed the South Australian health system was one of the best functioning in the nation, he said.


Queensland Health computer glitch causing long delays in producing vital cancer data

ANOTHER Queensland Health computer "catastrophe" is causing long delays in producing vital cancer data used to plan for patient treatment services and in research.

As the department struggles to fix payroll system problems, damning documents obtained by The Courier-Mail outline major issues with the Queensland Cancer Registry (QCR).

The database of information is crucial for health bodies that must decide where best to locate cancer services and ensure they are appropriately funded, equipped and staffed to cope with demand. Researchers also review the data to analyse cancer trends aimed at shedding light on possible causes.

While Cancer Council Queensland houses the registry, Queensland Health manages and maintains its information technology.

Ongoing software issues have prevented Queensland Health from providing accurate 2008 cancer incidence and mortality data to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The AIHW was due to provide the information to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) as part of its National Healthcare Agreement Performance report later this month. But Queensland Health has only been able to provide estimates that are based on 2005-2007 figures, and population increases.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Jeff Dunn said Victoria and Western Australia had already published 2009 data.

"Can Queensland still call ourselves the Smart State? We're the only state in the Commonwealth that can't produce this data," Professor Dunn said. "If we don't know how many people are getting what sorts of cancers and where, how are we going to try and control it? It's just not good enough. It's a big problem."

Letters and emails leaked to The Courier-Mail reveal problems date back to August 2009 when responsibility for the registry transferred within the department to the Queensland Cancer Control Analysis Team.

"On May 5, 2011, CCQ was first notified by Queensland Health that the 2008 cancer incidence and mortality data compiled by the QCR to meet benchmark performance timelines could not be published until June 2012, a major setback to CCQ's anticipated publication date of April, 2011," Prof Dunn wrote in a letter to acting director-general Tony O'Connell in June.

"Specifically, Queensland Health advised that the system functionality was irreparably damaged in the transfer of management of registry operations to the Queensland Cancer Control Analysis Team in 2009."

In a written statement, Queensland Health's deputy director-general, Michael Cleary, said the department hoped to provide 2008 data to AIHW "in the coming weeks".


6 September, 2011

Business leader Don Argus blasts Labor's 'woeful' record

ONE of the nation's most esteemed business leaders, Don Argus, has lashed out at the "lazy reform", "loose thinking" and lack of "political courage" of the Federal Government.

The former chairman of BHP Billiton and chief of National Australia Bank described Australia's productivity growth as "woeful" and called for more flexible workplace laws, the Herald Sun reported.

The blistering attack has stung the Government because Mr Argus conducted a review of the mining tax for the Prime Minister.

In a speech to the Minerals Council, Mr Argus said reforms pushed by the Government were "sub-standard" and there was a "lack of scrutiny" about how the proceeds of the mining and carbon taxes were being spent. "I fear our political leaders are opting for the most politically convenient outcome and not what is in the best interests of future generations," he said.

Mr Argus called for lower company taxes and said excluding the GST from the tax reform debate "is beyond my comprehension".

Mr Argus said the most important way to improve productivity was with industrial relations flexibility. "This lament is not about WorkChoices, it is about productivity and the competitiveness of Australian business," he said.

Mr Argus said Australia was "in good shape today" but that reflected decisions taken in years gone by. He feared Australia's position "can deteriorate quickly both because of bad luck and bad policy design".

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan rejected the attack, saying the Government had proved its ambitious reform agenda with record investments in transport infrastructure, broadband internet, and skills and training, while working hard to turn around the neglect in productivity growth caused by the Howard government.

The spokesman said Labor was using revenue from mining companies to cut business taxes for the parts of the economy not in the mining-boom fast lane.

Mr Argus's blast came as ministers Stephen Smith and Simon Crean - who have been touted as possible replacements for Julia Gillard - declared their strong support for the Prime Minister.


An advanced case of toxic bureaucracy

THE State Emergency Service is in crisis after thousands of exasperated volunteers quit the body, fed up with bureaucratic bungling.

As Queensland braces for another storm season after its most devastating year of natural disasters on record, the vital service has been rocked by an exodus of 5600 workers in the past five years.

Volunteers blame petty bureaucracy and excessive safety rules for pushing SES groups to the verge of collapse.

SES members regardless of their professional backgrounds or experience are required to spend days on courses learning to climb ladders and are barred from flood boat training until finishing ladder school.

"We were taught you need three people to climb a ladder and to count down the number of steps aloud: four, three, two, one, ground," said one former worker, who quit in frustration. "The training is laborious and infantile and they treat everyone like a complete idiot."

Constant refresher courses, tradesmen forced to attend courses to learn how to operate tools used every day in their jobs and impractical rules are among problems blamed for discouraging existing members and new recruits from donning the orange overalls.

One former volunteer was forced to do a one-day ladder course despite being a qualified electrician who regularly worked on 7m-high ladders.

Prior training is recognised in some cases, but members complain life skills often went ignored because they did not have the right piece of paper.

Another former SES member sat a two-day height training course but had to repeat it less than a year later after a course update made his training "null and void". Members were also told to get pole-saw retraining weeks after a two-day course because regulations had changed.

Meanwhile, some members can wait months for training before they can be put to use because of delays in courses. It has led to an SOS for the State Government to slash the red tape or face a rescue force in terminal decline.

Jandowae SES member of 30 years Tom Bradley said the Darling Downs group had reached its lowest membership with just five volunteers.

The SES controller said heavy regulation combined with a lack of interest from the younger generation had rendered the group practically non-operational.

"This is the worst it has ever been and the town population in Jandowae has certainly increased," Mr Bradley said. "I have had people say to me, 'Why would I bother joining the SES when I have to meet these stringent requirements?' "If you ring and say you want your house covered we have to say, 'Look I'm sorry, we can't do it but I'll organise to get some assistance from a group nearby'.

"And yet you may have people there more than able to do it, but not qualified to what they (Emergency Management Queensland) want with their standards. "A lot of it is common sense and that is what we have lost out of a lot of the things we were doing. Previously people just went and did it."

Condamine SES deputy controller Glen Taylor is one of the loudest voices calling for red tape to be cut, saying the "over-regulation was just madness".

EMQ figures show SES volunteers fell from 12,456 members in 2005 to 6800 active members in 2010. But Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the 2005 volunteer figures were inflated. He did not believe volunteer numbers had dramatically reduced and said skills training was necessary.

Paperwork sank $600,000 boat donation

STATE Emergency Service bosses knocked back a flood boat donation worth $600,000 because it would take too long to fill in the paperwork.

A deal hatched during the January floods to donate a fleet of flood boats to the SES collapsed after those behind the plan were told Emergency Management Queensland could not complete the paperwork in time to deploy the vessels during the floods.

The Commonwealth Bank had struck a deal with Gold Coast boat retailer Sirocco Marine North to donate five vessels, worth about $600,000, provided they could be immediately put to use. The offer was made 48 hours after the floods hit.

But Sirocco Marine North dealer Tom Carlisle said the offer was rejected because red tape meant the deal could not be signed off in time.

"Because of the bureaucracy in EMQ management ... they couldn't take the boats," Mr Carlisle said.

"It was amazing watching it as an outsider. They couldn't get the paperwork done in time. Everybody was really disappointed because they had the opportunity to get $600,000 of rescue equipment for nothing."

Mr Carlisle said one of the amphibious vessels was authorised for use by the SES on a loan basis during the floods provided it was driven by himself and not SES volunteers, who had not been given clearance to drive the vessel.

He spent more than a week driving the vessel around Logan on behalf of the SES.

"The only way we could get that into active service with them is if I actually drove the boat for them," he said.

The Bligh Government has announced funding for 56 new flood boats and extra flood boat training for SES staff in response to the flood inquiry.

An EMQ spokeswoman said the boats were a different configuration to its usual flood vessels, requiring different training for staff and proper testing of the boats.


The not very multicultural council

Miranda Devine

WITH little fanfare last week Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her new Multicultural Council. But a curious feature of an advisory body that is supposed to be a "socially inclusive" representation of multi-ethnic Australia was the fact that at least five of its 10 members are Muslims, and not one member has a Chinese or Indian background.

This glaring oversight is despite the fact that China was Australia's largest source of migrants in 2010-11, comprising 17.5 percent of the total intake. And Indians made up 12.9 percent of migrants. There are no representatives from the indigenous community, either.

The 10 members of the council are: Rauf Soulio (chairman), a South Australian judge active in the Albanian community; Gail Ker, a board member of the Ethnic Communities Council in Queensland; Dr Hass Dellal, Executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation; Samina Yasmeen, Director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Australia; Talal Yassine, a lawyer and director of the Whitlam Institute; Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Queensland; Dr Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist, author and newspaper columnist; Dr Tim Soutphommasane, a research fellow at Monash University's National Centre for Australian Studies, Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Carmel Guerra, chief executive officer of the Centre for Multicultural Youth.

New council members said they had been told not to speak to the media. But others in the multicultural community expressed surprise at the heavy Islamic presence, while pointing out the Muslim members could not be said to be monocultural, being drawn from such diverse ethnic backgrounds as Lebanese, Sudanese, Bangladeshi and Turkish.

Eminent Chinese community leaders such as Dr Anthony Pun, founding National President of the Chinese Community Council in Australia, might have been snubbed but last week he refused to have "sour grapes".
"I am sure the members have been appointed on merit and I would like to congratulate them. I would just ask that if they want to make decisions concerning Chinese-Australians they would they consult us."

All the new council members have significant CVs. But to have allocated half the spots to a religious group which represents just 1.7 percent of the Australian population seems peculiar. As does excluding the largest ethnic groups in the country.

It looks like yet another own goal from the Gillard government.


Qld. Health payroll debacle: they were warned

A GROUP of concerned IT professionals warned the Bligh Government the new health payroll system was hurtling towards "catastrophic" failure six months before it went live. The experts cautioned that because the payroll system was being created from the remnants of another failed IT project, it would be a disaster.

The Courier-Mail has learnt the meeting, on September 21, 2009, was held with then Department of Public Works associate director general Natalie McDonald. The revelation the industry was well aware of the system's looming problems will spark further questions about why it was activated in March last year.

Hundreds of health staff have been routinely left with little or no pay because of faults with inputting details about their work hours and duties.

The Government is spending more than $200 million on improving the technology and employing extra payroll staff to ensure details are input on time.

In speaking notes from the meeting, IT consultant John-Martin Collett, who has worked for both governments and blue-chip companies, said the health payroll system was "hiding behind political outcomes and agendas".

"This project is most likely to fail as a result of where the project started from, how the project is managed and most importantly what the project is covering up," Mr Collett said in the speaking notes. "The outcome will be simply catastrophic."

It is believed Mr Collett was referring to a whole-of-government financial system which was a precursor to the health payroll.

Ms McDonald, who has now been promoted to director general, said she could not remember if health payroll was discussed but she wouldn't be surprised. "While I do not recall discussing the health payroll project during the meeting, it would not be surprising for a company to make comments about a project that was already understood within industry to be the subject of delays," she said in a written statement.

Ms McDonald said she was not a member of the payroll project board and the history of its implementation had been "thoroughly canvassed" by the Auditor-General.

Opposition waste watch spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said it was extraordinary that even the industry knew the system would be a disaster but no one in Government had acted. "And the cost is being borne by the state's doctors, nurses and allied health professionals," she said.


5 September, 2011


I seem to be over my vision problems now so many thanks for all the very kind wishes I received from readers.

I have put up a few paragraphs on my personal blog to describe exactly what happened to me in case anyone is interested in that.

Foundation Studies Program "sells" entry to University of Adelaide for able students

All the whining below about money should not obscure the fact that this is probably a good way of getting kids into university who are more suitable for it. Public examinations are not terribly good predictors of success at university.

My son did something similar, though no payment was involved. The University of Qld. offered bright kids in their final High School year the chance of doing a university subject in that same year -- as well as their normal High school studies. Few apply as it sounds very challenging. My son was the only one in his school who took up the offer. But he did well in all his studies at both levels so was therefore of course a shoo-in to his preferred course at the State's most highly esteemed university

STUDENTS who pay $7800 can secure direct entry into all of the University of Adelaide's bachelor degrees based on their Year 11 results.

Students who complete the university's Foundation Studies Program, dubbed "uni without Year 12", offered through Eynesbury College, receive assured direct entry into all of its bachelor degrees.

Parent and student groups have questioned the program's fairness, criticising a system they say effectively allows students to buy their way into university. Entry into the program requires only successful completion of Year 11.

The flyer promoting the program states: "Students offered a place in the FSP will no longer have to compete with thousands of others as they are given a conditional offer of admission to their preferred Bachelor degree at the University. This means no SACE and no SATAC application."

Most South Australian Year 12 students who apply for university must complete their SA Certificate of Education and receive an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank that provides a comparison to students who have completed different subject combinations.

Using their ATAR, students apply for a place in their preferred undergraduate course through the SA Tertiary Admissions Centre, competing for a place based on merit.

Eynesbury College (International) director and principal Peter Millen said that upon application, students would be assessed on their ability to successfully complete the program, which would include the prerequisite subjects the student needed depending on their chosen degree.

Mr Millen said successful applicants would receive an offer from the University of Adelaide that would specify a mark out of 500 they must achieve to maintain their place. "It's a completely separate program, they are scored out of 500 so, if for example engineering was 380, they would have to complete the program, get 380 and have the right prerequisites," he said.

The university sets the score on a degree-by-degree basis with "similar relativities" as ATAR scores, a spokeswoman said, however, she was not able to provide examples.

University of Adelaide major projects and development director Lynne Broadbridge said offering the foundation program for domestic students was about the need to have flexible pathways and reduce the traditional barriers to university.

"Opening our foundation program offered through Eynesbury College, which has proven successful for international students since 1994, is a logical step to encourage local students to follow the aspirations to higher education," she said.

SA Association of School Parent Clubs president Jenice Zerna said it was not fair that some students would effectively be able to pay for their university place. "We are concerned that students are being provided with a university place based on how much money they or their parents have," she said.

National Union of Students president Jesse Marshall said the program appeared to be a way to get a down payment from students from wealthy backgrounds in return for guaranteed access to its programs. "The Federal Government levelled the playing field when it abolished full-fee paying places," he said.

"This program appears to take us back to the days where if you have more money you can pay your way into university."


Australian universities judged among world's best

There is a lot of arbitrariness in these rankings but it is encouraging that Australian universities do well in several ranking systems. From what I have seen of overseas universities,I myself think Australia's "sandstone" universities are as good as any -- but I hold degrees from two of them so maybe I am a bit biased. I am pleased to see that where my son is currently studying did very well in the rankings. He himself is pleased with his programme there

FIVE Australian universities have been rated among the world's top 50 but the latest global university rankings show dramatic falls by institutions outside the Group of Eight, prompting concerns over the methodology of the list.

Eight Australian institutions made it into the top 100 - 23 are in the top 500 - in the QS World University Rankings, released today.

The outstanding result has been welcomed by sector leaders, despite the big slumps among universities outside the Go8.

Top of the local league was the Australian National University, ranked 26 in the world, followed by the University of Melbourne at 31. The world league was led by the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University and the University of Oxford.

Australia's worst fall was registered by Flinders University, down 48 rankings to 299 globally. The University of Newcastle fell by 35, La Trobe University by 31 and Griffith University and the University of Tasmania by 23.

They were in a group of 13 whose rankings dropped, while nine institutions improved over past year.

The University of South Australia was up 25, Queensland University of Technology was up 22 and Curtin University and the University of Western Australia were both up 16.

Universities Australia chief executive Glenn Withers said: "To have something like 60 per cent of Australian universities in the top 500 shows the strength of our system by world standards, given there are some 16,000 institutions. (But) we need to maintain that strength.

"We are looking for the base funding review and the way the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency are going to operate to help us maintain that strength in the system."

Griffith University's deputy director, research policy, and QS board member Tony Sheil, said the rankings were "capturing more up-and-coming universities, especially from the fast-growing economies like China, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea".

This was in contrast to one of its rivals, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, previously known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong, whose methodology is heavily weighted towards research performance and tends to favour older universities.

"The good news for Australia is that it performs very well on both rankings - our universities conform to what some call the global university model," Mr Sheil said.

"(However) QS does need to have a closer look at the data accuracy contained in several indicators."

He said it was not credible that several middle-ranked Australian universities outdid the California Institute of Technology for employer reputation.

The QS methodology allocates a 40 per cent weighting for academic reputation, gauged via a worldwide questionnaire, 10 per cent for reputation among employers, 20 per cent for student-to-staff ratio, 20 for citations per academic staff member, and 5 per cent each for international staff and international students.

The area of traditional weakness for Australia in the QS rankings is student-to-staff ratios. "Once again, it's disappointing to see Australia falling behind in some of the student-to-staff ratios," executive director of the leading Group of Eight universities, Michael Gallagher said.

QS singled Melbourne out for comment. "In whichever evaluations you refer to in recent times, the QS World University Rankings by Subject, The Excellence in Research for Australia initiative, or the Shanghai rankings, Melbourne keeps getting stronger," QS vice-president John Molony said.

Mr Gallagher agreed that while "there are different perspectives and flaws in all rankings systems, the consistent message is that they reinforce different groupings, especially the top tier".

The field of global rankings for universities is intensely competitive. QS claims to be the most extensive of its kind, evaluating more than 700 universities.


Thoroughly reprehensible speech

The fashion industry has a lot to answer for
A size eight teenage model said being bullied for being too fat on Australia's Next Top Model sent a dangerous message to vulnerable young viewers. Alissandra Moone, 18, who at 57kg [125lb] is considered underweight on the Australian body mass index, was "stunned" when her size became an issue on Foxtel's top-rating show.

Judge Alex Perry has openly criticised Moone's body, likening it to "overstuffed luggage", [I'd like to smash that guy in his insulting mouth and I would be pleased if somebody did] and the clash is set to reach a head on tonight's episode.

"It's a very bad message to be sending to young girls who watch the show," Moone said yesterday. "It's harsh. It's stupid. And it's out of touch. I understand it's a reality of the (modelling) industry but this is a TV show and they should have a responsibility to censor that kind of thing.

The average dress size for most Aussie women is a 12 to 14, while the most recent Mission Australia youth survey showed body image was the most serious concern facing young people between 11 and 24 -- above bullying, drugs and family conflict.

The critique of Moone's size is in stark contrast to Melbourne Spring Fashion Week organisers' decision this year to only use models with a healthy BMI. Models will be vetted by casting agents to ensure they are not too thin before they are signed up.


I know very little about the fashion industry but I understand that homosexuals are prominent in it and I have often heard the comment that they want women to look like boys. The effect however is to disparage normal women so I think what we should all do is to disparage the fashion industry to all who will listen

The insulting mouth above is not homosexual though he gives the impression that he is. He is also known for rough language. I actually applaud rough language under some circumstance but not when it is so cruelly and inaccurately addressed.

Bipartisan deal to help cope with illegal immigration to Australia?

THE Coalition has offered to work with the Gillard government to change the Migration Act to allow offshore processing of asylum-seekers, after it was thrown into doubt by the High Court.

The move came after the Solicitor-General today produced new legal advice saying it may be impossible to resurrect the Howard government's asylum-seeker detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru under current laws.

Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler has given the government written advice confirming that the High Court's decision last week to scuttle the controversial Malaysian people swap deal has far-reaching implications for all offshore processing.

Mr Gageler and two other senior counsel, Stephen Lloyd and Geoffrey Kennett, say they “do not have reasonable confidence” that the government could legally send asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru as a result of the judgment.

The lawyers say Nauru's decision to ratify the UN Refugee Convention this year “raises the possibility” that a government could use its power to send asylum-seekers to Nauru in the future, but only if it could satisfy a court there were appropriate protections in place.

“These are complex issues of fact and degree requiring detailed assessment and analysis,” the advice reads.

The Gillard government has been considering reopening the former Howard-era detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, while Tony Abbott's policy is to reopen the “Pacific Solution” detention centre on Nauru.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the advice confirmed there were significant doubts about both PNG and Nauru and that the government needed to work through the options, one of which could be amending the Migration Act.

“Clearly the High Court has interpreted the Migration Act in this way and it would be open to the parliament to change the Migration Act to deal with how the High Court has interpreted it and that's one of the options that would be available.”

Mr Abbott said he did not want the government to use the High Court's decision as an excuse to drop offshore processing.

“If the government wants to put offshore processing beyond legal doubt by amending the Migration Act, the Coalition's prepared to work with the government to bring that about,” he told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Abbott maintained his position that sending asylum-seekers to Nauru is a viable option. “Nauru's legal system is essentially the same as Australia's,” he said. “So any suggestion that there is some problem with the Nauruan legal system and the way people are treated in Nauru is just utterly implausible.”

Coalition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis also said the new legal advice did not completely rule out offshore processing.

He said he had spoken with Nauruan Justice Minister Mathew Batsuia, who affirmed his government was prepared to enact domestic laws to ensure his country was compliant with the court's verdict.

“Given that the Nauruan government is prepared to take those steps, it now remains for the Australian government to demonstrate that it has the political will to make the Nauruan solution effective,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.

However Mr Bowen said the Coalition also needed to consider the legal advice and think again. “Mr Abbott needs to move beyond his Nauru dream world and simplistic solutions and admit that whichever way you cut it, offshore processing under the current law is no longer an easy option,” he said.

“Quite clearly under all the legal advice, if Mr Abbott wanted to go down the Nauru option he would need legislative change. He would need it on several bases.

“And what is very clear from the High Court judgment is you could not send unaccompanied minors in any workable way to Nauru or anywhere else. That's a significant change,” Mr Bowen said.

Under a deal first announced by Julia Gillard in May, the government had planned to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 already-processed refugees.

But the High Court's full bench ruled 6-1 that the Mr Bowen's declaration that Malaysia was an appropriate place to send asylum-seekers was invalid because the country is not legally bound to protect them. The ruling has thrown Labor's plans to try to halt the flow of asylum-seeker boats into disarray.

Mr Bowen today repeatedly refused to reveal whether he considered resigning as a result of the decision, or whether he offered his resignation to Ms Gillard. “Conversations between the Prime Minister and I are conversations between the Prime Minister and I and that's how they'll remain,” he told the ABC. “I'm not going to run away from my responsibility just because the going gets a bit tough.”

Former prime minister John Howard said Ms Gillard had succeeded in “antagonising everybody” on asylum-seekers. “The real culprit though, of course, was Kevin Rudd,” he told Network Ten. “Kevin Rudd was the prime minister who dismantled the Howard government policy which had stopped the boats coming.”


Adverse public opinion polls put Australia's faltering Leftist government under huge pressure over illegals

JULIA Gillard will be forced to choose between negotiating with Tony Abbott or giving ground to people-smugglers as a new survey shows a dramatic collapse in public approval of Labor's management of asylum-seekers.

A Newspoll for The Australian today found 78 per cent of respondents rated Labor's handling of the issue as "bad" - a significant increase on the 53 per cent recorded by Newspoll in November 2009.

Only 12 per cent of those surveyed believed the Government was doing a "good" job on asylum-seekers, barely half the 31 per cent in November 2009. And only 22 per cent of Labor supporters backed the Government's handling of the issue.

Government sources said the Prime Minister was unlikely to announce a new asylum seeker policy for weeks, as Labor scrambles to work out a solution and braces for more boats to arrive, the Courier-Mail reported.

The Government's shaky border protection policy was dealt another blow yesterday after legal advisers warned it may have to abandon offshore processing of asylum seekers entirely.

Solicitor-general Stephen Gageler warned the Federal Government it faces major legal difficulties in re-opening the former "Pacific Solution" immigration detention centres in Nauru and PNG's Manus Island after the High Court scuttled plans to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Labor needed time to work out a new way to stop people smuggling. "I've said, if you like 'time out' for a moment," Mr Bowen said. "Let's go back, have everything on the table and consider the options."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott offered to support the Government to get around the ruling by changing legislation as long as this re-opened the centre on Nauru, re-introduced temporary protection visas and allowed the navy to turn boats around at sea. "If the Government wants to put offshore processing beyond legal doubt by amending the Migration Act, the Coalition is prepared to work with the government to bring that about," Mr Abbott said. "We don't want the Government to use the High Court's decision as an excuse to drop offshore processing."

Mr Bowen said he would not negotiate with Mr Abbott if the Opposition insisted on the outcome and warned the High Court decision could lead to more asylum seeker boats heading to Australia.

But Ms Gillard faces growing pressure from the Left of her party and the Greens to abandon offshore processing entirely.

Labor backbenchers warned Ms Gillard not to announce another policy before discussing options with the party's caucus, which will meet again when parliament resumes next week.

"She should not underestimate the level of disquiet in the caucus," one Labor backbencher said.


4 September, 2011

There are SOME things that can get a good blogger down

Try blindness for instance. A complication of my recent surgery meant that I went nearly blind. So I had to go to hospital for a couple of days to put that in reverse. I am now just back from there and seem to be as good as ever. So I will be doing a bit of reading now and should be back to full-strength blogging tomorrow.

2 September, 2011

AD and BC ruled out of date for national curriculum

This is just going to force kids to learn two systems instead of one. Most reference works use BC and AD so will be incomprehensible to the kids unless they learn both systems

CHRISTIANS are outraged that the birth of Jesus Christ will no longer be cited when recording dates under the new national history curriculum.

High school students will not use the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) when referencing dates.

Although history dates won't change, with textbooks still using the birth of Christ as the change point, they will use the neutral terms BCE (Before Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era).

Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen said yesterday that removing BC and AD from the curriculum was an "intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history".

Do you agree with the changes? Vote in our poll below

"It is absurd because the coming of Christ remains the centre point of dating and because the phrase 'common era' is meaningless and misleading," he told The Daily Telegraph. It was akin to calling Christmas the festive season, he said.

A spokesman for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, responsible for developing the national curriculum from kindergarten to Year 12, said BCE and CE were to be introduced because this was an increasingly common standard for the representation of dates.

The little known term BP (Before Present) will be used when dealing with "very ancient history and archaeology, and allows for the teaching of more sophisticated understandings of representations of time".

In anticipation of the curriculum change, textbooks for student teachers such as Teaching And Learning In Aboriginal Education, by Neil Harrison, were already using the term BP.

Federal Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said: "Australia is what it is today because of the foundations of our nation in the Judeo-Christian heritage that we inherited from Western civilisation.

"Kowtowing to political correctness by the embarrassing removal of AD and BC in our national curriculum is of a piece with the fundamental flaw of trying to deny who we are as a people."

The curriculum was to have been introduced next year but has been delayed.


Another political correctness absurdity

JUST when we thought political correctness was on the way out, ridiculed to death by South Park and Borat and a cynical Generation Y, back it comes stronger than ever.

The resurgence of culturally mandated conformity creeps up on you unawares, like when you don't take the full course of antibiotics for an infection.

The virulence of the PC disease was seen this week in the Radike Samo blackface furore, which made headlines around the world.

The treatment of the two Wallabies fans who donned afro wigs and painted their faces black in honour of their favourite player, who was born in Fiji, serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who believes we live in relaxed times.

Cultural wowsers went feral on Twitter after rugby sponsor Qantas posted a picture of the two dressed like Samo and declared them the winners of a competition for supportive fans.

Qantas, being a typical lily-livered company, issued an abject apology. The young men were publicly shamed as "racists", despite the fact Samo loved their tribute to him and posed for pictures with them.

"These guys were actually paying me a tribute," he said. "I don't know why anyone's getting worked up. That sort of reaction is just silly."

Yes it is silly. But it is also sinister that a reflexive flexing of muscles by troublemaking, self-righteous busybodies should be so rewarded.

Another storm erupted a few days earlier when Channel 9 presenter Karl Stefanovic made a bawdy joke about colleague Richard Wilkins in a speech to launch his memoirs. "I know three things about Richard Wilkins: great bloke, big hair, massive c . . k," was his opening line to media types in a Kings Cross club.

The joke may have been a bit off-colour for polite company, but Wilkins didn't mind. The crowd roared with laughter, but then the tut-tutters began to make trouble. Calls were made for Stefanovic to explain himself. To his credit, he refused. "Mate, I'm not going to stop having a good time in life. I just hope we're not turning into a society of wowsers." Good for him.

Wowsers have always existed just under the surface of this former penal colony, and emerge when political and social conditions are right, as they are now under the Green-Gillard coalition.

The state is jumping in too, with Victoria's charter of rights one official method of paying lawyers $13.5 million of taxpayers' money to enforce political correctness.

The control freakery is not just about correcting behaviour. It's about using language to correct people's thoughts.

For instance, a friend studying education was astonished to find in a textbook that the new national history curriculum is to require people to use the term "BP", rather than the traditional "BC".

BC, of course, was the historical term used to denote the time "before Christ". This is now deemed an offensive idea, which must be erased from the minds of Australian children. So instead we are to replace it with the nonsensical BP, which stands for "before present", in an effort to stamp out Christ in the curriculum.

History is ripe for politically correct redesign, as we saw in Sydney City Council's rewriting of all its official documents to insert the term "invasion".

And, as the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks looms, there is even a quarrel over whether Muslims should be mentioned.

Never mind that the men who flew planes into New York's twin towers were Islamist terrorists bent on jihad against the satanic West. Those inconvenient facts must be sanitised from a colouring book for children, which has drawn the ire of America's PC brigade. The book We Shall Never Forget 9/11 states that "freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists" attacked the US because they "hate the American way of life", which is a pretty accurate statement of the terrorists' motives. But the Council on American-Islamic Relations has joined a chorus slamming the sentiment as "dangerous". The book hasn't yet been banned.

The executive producer of the ABC Sunday night British drama Midsomer Murders wasn't so lucky. Brian True-May lost his job after he told an interviewer the series was successful because it represented "the last bastion of Englishness" and suggested it wouldn't work as well if the cast were more ethnically diverse.

True-May's employers ITV immediately suspended him for these "inappropriate" comments and announced he would leave the show at the end of the current production run.

Embracing homosexuality in all things, especially marriage, is another cultural imperative of the wowsers. It is now "homophobic" to say a child is entitled to a mother and a father, as a questioner on the ABC's Q&A recently put it.

And woe betide anyone who objects to the push to get Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie to have a gay wedding.

It used to be just the "N-word" in Huckleberry Finn or Enid Blyton's Gollywogs that were verboten. Now it's "faggot" coming under fire, with the Dire Straits song Money For Nothing banned from Canadian radio by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, because in it the word appears three times.

Even bogans are sacred cows, with a three-minute Tourism Queensland ad attacked for poking fun at "Aussie bogans, hicks and hillbillies".

Social media has amplified the wowsers' power and control. You can't make a joke without the twitterati taking it out of context and maliciously using it to make trouble.

This is why so many people loved Charlie Sheen, who was wild and reckless enough to snub his nose at all conventions because these days the most powerful establishment is the one that enforces political correctness.

Wowsers have replaced the churches as guardians of morality - only theirs is a chaotic set of vaguely defined mores with no obvious benefit to society. They just trap the unwary and force everyone to become more guarded.

High dudgeon is encouraged. Overblown outrage is the order of the day. Taken to its extreme, the new wowserism becomes a form of totalitarianism, which punishes people for "thought crimes".


NSW renewable schemes face axe

THE state government has flagged the winding up of renewable energy schemes in NSW if the federal government introduces a carbon tax, which it concedes is all but inevitable.

It also warned the state relies too heavily on electricity and gas from other states. The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, is keen to boost gas supplies in NSW.

The government is also studying a report outlining how to merge the three state-owned distribution companies - Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy - into two, which is expected to result in the loss of hundreds of jobs. This merger is to be in place by the middle of next year.

An inquiry into the electricity industry being undertaken by Justice Brian Tamberlin is expected to recommend the sale of the distributors when it reports to the government next month.

While warning about over-reliance on renewable energy, Mr Hartcher indicated existing programs will need to be reviewed.

"Once the carbon tax comes into force, it's certainly going to come into force, I don't think there is any doubt about that, there's going to be a need for a reassessment of the various programs," he told a business lunch yesterday.

"The carbon tax is designed to do only one thing . to force up the price of electricity from coal-fired power and, if that's the case, how you implement other renewable energy targets needs to be subordinated to it."

Buying too much energy from interstate is leaving NSW exposed to disruptions, he said, referring to the period in February when electricity demand peaked at 14,820 megawatts, and NSW was forced to import 12 per cent of the total from other states.

"What happens when there are simultaneous midsummer heatwave demands in the eastern states, and what may that mean for NSW businesses and households?" he said. "The impact could be exacerbated by unplanned generation outages or transmission failure. This would see us managing blackouts."

Gas-fired power generation in NSW is forecast to triple over the next two decades with around 7000 megawatts of new peaking gas generation, 700 megawatts of new baseload gas generation and 400 megawatts of renewable generation to come on line, he said.

This will occur as gas supplies from both the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait are in decline. "It is prudent NSW develop a gas industry to support its needs locally - both for energy generation - and for household use," Mr Hartcher said.

As a result, the state government was to launch a gas industry development plan to ensure its evolution, both as a fuel source for electricity generation, as well as industrial and residential uses, he said.


Storm brews as Maccas' coffee rated best

This will cause heartburn among the McDonald's-hating snobs

A STORM is brewing in the nation's coffee chains after McDonald's top-scored in a battle of the baristas.

The fast food giant better known for fries and burgers beat specialty rivals to snatch best coffee house honours in a consumer survey.

McCafe trumped Gloria Jean's, Hudsons, Muffin Break and The Coffee Club, according to the Canstar Blue poll.

The tick comes just three months after McDonald's apologised for the sorry state of its coffee and promised to improve.

McCafe got top marks for overall satisfaction and price, tied with Michel's on service, and came equal first with Perth-based Dome for taste.

The survey revealed 10 per cent of Australians find coffee withdrawal symptoms worse than going without cigarettes, and have tried unsuccessfully to give up their caffeine habit.


1 September, 2011

What's wrong with "urban sprawl"?

The fact that people choose free-standing houses just arouses Greenie contempt. They want us all back in tenements

Recently, self-appointed planning "experts" have criticised the performance of planning systems that have shaped suburbs and cities, denigrating governments that delivered the homes of millions of Australians.

The critics say such communities and suburban development are unsustainable and have called for government, in the name of sustainability, to choose high-density development over greenfield development, often labelled "sprawl". To them, density is good and suburban development is bad.

But the simple fact is we need to meet dwelling demand, achieve housing affordability and provide much-needed community services and infrastructure.

Across the country, notwithstanding the growing trend to inner-city living and more infill development, demand continues to be for detached houses in greenfield locations, and the strongest population growth continues to be in outer suburbs.

Bear in mind those suburbs will become tomorrow's middle or inner-ring suburbs of emerging cities - Logan, Ipswich and the new cities of Ripley, Yarrabilba and Caloundra South.

While dwellings produced through options such as infill and redevelopment do meet a need for housing in particular urban locations, such consolidation will not, in reality, preclude the need for continuing greenfield development to meet the overwhelming bulk of dwelling demand. Detached housing, typical of greenfield developments, remains the preferred housing type across households and age demographics.

Infill development is popular for many because of reduced travel times and better access to public transport and employment.

However, in southeast Queensland, many master-planned communities, particularly on Brisbane's northern and western outskirts and on the Gold Coast, are also achieving high employment generation targets.

Elsewhere, there are other examples of employment self-sufficiency in outer-urban master-planned developments.

This strategy overcomes the primary complaint of heavy vehicle usage and travel times.

Well-planned suburban and master-planned communities are also designed to be rich in social capital, with high levels of engagement by residents in their local community and with significant participation in local sporting, cultural and social activities and events, often using local parks and recreational facilities.

Typically, in suburban locations there is a net density of eight dwellings per hectare.

Recently, many major developers have achieved between 11 and 13 dwellings per hectare on a net basis in master-planned communities such as Forest Lake, Springfield and North Lakes.

Densities in these locations can only increase incrementally over time, with smaller lots becoming increasingly popular due to affordability.

The next generation of major greenfield development is looking to achieve a net density of at least 15 dwellings per hectare, with a diversity of housing products to meet a wide range of target markets, including more affordable housing options. These would represent twice the density of previous years.

As such, there is a compelling argument that it is sound planning to build communities to these incrementally higher densities at the urban fringe, as well as commit to redevelopment and urban renewal. This is because of two primary factors.

First, upgrading and augmentation of infrastructure in existing areas can be expensive and disruptive and is not an acceptable stand alone solution. Major road works and sewerage and storm water upgrades on busy suburban roads are the bane of economic efficiency and sustainability as they become "crawling car parks".

Second, the creation of cities in growth areas not only provides new sustainable communities, it also creates urban hubs for existing fringe suburbs, adding to life quality.

The answer then is to be inclusive, not exclusive. To provide adequate supplies of both greenfield and infill development under a realistic planning framework based on sustainability performance, infrastructure planning, social preference and market demand realities.


Australia entering a new era of uncertainty in the age of globalisation and information

Mike O'Connor is normally a cheerful writer -- but not below

THERE are times when you sense a sudden and fundamental shift in your world, a moment of realisation which flashes across the mind like summer lightning.

I felt it last week as I read BlueScope Steel was closing part of its steel-making operation and sacking 1000 workers and Qantas was cutting its international services and shedding staff.

In the same week, Foster's was attempting to fend off a hostile foreign takeover, made vulnerable by the remorseless slide in Australian-brewed beer sales and local car makers complained they faced a perilous future.

Ever-cynical, I sneered at the year 2000 celebrations marking the beginning of the new millennium. It was, after all, just the beginning of another year like every other, its passage prefixed by 20 instead of 19.

Eleven years on I realise that the Australia of that last decade of the 20th century, one which had evolved from the post-war world of the 1950s, has gone forever.

The links that tied us to that half century have been severed and the nation now moves into a sea of uncertainty that will test us, as did the military conflicts of the past century, the furnaces in which modern Australia was forged.

"We're bleeding" is the retailers' lament that echoes through the malls that ring our great cities, the theory being that due to the wild fluctuations of the share market and the threat of higher interest rates, shoppers are keeping their hands in their pockets.

Once calmness and sanity again prevail, the chatter of receipts being spat from credit card charge terminals will again bring a smile to the merchants' faces.

Maybe not. Perhaps, in a decade, the great malls will stand idle and their car parks empty, the all-powerful internet having wiped out an industry that began when man first swapped an animal skin for a haunch of meat.

With the malls will go the tens of thousands of jobs that for so long have been the refuge of the semi-skilled, the sales assistants we all love to hate, the bright-eyed kids in their first job and bespectacled matrons who remember when parcels were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

Tourism operators appeal to governments to spend more money promoting the wonders of Australia to the world, to lure back those travellers who once packed our beaches and restaurants.

When things settle down, they say, we'll be right. What we need now is a quirky marketing campaign or a video clip that "goes viral".

Maybe not. Maybe the tourists will never return in the numbers which we once enjoyed. The world has become a much larger place and Australia is no longer seen as that unique continent which everyone with the means should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Asia is cheaper, closer, more exotic, Europe more diverse, Africa more intriguing and South America more challenging.
Australia is a "nice" place, somewhere to go when you have retired and are looking for a sedate travel experience.

Nor will Australians fill the motel beds and surf clubs. The two-weeks-at-the-beach family holiday is fading faster than denim in the sun.

We will still flock to our broad, white sand beaches over summer weekends but the money, the real money, will be spent on low-cost Asian airlines ferrying us to Phuket and Bali.

And Qantas? The glory days of the flying kangaroo are gone. There are now seven international airlines rated as five-star Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Qatar (Middle East), Hainan (China), Asiana (South Korea), Malaysian (Malaysia), Singapore Airlines (Singapore) and Kingfisher (India).

Qantas? Four-star, along with carriers such as Garuda (Indonesia), Turkish Airlines and Air New Zealand.

If you drive to the beach it will be in a Volkswagen or a Hyundai, not a Commodore. The Commodore and the Falcon will be gone before 2020, the Federal Government having finally accepted that the nation could no longer afford to prop up a product nobody wanted.

We will, largely, stop making things, or at least make only those things that can't be bought more cheaply or more easily from China.

The "Made in Australia" brand will disappear from shelves to be remembered in the same way as my mother recalls Persil washing powder and Kooka gas stoves.

China will continue to grow, although perhaps not at its current frenetic pace, and anyone who believes the United States is likely to return to the prosperity of the 1990s any time soon is, I suspect, living a fantasy.

The cry of "All the way with LBJ" will echo faintly from the past century as the power of Asia and the sub-continent mushrooms and the US retreats behind its borders, never again to gallop over the hill, sabre drawn, as the world's policeman.

The game is changing and changing fast. I'm not saying the quality of life in this country will suffer but there is a fundamental shift occurring in the way the nation operates. This change will require resilience, innovation, intellectual excellence and the ability to adapt, qualities in which we abound. But it will also require leadership.

"Cometh the hour," it is said, "cometh the man." Worryingly, I see no sign yet that this man, or woman, has arrived.


Rogue union says $95 an hour not enough for workers

WORKERS on the regional rail link are set to earn $150,000 a year, but a union is heading to Fair Work Australia to fight for more pay.

Joint bidder AbiGroup and Thiess have agreed to pay Australian Workers' Union members up to $95.23 an hour for work on the $4.3 billion rail line, according to a copy of the agreement seen by the Herald Sun.

But the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union have so far been locked out of negotiations with builders short-listed to work on dedicated VLine tracks between Southern Cross station and Werribee.

The CFMEU, fined $560,000 in June for an illegal blockade, will head to Fair Work Australia on Friday to fight to be included in the project and seek a more lucrative deal.

The Herald Sun understands builders preferred to work with the AWU because it was more reasonable in its demands for pay and conditions.

CFMEU secretary Bill Oliver confirmed the union was taking the dispute to Fair Work Australia. It was taking both the AWU and the contractors to the tribunal.

The AWU has signed a similar agreement with Fulton Hogan and John Holland and was expected to sign another deal next week with the final short-listed bidder Leighton Baulderstone JV.

All three consortiums are bidding to build the link between Deer Park and West Werribee.

AWU secretary Cesar Melhem, who brokered the deals, said it was at the "top end" of civil construction pay rates in Victoria. "The money is good. I'm happy with that," he said. "The average wage will be around $150,000. People might think that's a lot of money, but we are talking about a 56-hour week."

Mr Melhem declined to comment on the CFMEU's bid at Fair Work Australia.

Corey Hannett, chief executive of the Regional Rail Link Authority, said the contract for the Deer Park to West Werribee section of the project would be awarded early next year.


Schools may need to take on underperforming students to ensure funding, report says

The usual Leftist push to reduce everybody to the lowest common denominator

HIGH-performing schools may be put under pressure to take on underperforming students as a condition of funding.

A report commissioned by the Australian Government Review of Funding for Schooling has made the suggestion, adding "we need to question the extent to which public funds should continue to subsidise those already well-resourced selective schools that are not providing 'value' add in terms of student performance".

The independent report - along with three others released by the panel yesterday - has been met with dismay by the private sector but praised by the Australian Education Union.

Comments released by the review panel yesterday state the reports "have made a case for fundamental change in the way we fund schooling at all levels of government".

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the reports would help the review panel develop its final recommendations, but he distanced the Government from what was in them.

"They do not represent the views of the panel and are not indicative of the Government's intentions," he said.

One report, written by the Allen Consulting Group, recommends school outcome information, including NAPLAN and My School financial data, be used to help decide base funding for all schools.

"Loading" would be provided to schools identified as needing additional resources "to assist students with specific needs to achieve specified outcomes".

Another report, written by a consortium led by The Nous Group, said higher-performing schools should be encouraged to "take on more under-performing students and demonstrate their quality through student performance over and above what would have been expected from past performance. This may mean restructuring some or all of the public subsidies so that they are retrospective and 'reward-based"'.

AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said the reports confirmed current funding contributed to a "deepening inequality in educational outcomes".

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said the review had failed to provide any analysis of its own, leaving private schools still nervous that their funding could be cut in real terms and that top-performing schools might suffer under the new funding model.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative