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

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Food & Health Skeptic, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes and Tongue Tied. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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, 2013

More Leftist groupthink on display

Dealing with people as individuals is beyond them

Labor leadership aspirant Bill Shorten has proposed broadening the party's quota system to include gay and lesbian candidates and indigenous Australians, to improve their under-representation in Parliament.

In a bulk mailout to Labor members, due to arrive in coming days, Mr Shorten launches a passionate bid to be made leader.

He outlines his vision for the Labor Party as a younger, more dynamic organisation that would attract more professional women, academics, small business people, tradespeople and farmers.

To attract and keep more members, he says the party should offer discount memberships for union members, students, pensioners and people out of work, and allow people to join online. He says Labor must also redouble its efforts to promote at least 40 per cent female candidates.

Labor's membership has risen by more than 1100 new applications since the election, with broad support among the membership for the new leadership election process introduced by former leader Kevin Rudd.

NSW general secretary Jamie Clements said the leadership reforms had softened the blow of Labor's election defeat. "A lot of oxygen has been sucked out of what's wrong with the Labor Party. That's not the focus right now. The focus is, members have an opportunity to elect their future. That's the net effect."

National secretary George Wright said 43,000 members were eligible to vote in the contest between Mr Shorten and Left stalwart Anthony Albanese.

Mr Albanese and Mr Shorten are understood to have better chances in their home states of NSW and Victoria, respectively, despite NSW being controlled by the Right. The majority of branch members are not factionally aligned.

Ballot papers were posted to members on Tuesday and will be counted within a fortnight.


Literacy failings 'due to ideology'

A "SHOCKING" proportion of Australian schoolchildren are failing to meet basic literacy standards, with a new study blaming a tendency by teachers and government to impose "ideological" theories rather than evidence-based teaching programs.

Writing in the spring edition of the Centre for Independent Studies' Policy magazine, Jennifer Buckingham, Kevin Wheldall and Robyn Wheldall argue policymakers and teachers need to use "scientifically valid" reading methods, not ideological theories, to reduce illiteracy.

In the 2013 NAPLAN results, 11.5 per cent of year three students were at, or below, the minimum standard for reading, despite about 1200 hours of reading instruction.

In an article entitled "Why Jaydon can't read: the triumph of ideology over evidence in teaching reading", the authors say those results do not necessarily reflect student ability.  Rather, they were the product of teacher training and badly advised government strategies.

"National and international tests show that average (reading) achievement is static, with no reduction in the proportion of Australian students at the lowest performance levels," the authors say.

"Poorly conceived government policies and university education faculties wedded to outdated and unproven teaching methods have each contributed to the situation."

Australia ranked second last among English-speaking countries in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The work drew on studies in Britain, the US and Australia that found a large proportion of training and classroom teachers had insufficient knowledge of meta-linguistics.

A 2008 Victorian study found that only 38 per cent of pre-service teachers and 52 per cent of in-service teachers knew the correct definition of a syllable.

The authors argued a comprehensive reading program incorporating five essential elements - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension - was needed in Australian schools.

"The importance of phonemic awareness and phonics in teaching reading seems to be widely acknowledged among teachers, but many have neither the personal literacy skills nor the requisite professional and practical knowledge to teach them well," the article says.

"Governments must cease wasting money on ineffective 'add-on' programs that add to the burden of schools. If more money is to be spent on schools, it should be spent on up-skilling classroom and learning support teachers."

Ms Buckingham, a CIS research fellow specialising in school education, said a number of successful phonics programs had been refined over the years and had proved to be engaging.

"You need to have great literature in the classroom, shared reading, that love of literature encouraged, but at the same time there needs to be a really strong phonics program," she said.

"Almost 100 per cent of schools would say 'we do phonics' but their idea is not necessarily the most effective or proven way."


Milne's Greens 'marching to slow death'

On her way out of the party-room meeting that returned Christine Milne as Greens leader on Monday morning, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young walked past a table of journalists at Aussies Cafe at Parliament House.

To their bewilderment, Senator Hanson-Young matter-of-factly announced that her party had just returned a leader that would see the party "marching to a slow death".

After the election, at which the Greens bled a third of their vote, recriminations within the party have been swift. There is clear disquiet in the party's senior ranks about Senator Milne's leadership, but for the first time, it is out in the open. It was revealed last week six of the party's 18 most senior staffers, including Senator Milne's chief-of-staff Ben Oquist, had left.

One Greens senator told Fairfax Media: "I believe all this [leadership speculation] is because there are concerns about where [Senator Milne] takes us in the next three years. If we have the same result we had this election, we will be gone; we can't afford to do it again."

But who is driving the destabilisation in this post-Bob Brown era of the Greens?

Senator Hanson-Young, an outspoken and ambitious party room member, is often mentioned by her colleagues as one of the key destabilising forces. Four separate sources claim that she made a bid for the party's leadership team at Monday's party meeting, a charge she denies.

The story goes that Senator Hanson-Young tried to gauge support for her to run for deputy leader, a position now held by the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, who would then be propelled into the leadership. (Senator Hanson-Young would not comment on Saturday, other than to say "that's just not true").

But others suspect the rumours are being put about to deflect attention from 41-year-old Mr Bandt, coming as they do on the back of reports that he had tried to gauge numbers for a challenge last Monday. Mr Bandt issued a statement saying he and his leader were "a strong, united leadership team", and that he had never sought the position of leader. But his office would not respond to questions about whether others had urged him to run for leader.

This sort of publicly fought internecine warfare is nothing new to Labor but it is a shock to many in the Greens, who have never experienced the sort of leadership challenges normal to most political parties. There is a sense within the party that even to publicly discuss a possible challenge is impolite. Behind the scenes, the Greens have been a consistently unified presence in Federal Parliament.

But in the aftermath of the Greens' election performance, in which the party's lower house vote dropped from 11.76 per cent in 2010 to 8.6 per cent, some within the party's senior ranks are concerned about Senator Milne's leadership, particularly her attempts to put a positive spin on a poor result.

Mr Oquist, an experienced political operator who had spent years fighting for the Green side of politics, quit early last week citing "fundamental differences of opinion in strategy".

A former staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Senator Milne is "in denial" about the election result. "She said this week she wanted to move to a 'campaigning phase'. Well, here's a tip, love. We've just had a federal election. What the f--k have you been doing all year?"

Senator Milne told Fairfax she took "some" responsibility for the party's election result - and losing about a third of its vote - and vowed to listen to supporters who abandoned the party.

"Of course, as the leader of any political party you take some responsibility for the outcome of that election, and certainly I have to take a share of that responsibility in terms of the outcome for the election both good and bad," she said. This included returning at least 10 senators to Parliament after the election, with new Victorian senator Janet Rice elected. (WA senator Scott Ludlam's position is still in doubt.) But Senator Milne dismissed reports there had been a foiled attempt by party insiders to install Mr Bandt as leader, saying there was no threat to her leadership. "It's wrong."

NSW senator Lee Rhiannon leapt to Senator Milne's defence, saying: "I figure if someone is going to mount a challenge, they're going to lobby for numbers. I wasn't lobbied. I just do not believe there was a challenge."

While she acknowledged the Greens had "a challenging election and a challenging election result", Senator Rhiannon said the party room shared responsibility for the low vote. "I think what we need to be looking at is how we project our message to voters."

The party's campaign committee will review the election result and report to the Greens' national conference in November.


Immigration minister denies that efforts to rescue asylum seekers were delayed

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has for the second time in two days forcefully rejected suggestions Australia did not respond quickly enough to an asylum seeker boat that sank off Java on Friday morning, killing at least 24 people.

Breaking his self-imposed media blackout on asylum seeker operations for the second consecutive day, the minister issued a statement on Sunday saying Australian rescue and border protection agencies "respond to all such events with great professionalism and a keenly felt sense of duty, as they did on this occasion".

Only 28 of the boat's 81 passengers have been found alive, leaving more than 50 dead or missing. Indonesian authorities say they have little hope of finding more.

One survivor, Abdullah, from Jordan, said: "I called the Australian embassy. For 24 hours we were calling them. They told us just send us the position on GPS, where are you. We did, and they told us: 'OK, we know … where you are.' And they said: 'We'll come for you in two hours.'

"We wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them: 'We don't have food, we don't have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us.' And nobody come."

Mr Morrison's second statement said the government "completely rejects allegations of a 26-hour delay".

"Suggestions Australian authorities did not respond to this incident appropriately are absolutely and totally wrong," the minister's statement said.

His earlier statement on Saturday said Australian authorities received a phone call about the vessel on Friday morning. Initial reports placed it inside the Indonesian search and rescue region.

Australia's Maritime Safety Rescue Co-ordination Centre issued an all-ships broadcast. A merchant ship responded but was unable to locate the vessel. A Border Protection Command aircraft was also unable to locate it.

Mr Morrison is due to give the second of the weekly briefings he has promised about asylum seeker operations on Monday.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Network Ten: "Tragically, I mean, the events occurred in an area that was under Indonesian jurisdiction.

"As long as the boats keep coming, people sadly will continue to lose their lives."

Greens leader Christine Milne called for an inquiry into Australia's response.

She said the Greens would use the Senate to demand a return to the regular release of information rather than weekly briefings.


29 September, 2013

Australian Navy sends asylum seekers back to Indonesia

For only the second time in the past six years, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat and handed the asylum seekers back to Indonesia

THE Australian Navy has sent more than 40 asylum seekers back to Indonesia, after intercepting their boat off the coast of Java.

The boat carrying 44 asylum seekers attempting to get to Australia, issued a distress call 40 nautical miles off Java yesterday morning.

The Australian Navy intercepted the asylum vessel, after Indonesia’s rescue agency Basarnas said it did not have the capability to reach the boat.

The Australian Navy advised Basarnas it would drop the asylum seekers and two crew members off.

In the early hours of the morning, the Indonesian rescue crew met the Navy ship off the coast of Java and the passengers were handed over, and returned to the mainland.

Azam, one of the intercepted boat’s crew members told the ABC the boat was not broken, despite passengers calling Australia to be rescued.  He said there was nothing wrong with the boat when the Australian Navy intercepted it, and the engine was working.

It appears the asylum seekers called the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, hoping to get rescued and taken to Australia.

He said the Navy set fire to the boat at sea.

Suyatno, head of operations at the Jakarta office of Basarnas said he did not know why Australia did not take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.

The Australian Navy only handed asylum seekers back to Indonesian authorities once during the six years of the last Labor government.

On all other occasions where a boat of asylum seekers were intercepted by Australian authorities assisting in their rescue, they were taken to Christmas Island.

This rescue and return of asylum seekers hints at a new and tougher approach by the Australian government, according to the ABC’s Parliament House bureau chief Greg Jennett.

Jennett predicts this action could establish a precedent with Indonesia, and future calls for Australian help and rescue will come with a condition that the passengers and crew will be handed back.

However, such claims may never be confirmed or denied, following the Government’s recent communications clampdown.

The Government are sticking by its policy of not commenting on the operational details of any intercepts at sea under Operation Sovereign Borders.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently ordered all ministers to obtain approval from his office prior to speaking to the media, including the ABC.

The Australian Navy’s return of passengers back to west Java has caused a minor dispute with local Indonesian authorities, who did not want responsibility for the asylum seekers.

This recent incident comes as a diplomatic row continues to simmer between Australia and Indonesia about the handling of asylum boats.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott described tensions between the two countries over the Coalition’s border protection policy as a “passing irritant”.

“The last thing I would ever want to do is anything that doesn’t show the fullest possible respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty,” he said.

“We are already at this very moment cooperating closely with the Indonesians… I don’t believe that the incoming government will do anything that will put that cooperation at risk. We want to build on that.”


Cool, calm and coiffed, Julie Bishop brings world's leaders to heel

LOL.  Julie Bishop in the seat Kevvy coveted.  That must burn

First came a bang of her gavel, and next was one of those steely-eyed stares.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stopped talking, and Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sat up straight - Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was the boss today after all.

Making her world debut as chair of the United Nations Security Council in New York, Ms Bishop quickly had the full attention of some of the globe’s most important leaders as she declared: “The 7036 order.”

Dressed in a designer suit, Armani probably, and her hair coiffed and unmoving throughout, Ms Bishop, who for years voiced her opposition to Labor’s campaign to snare a position on the UN Security Council, sat proudly centre stage, the words “PRESIDENT AUSTRALIA” on the desk in front of her.

“The provisional agenda for this meeting is ...,” she paused, "small arms,” before giving another strong bang of her gavel.

The 57-year-old, whose childhood was spent on a cherry farm in the Adelaide Hills, could not have hoped for a better outcome to her first day in charge as the council adopted a landmark resolution on small arms.

During the two-hour long meeting Ms Bishop was poised, professional and in control.

There was only an occasional stumble as she tried to pronounce names, including Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov.

Also not going to plan was when the lights went out – but only for a second.

But mostly Ms Bishop, who has been in New York all week representing Australia at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, held her own.

“The Security Council has taken too long to adopt its first resolution on small arms,” she told the high level meeting.

Yet despite her polished performance, Ms Bishop unusually refused a request to speak to world media about her landmark role, prompting speculation she was unwilling to face potential questions on the increasing tension with Indonesia over the Coalition’s turn-back-the-boats policy.

During the meeting, representatives from member states applauded the Australian government for its relentless pursuit of a devastating global problem that has not been addressed by the UN in four years.

“Thank you Madame president for choosing the issue of small arms for the month of your presidency,” added the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

His sentiments were echoed by foreign ministers from other states who praised Australia for its “hard work” in highlighting the issue of the proliferation and use of small arms and light weapons.

Ms Bishop beamed, and said: “I should note that Australia has built on the earlier work of others – including Argentina some years ago – to get to this point.”

What she could also have noted – but did not – was the work of Labor, who battled for four years amid fierce opposition from Ms Bishop herself to land a position on the Security Council.

“An expensive victory,” was how she and Tony Abbott put it when the campaign, started by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 came to fruition last October.

"There is a limit to what can be achieved as a temporary member on the United Nations Security Council,” she told ABC TV at the time.

"Of course, the ultimate test will be in terms of success, what we have achieved for the benefit of the Australian people after two years on the Security Council as a temporary member."

Most likely, as Ms Bishop kicks back tonight in her plush hotel near Grand Central with a view of New York's sparkling Empire State Building, she is toasting that success.


TV cameraman fired for 'terrorist' slur on rioting Muslim

CHANNEL Nine cameraman Simon Fuller has been sacked after calling the father of a Melbourne riot suspect a "f---ing terrorist" outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

Nine announced the decision on its news bulletin last night.   "Following an investigation, his employment has been terminated," news reader Peter Hitchener said.  Nine director of news Michael Venus today said he had nothing more to add.

Fuller was stood down pending an investigation after footage of the incident aired on Media Watch on Monday night.

"I've looked at the tape myself, the field tape, and it's sufficiently deeply disturbing enough for us to have taken the action that we have taken in recent days," Mr Venus told Neil Mitchell on Radio 3AW yesterday.

"I should point out, Neil, also that the cameraman involved did apologise to the father and his son immediately after the incident. That's no excuse but it's something that has been overlooked in the discussion to date."

Fuller was filming 19-year-old Omar Amr and his father after the teenager was bailed on April 1. He followed them after the court session ended and filmed them.

The dispute began when Fuller said what sounded like "f--- off" to the pair. Amr's father, Gad, responded by calling him in a "bloody idiot". Fuller then called Mr Amr a "f---ing terrorist".

Omar Amr is facing charges of incitement to riot, riot, affray, burglary, theft and criminal damage following the riot that damaged a Bob Jane T-Mart store in Oakleigh.

Two 19-year-old men from Morwell have also been charged over their alleged involvement in the riot.


New broom Pyne ready to reshape curriculum

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has warned he will take a much more hands-on approach to what is taught in the nation's schools, as he prepares to overhaul the government body in charge of the curriculum and NAPLAN tests.

In an ominous sign for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, Mr Pyne vowed not to outsource his ministerial responsibilities and declared the agency was "not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education".

And Mr Pyne was not worried about sparking a fresh round of "history wars" by claiming the national curriculum favoured progressive causes, saying he did not mind if the left wanted to fight the Coalition on the topic.

"People need to understand that the government has changed in Canberra, that we're not simply administering the previous government's policies or views," Mr Pyne said.  "I know that the left will find that rather galling and, while we govern for everyone, there is a new management in town."

Mr Pyne signalled the interventionist approach in an interview in which he also failed to spell out a clear way forward on school funding.

The new system of needs-based funding is due to begin in most states in January, but it remains unclear how the Abbott government will treat cash-strapped Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, the places that did not strike agreements with the Commonwealth before the election.

Pressed on the school funding issue, Mr Pyne repeatedly said Labor had "left us a mess" and he would consult with the states and territories on how "to fix that mess".

If the new government were to offer more favourable concessions to the hold-out jurisdictions it could open itself to demands by the early adopters - NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT - to pass on the concessions.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli vowed to defend his state's rights, saying the agreement Premier Barry O'Farrell signed with then prime minister Julia Gillard in April ensured no state would receive a greater share of additional funding or more beneficial annual increases.

"We signed an agreement that had a 'no disadvantage' clause in it and that was signed with the Commonwealth government, not with the Labor Party," Mr Piccoli said. "Yes, we would seek to use that clause."

Mr Piccoli said he had not spoken to Mr Pyne since the election but was confident the new government would be much more co-operative than its Labor predecessor.

One of Mr Pyne's immediate priorities is to set up a ministerial advisory group to look at improving teacher training. He said universities should take a more practical approach to training teachers and focus less on theory so graduates left classroom-ready.

Mr Pyne also confirmed plans to reform one of the government's key education authorities by ensuring it was focused only on curriculum development.  ACARA now publishes the My School website, administers national literacy and numeracy tests known as NAPLAN and collects performance data.

Under Mr Pyne's plan all non-curriculum-related roles will move into the Department of Education, suggesting ACARA will relinquish much of its testing and ranking activities.

Mr Pyne said he had not yet started work on the agency's overhaul as it was not a priority, but the Coalition's election-eve costings document factored in $23 million in savings from ACARA's four-year budget, including $7 million this financial year.

Mr Pyne said the review of the national curriculum was needed to ensure "that it is achieving the outcomes that we believe it should be" and hinted he may not accept ACARA's advice.

"I don't believe in handing over responsibility for government policy to third parties," Mr Pyne said. "The Westminster system of government requires ministers to take a hands-on approach to matters within their portfolio.  "ACARA has an important role but ACARA is not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education."

Mr Pyne said the national history curriculum played down "the non-Labor side of our history" despite the Coalition governing for two-thirds of the past 60 years.

In a statement to Fairfax Media, ACARA - which has 117 full-time and 22 part-time staff - said the curriculum for English, mathematics, science, history and geography had been "signed off by all state and territory ministers".  It vowed to continue to perform its current roles, which had been agreed by a standing council of state, territory and federal education ministers.

"We will prepare advice for Minister Pyne on current activities as well as matters that have been raised in policy statements," it said.


27 September, 2013

A pleasant accent

Your accent is hugely important in England.  It indexes your social class.  And your social class greatly governs your life chances.  So British parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools  -- where they will acquire an RP accent  As a result, the 7% who have been to private schools run the country and are, generally speaking, hated by the rest of the population.  Tony Blair vowed to end all that but social mobility under his regime in fact worsened.

There is some echo of that in Australia  -- but only a faint one.  The "official" ideology in Australia is egalitarian and that is widely heartfelt.  Your chances in life can be good regardless of your background and you will not be held back by your accent.  The large number of immigrants to Australia from Europe who have prospered despite starting out with very little English at all are instructive.

Nonetheless, many Australian parents feel that private schooling does give their kids a leg-up and Australia does as result have one of the world's highest rates of private schooling.  40% of Australian teenagers go to private High schools (including Catholic schools).  I sent my own son to a Catholic school.

All schools are not equal, however, and those private schools with the highest academic and sporting standards are in my home State of Queensland grouped as "GPS" (Great Public Schools) schools.

That long preamble was needed to explain the context of a very small event in my life this norning.  I was in the pharmacy of the Wesley private hospital to pick up a prescription when I was attended to by a pleasant, nice-looking and well-presented Chinese lady.  That was not at all unusual.  All the pharmacies that I know are overwhelmingly staffed by well-presented people of East Asian appearance.

What made this young lady different, however, was her accent.  It was a very familiar one.  She spoke perfect English with a GPS accent!  I said to her that she sounded as if she had been to a GPS school and, with a blush, she confirmed that she had:  Brisbane Girl's Grammar. Brisbane Girl's Grammar advertises itself as "the best girls private school in Brisbane".

I was pleased to hear that accent because much of my early life was spent in the company of other women with that accent.  In proof of what I say about Australian mores, my own working class background has never been any obstacle to such associations.  If a young lady knew about Bach, Chopin and madrigals, she had almost certainly learnt it at a private school so my own obsession with that music led inevitably to a  meeting of minds with ladies of a GPS background.

So it was a nice surprise to hear that pleasant and familiar accent coming from the mouth of a very Chinese-looking lady.  She will do well and I certainly wish her well.  I told her that she would go down well in England -- which she will.  A GPS accent and RP are very similar.  Her parents invested wisely in the education of their lovely daughter.

An extraordinarily slack bureaucracy

Not too surprising from a bureaucracy that dates from 1944.  It's had a lot of time to decay

His mornings were reserved for royal correspondence.

His leave was timed for the British royal wedding.

Yet very few questioned why a 'Tahitian prince', who lived an extravagant lifestyle full of fast cars and beautiful people [adjectives which can be swapped] and would often slash HRH on the bottom of letters, was working at a Queensland government department.

His success, a Crime and Misconduct Commission report into fraud and accountability in the Queensland public service seemed to suggest, was the product of apathetic colleagues, disregard for policy and haphazard investigations.

He didn't just raise red flags; he cloaked himself with them and dropped them throughout Queensland Health.

Barlow pulled off Queensland's single largest fraud, stealing $16.69 million over four years, because those around him weren't doing their jobs.

A CMC report, released nearly two years after Barlow was arrested, found systemic failures allowed the flamboyant New Zealand expat to make 65 fraudulent transactions, transferring Queensland Health grant money to a company he had set up and entered into the grants system.

Despite an anonymous complaint accusing Barlow of defrauding the department being sent to the CMC in 2010, a substantiated misuse claim, a criminal history and outstanding warrant in New Zealand, a work history which included irregular hours, questionable reasons for sick leave, concerns over his corporate credit card use and a failure to deliver on projects, Barlow was not only allowed to skate by, he was promoted.

Staff continued to complain about Barlow's work – the poor quality briefing notes he produced, his constant absences from work, his irregular hours, his bullying (which included making staff members cry on a regular basis), his inability to meet project deadlines, his tardiness because he was waiting on tradesmen or having a personal training session – but “everyone seemed to laugh it off because 'it was Ho'”.

Barlow told the CMC he had no idea how much money he had defrauded through his fake grants scheme. He simply took more money when he needed it, which, given his Bollinger lifestyle and the gifts he spread around to friends, family, colleagues and managers, was often.

On December 8, 2011, a finance officer was trying to work out why the Community Service Purchasing [Barlow's team] budget would not balance.

He uncovered a $11 million payment made to Healthy Initiatives and Choices from the Minister's Grants in Aid program. Barlow's luck had finally deserted him, although he would later claim to the CMC that he had had decided it was time to be caught “tired of living a double [life]...[being] His Royal Highness”.

The officer not only queried the grant with a superior officer, he performed a company search on HIC through the Australian Business Register and found it was registered to Barlow.

Barlow wandered into work about lunchtime. He saw that his superior was missing from a scheduled meeting and noticed his electronic access had been blocked and his work phone had been wiped.

He told his assistant he was popping out for a bite to eat and never came back. He was arrested four days later and charged; in March this year he was sentenced to 14 years in jail. He will become eligible for parole in December 2016.

But his spectre still haunts Queensland Health.

Having ignored Barlow's brazenness, or just failed to carry out the proper checks and balances which had been put in place to stop the misuse of public funds resulted in 45 allegations against 11 Queensland Health employees, including Barlow.

Twenty-four allegations against nine officers, including the man at the centre of the storm were substantiated by the CMC – failing to follow procedure, failing to act as managers and failing to comply with policy meant one officer was sacked, another moved out of the department, while others became the subject of disciplinary action, including retraining.

The CMC has suggested the Public Service Commission review its guideline on gift giving – gifts coming from outside the service are monitored but gifts given by employees to colleagues are not.

High value gifts particularly if they flow from an employee to a manager, should be noted, says the CMC.

Tea cakes and flowers remain safe, but Barlow's generosity with colleagues included airfares, expensive bottles of vintage champagne and platinum sporting tickets.

“It is reasonable to assume in those sort of circumstances that that sort of gift giving could compromise a manager's ability to act objectively and energetically,” CMC Assistant Commissioner Kathleen Florian told the media.

Like all CMC officers, Ms Florian is not comfortable in front of the media.

She presented the findings of the watchdog's report with the monotone senior public servants across the world master early.

But with each revelation – the fake crown Barlow had bought to give credence to his story, the trust fund which suddenly “kicked in” to explain the multi-million dollar river-front apartment and corresponding lifestyle at the same time Barlow became increasingly protective and territorial over grant paperwork, the complaints which were made and haphazardly investigated, the different names, the poor work performance, the permission to take mornings off to attend to royal correspondence – having now been laid out in black and white, even Ms Florian had to offer an exasperated smile.

“Looking at it all on paper and analysing further the four year period, it does seem extraordinary that this fraudulent activity was not identified earlier,” Ms Florian said.

Not just extraordinary – an “appalling, sad indictment” of the public service under the previous Labor government, says the man who was put in charge of cleaning up the mess, LNP Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg.

“It is a black stain against the former Labor administration in Queensland,” he said.

Mr Springborg said things have changed. Criminal background checks for employees – even temporary ones – now extend to New Zealand. Three people are required to sign for any payment over $100,000, while grants have been reduced, with service agreements taking their place.

Employees have been reminded of policy procedure which has been tightened, while Mr Springborg said a culture of accountability is slowly being introduced.

He said that would mean promotions would occur on merit, not (as seemingly in Barlow's case) through length of service, confusion and a lack of ideas of what else to do with such a frustrating employee.

“Everyone would be amazed, shocked and saddened by a set of circumstances where someone who had been so poor at work, had to be disciplined and had actually threatened their subordinates, could get away with those sorts of things for so long and was able to work his way up the food chain,” Mr Springborg said.

“The warning signs were there, but they were never picked up, they were never picked up and it had been escalated to a fairly high area.”

But Mr Springborg can't guarantee it will never happen again.

“What we've got are better systems, better processes, better structures which are giving more accountability for the people of Queensland and I think people can have more confidence,” he said.

“No one can ever give guarantees, but if you have a good process and someone's found a way around the good process, then it is different than having no process at all.”

But perhaps Barlow summed it up best during his confession to investigating officers.

“A simple ABN search would have stopped this in the beginning,” he said.


Anthony Albanese is an 'intellectual lightweight': Mark Latham

Labor may be insisting that its days of personal attacks and bitter infighting over leadership are behind it, but it appears Mark Latham did not get the memo.

The former Labor leader and perennial heckler has launched a withering attack on wannabe leader, Anthony Albanese, calling him an "intellectual lightweight" and arguing that Labor needed to vote ABA - or "anyone but Albo".

In the wake of Labor's election loss earlier this month, Labor MPs have widely concurred that Labor needs to stop talking about itself, while Mr Albanese and Bill Shorten have so far been at pains to conduct a leadership contest that is free from the nastiness that characterised the Rudd and Gillard years.

But Mr Latham has broken the self-imposed detente in a column in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday, writing that "the caucus has deluded itself into thinking if everyone is nice to each other [for a couple of weeks] the big issues will go away".

The former member for Werriwa, who took Labor to the 2004 federal election before resigning in January 2005, said that instead of seeking a mandate for major policy and organisational change, Mr Shorten and Mr Albanese have been "paralysed by conservatism".

"So far, the leadership contest between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese has resembled a Nimbin MardiGrass festival, spaced out on mutual love and unreality."

Mr Albanese and Mr Shorten are currently campaigning for the Labor leadership under a new system where Labor members as well as the caucus get a vote.

On Thursday, Mr Shorten suggested he was likely to win the caucus vote but would not predict how the membership vote - where Mr Albanese is favoured - would turn out.

"I don't know how anyone could predict the outcome of the ballot for the membership of the party," Mr Shorten told ABC Radio.

"We'll have to see how the caucus members vote. A majority of them have indicated to me that they support me but this is a process also involving party members."

After criticising the campaign so far, Mr Latham goes on to tear strips off Mr Albanese in his column, arguing that when the former deputy prime minister launched his campaign in Sydney last week, he "gave one of the worst speeches in recent Labor history".

"It was a throwback to the 1960s, a narrow, insular pitch to the party's ever-shrinking industrial base. He had nothing to say about fiscal policy or boat people drownings. Other than in his transport portfolio, it is clear Albanese has not thought in any depth about public policy. He's an intellectual lightweight," Mr Latham writes.

The former Labor leader - who has previously labelled Mr Rudd a "once-in-a-century egomaniac" - went on to declare that Mr Albanese has been wrong on "every significant issue over the past decade".

"In effect, Albanese's political instincts are terrible. If he wins next month's leadership ballot, he will be a case study in inner-city, left-wing bunkum. His close links to [former NSW MP Ian] Macdonald will be electoral suicide for Labor."

"The caucus and party membership have no choice but to vote ABA: Anyone But Albo."

When contacted by Fairfax Media about Mr Latham's column, Mr Albanese's office had no comment.

But Mr Albanese responded via Twitter, posting: "So [union leader] Joe de Bruyn thinks I'm "rabid" on sexuality issues and Mark Latham thinks I don't have Leadership skills ........"

In the aftermath of the 2013 election, Mr Latham said that former attorney-general Mark Dreyfus should be Labor leader, arguing the party needed someone who had had a "real life outside of politics".

"If you took that logical, objective criteria, there's only one person who could possibly match it and that's Mark Dreyfus, the outgoing Attorney-General," he told ABC Radio.

"Now, [Mr Dreyfus] won't be running for the Labor leadership because he's not part of the gang. That's the sad thing about Labor Party - that objectively the person who could present a new face, a new outlook, won't even be thought of. We're going to go back to, what, Shorten: union, union, union. Or Albanese: warlord, warlord, warlord."

The membership vote closes on October 9 at 5 pm. The Labor caucus will then meet on October 10 for its vote, before the result is announced on October 13.


Coal seam gas opponents 'anarchists', says minister

The Federal Minister for Resources, Mr Ian Macfarlane, has slammed as "anarchists" some of the opponents to coal seam gas projects in NSW.  "They are anarchists, they don't respect people's property, they don't respect people's rights. They don't respect the law of the land.  "They go out deliberately to break the law."

The minister said he does not oppose people demonstrating but any opponents but they must respect the law, he said.

"If they try to spit on a state's MLA I think that is anarchy.

"If they go onto a farmer's property and trespass and won't remove themselves when asked I think that is anarchy.

"If they do not accept the science that (Professor) Mary (O'Kane, the NSW Chief Scientist) comes up with, if they don't accept the policy and they don't accept the law of the land, that's anarchy."

The newly installed resources minister is to visit the Northern Rivers district of NSW early next week, he said and he expects to encounter some of the opponents to the coal seam gas industry during that visit.

Mr Macfarlane was addressing an energy summit being held in Sydney in the wake of surging gas and electricity prices following restrictions to developing of the gas industry in NSW.


'Clean-eating' celebrity diet fad hits raw nerve

A GROWING number of young women across the country are embracing the latest "clean-eating" diet focused on raw, organic, vegan and abstract ingredients such as bee pollen.

However, the head of the federal government's dietary guidelines committee has warned that the latest dieting craze could have long-term health affects.

The clean-eating diet, boasting celebrity endorsement by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman, promotes the use of unprocessed and uncooked whole foods.

Amanda Lee said yesterday the fad, which has been embraced by young women seeking weight loss, could affect childbearing and lead to health problems in later years. While there was no consensus on what clean eating was among the different guidelines set by diet programs, most promoted no processed and refined foods, meat or dairy. "I worry mostly about the lack of food groups," Professor Lee said.

"It's definitely not good for health in the long term and if women are going to have babies they need to have a good source of calcium and iron.

"It worries me that something that is potentially harmful could become so fashionable."

There was no scientific evidence that organic food, which comes at a premium price, was better for your health, she said.

"People who eat organic food should only do it because of their concern for the environment," Professor Lee said.

Hayley Richards, 25, a student nutritionist and owner of Raw Karma vegan catering company, said the decision to "go clean" was a lifestyle choice and not a fad.

She said it was important that people following a clean-eating diet did their research to understand what they needed to eat to meet their nutritional needs.

"For me, it's about being as natural as possible with everything," Ms Richards said.

"It's not about just eating a salad for lunch -- you have to eat a lot of plant-based products so you can get what you need nutritionally. As a population we're over-eating, but we're not eating the right foods."

The National Health and Medical Research Council released updated dietary guidelines in February with a new focus on the obesity epidemic gripping the country.

They recommend men eat less meat and all Australians cut back on white bread, high-fat milk, soft drinks and takeaway food.


26 September, 2013

Mandatory student fees: Coalition split as Michael McCormack says fees important to regional universities

What is not mentioned below is that for many years student fees were used to  pay for Far-Left political agitation

There is division within the Federal Government over whether university students should pay a compulsory services charge that helps fund student unions and services.

Nationals MP Michael McCormack says his party is likely to oppose any move from the Coalition to abolish the fees.

There were reports today that Education Minister Christopher Pyne plans to scrap the mandatory fees, which are collected by universities who then distribute the money to student unions for on-campus services.

It is not the first time the issue has caused a split within the Coalition: Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce crossed the floor in 2005 when the Howard government first axed the fees.

The Rudd government then reinstated them in 2007.

Mr Pyne clarified his position on ABC Radio today, saying that while the Government remains opposed to the fees, it is "not a priority" of the Coalition to get rid of them.

But Mr McCormack told triple j's Hack program that the funds are essential to regional university campuses.  He said Nationals senator Fiona Nash was also against the fees, and National Party members were "surprised and shocked" at the reports today.

Mr McCormack says that while he is not sure if Mr Pyne intends to scrap the fees, but any decision should go before the entire Coalition.  "I think perhaps it has to go to a backbench committee where we have regional Liberals, as well as National Party members, who can argue the point on behalf of regional universities and regional students that the student services and amenities fee is an integral part of regional universities campuses," he said.

Mr McCormack says the Liberal Party is ideologically against compulsory unionism, but a blanket approach will not benefit regional universities.

"The Liberal Party, let's face it, are against compulsory unionism, they're against having to pay that fee that might otherwise go towards things that the people who are paying the fees don't want or need," he said.

"I think this isn't so much of a funding issue so much as it is an ideology. Whilst it might be philosophically important for those city unis to not have compulsory unionism, to not have compulsory fees, out here in the bush things are different, students are different.

"Certainly in this instance it's something I don't think has necessarily been totally thought through."

Ian Young, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, says there is "clearly an ideological view" within Coalition regarding mandatory student fees.

"I think it's been a policy within the Liberal Party in particular for quite some time," he said.

"I guess the job for myself and my fellow vice-chancellors is to be able to explain that this is not a student union fee and that it's something that is really important to the rich education for both Australian students and also for international students who study here in Australia."


Palmer United Party candidate Jacqui Lambie claims last Tasmanian Senate spot

Palmer United Party candidate Jacqui Lambie has picked up Tasmania's sixth Senate seat.  The Australian Electoral Commission confirmed the results this morning after preferences were distributed from the September 7 poll.

The race for the last seat had been too close to call, but the former Army corporal prevailed with a margin of about 15,000 votes over Liberal hopeful Sally Chandler and Robbie Swan from the Australian Sex Party.

Ms Lambie, a mother of two, lives in Tasmania's north-west and was in Hobart this morning to wait for the results.  She says there will be little time for celebrations and she will spend the day pulling down her election posters.

Ms Lambie says she is passionate about veterans issues and plans to focus on freight issues which are troubling the island state.   "It's a core issue, the negative effect that's coming our of's just not good for Tasmania whatsoever," she said.

"So I'd like to get straight onto that and fix up our freight and passenger services and get something down on the table and that is not going to come at a cheap price."

She says Tasmania is in a dire financial situation.  "Use Clive Palmer and his contacts and his business smarts to see if we can get Tasmania back on its feet," she said.  About 20,000 Tasmanians voted for Mr Palmer's party.

Earlier this month, Ms Lambie dubbed the Liberal Party a "boys club" and warned she would be harder for Tony Abbott to deal with than Pauline Hanson.  She previously said she did not support the PUP's push to scrap the carbon tax but has since changed her position.

"The Palmer United Party has better solutions that won't cost the taxpayer, so we'll keep putting those issues through and across the table."  "It is the underdog who is actually paying for this and we don't want to so their sufferance any longer."

Ms Lambie is the second PUP candidate elected to the Senate after former rugby league player Glenn Lazarus won a seat in Queensland.

A possible third Senate seat could go to the party when Western Australia's tally is finalised next week.


New Greenie leader is already a lame duck

FORMER Greens leader Bob Brown has refused to defend his successor Christine Milne as tensions rise in the minor party following an exodus of staff.

It was revealed yesterday that many staff members in Senator Milne’s office have applied for redundancies in the wake of the September 7 election where the Greens lost more than 400,000 votes and suffered a negative swing.

She has lost a total of six staffers in recent weeks.  One high profile departure is that of Senator Milne’s highly regarded chief of staff Ben Oquist, who served Dr Brown and stayed on when he stepped down from the party in 2012.

 Former Greens leader Bon Brown won’t comment on Christine Milne’s leadership style.  “Sorry I just have no comment,” he said when asked if he had spoken to Mr Oquist.

 Green leader Christine Milne denies that the resignations are a sign her leadership is on shaky ground.

Dr Brown, 68, retired from his position as Greens Leader in April 2012. He said he wanted to have a quieter life at the time.

Dr Brown was widely credited with boosting the Greens vote and was hugely popular among young and older voters alike.  He currently devotes his efforts to environmental protection and works with anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd.

Senator Milne last night defended the exodus of staff from her office. She confirmed to the ABC’s Lateline program that six staff members had tendered their resignations but dismissed claims her leadership was on shaky ground.

She said some staff had indicated last year they would stay with her until the election, and some had given personal reasons for leaving.

“It’s quite common in politics after an election for people to consider whether they want to stay on or not,” Senator Milne said.

Mr Oquist issued a statement saying he was leaving with good will but cited “fundamental differences of opinion about strategy”.

Asked about his reason last night Senator Milne said: “interesting that Ben would say that.”  “I wish Ben very well with his endeavours in the future,” she said.

The Coalition has indicated it intends to cut the staff allocation to the Greens’ leader by up to a third.  “That is further reason for restructure of the office,” a spokesman said.


Australia: 23 million and counting

Australia's population is about to tick past the 23 million mark as the country continues to grow at the fastest rate in the developed world.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics population counter will tick over to 23 million at 9.57pm. Social researchers say the milestone baby will - statistically - be a boy called Jack. Odds suggest his mother will be 31, his father 33 and he will live in western Sydney.

Jack isn't real, of course. His likely arrival time has been reached by averaging the expected number of births, deaths and net overseas migration intake (incoming residents minus outgoing) since data was last collected in September 2012.

What is known is our annual population growth rate of 1.7 per cent - 1048 people per day, or the equivalent of a new Gold Coast every 19 months - is the fastest of any OECD country. The US is growing at 0.9 per cent, and Britain at just 0.6 per cent.

The world's population is growing at 1.1 per cent, having surpassed 7 billion people in late 2011. Australia's population growth is even outstripping countries with traditionally high birth rates, such as India on 1.4 per cent.

Demographers say it is migration, rather than an elevated birth rate, that is the main driver spurring Australia's growth.  Net overseas migration accounted for 60 per cent of Australia's population increase last year, with the proportion from births falling from 46 per cent to 40 per cent.

Bob Birrell, from Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, said aside from a surge in the early 2000s, Australia's fertility rate (the number of children per woman) has remained stable at about 1.9.

Dr Birrell said the population was driven upwards by people on temporary visas, who make up about half of the growth in net migration. "Working holiday makers, visitors, 457 visa holders, New Zealanders - they have all been going up sharply," he said.

"There is no cap on working holiday makers and we are a very attractive destination now for people from Ireland, Taiwan, England, where the labour markets are dead."

Almost two-thirds of permanent arrivals last year were on some kind of working visa. Thirty per cent were on family visas and 7 per cent on humanitarian visas.

Bjorn Jarvis, director of demography at the ABS, pointed out that the 488,100 permanent arrivals last year was proportionally a smaller group relative to the rest of the population than the influx following World War II.

In 1918, Australia's population was just 5 million. It passed 10 million in 1959, 15 million in 1982, and 20 million in 2003. While a lesser contributor than migration, births still hit a record high last year, surpassing 300,000 for the first time. Australia recorded twice as many births (303,600) as deaths (149,100). By 2028 there will be more people aged over 60 than under 20.

Professor Billie Giles-Corti, director of the McCaughey VicHealth Centre at Melbourne University, warned that the health system would be overwhelmed unless the elderly remained fit and active.

She said people in retirement housing close to shops and services did better than those living further out, even if they had facilities in their own village.


25 September, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG supports the policy of denying information to people smugglers

More evidence that Greenies have ready access to rivers of cash

The axed Climate Commission is to be relaunched with private funds in a bid to keep information about global warming prominent in the public arena, former head Tim Flannery said.

The decision to create the Australian Climate Council, as the group will be known, was spurred by "a groundswell of support" from across the country, Dr Flannery said.

"We've developed a real reputation for independence and authority in this area, and we just want to continue with that job," he said, before a formal launch planned for Tuesday in Sydney.

"We haven't seen any plans from the government to provide an alternative" to the commission, he said.

The Abbott government made closing the Climate Commission one of its first acts last week. The Coalition also plans to repeal other climate change policies of the Rudd and Gillard governments, such as the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The Coalition instead plans a $2.55 billion Direct Action scheme to pay polluters to cut greenhouse gases to meet the bipartisan goal of reducing emissions by at least 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020.

Most, if not all, of the six commissioners, will sign up as directors of the new council, with climate scientist Will Steffen and ex-BP head for Australia Gerry Hueston among them. "We'll all be working pro bono at least initially," Dr Flannery said.

The commission's budget was about $5.4 million over four years, a figure that will be considerably smaller in the private revamp, he said. "We've already had some people step up and we've got every chance that this will work," Dr Flannery said, declining to say how much had been raised and from whom ahead of the launch of a drive for donations.

Among those supporting the reboot was retired admiral Chris Barrie. "Frankly, I think the work they have done is fantastic," he said.

"The commission's work was invaluable in taking very complex information and presenting it in ways easily digestible by the community."


Malcolm Turnbull called for NBN Co board's scalps

Labor says the "trashing" of the national broadband network has begun after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked NBN Co board members to resign last week.

A spokesman for Mr Turnbull confirmed late on Monday night that Mr Turnbull made the request ahead of the board meeting last Friday.

He declined to confirm NBN Co chairwoman Siobhan McKenna and all but one of her board colleagues have since offered their resignations. The spokesman said there may be an announcement about new board members soon.

It is understood the matter will be considered at a meeting of the federal cabinet as early as next Tuesday.

"And so the trashing of the national broadband network has begun," Labor communications spokesman Anthony Albanese said on Monday.

The resignations may relate to Mr Turnbull's comment earlier this month that while he had no criticism of individual members "it is remarkable that there is nobody on that board who has either run or built or been responsible for building or managing a large telecommunications network".

"Given that is the core business of NBN Co, that is a singular deficiency", Mr Turnbull said.

Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said the Abbott government would stack the NBN Co board with its "friends".

The Abbott government has flagged at least three examinations into broadband: an independent audit of NBN Co's books, a review of its commercial progress and a Productivity Commission inquiry into broadband policy.

It wants to cut down the cost and speed up the rollout by changing from a fibre-to-the-premises to a fibre-to-the-node model.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley, who also sits on the board, announced his retirement in July but remains in the job during the transition. Former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski has been flagged as a possible replacement for Mr Quigley.

The NBN Co website makes no mention of the resignations, but states: "This website is currently under review, pending the introduction of new government policy."

Liberal frontbencher Mitch Fifield said the government would ensure there was "good and appropriate governance" of the NBN.


Coal activist to stand trial over fake ANZ statement

An anti-coal mining activist has been committed to stand trial in the New South Wales Supreme Court for issuing a hoax ANZ Bank media release.

Jonathan Moylan is being prosecuted by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) over the fake statement released in January claiming ANZ had withdrawn its $1.2 billion funding for Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek project on environmental grounds.

The hoax caused a temporary crash of more than $300 million in Whitehaven's share price.

Moylan is charged with making a false and misleading statement under the Corporations Act.

He emailed the statement from a protest campsite at Maules Creek, near Narrabri in north-western NSW.

The Newcastle man's family, including his mother and sister, were in the Downing Centre District Court today as the prosecution and Moylan's lawyer John Sutton agreed for the matter to go straight to trail without a committal hearing.

The court heard the Supreme Court's chief justice had already determined it should go to a higher court.

Earlier this month Moylan's legal team described as "an enormous overreaction" the push to have the case moved from the District Court to the Supreme Court.

Today outside court his lawyer Mr Sutton said the case has been sent to the Supreme Court because of its supposed complexity.

"I have a view of the complexity which is at odds with what the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has," Mr Sutton said.

"The DPP wrote to the Chief Justice of New South Wales suggesting it was a complex matter, the Chief Justice accepted that, that's a matter for his honour to determine.

"What it says is the state, with a capital S, thinks that this is a complicated matter and they want to have the best brain in the Supreme Court or the highest court in this state to examine the matters and examine the issues.

"It does frustrate me to be perfectly honest. The cost involved in running the Supreme Court mean that this is a matter that will cost the state tax payer more money."

Moylan will appear in the Supreme Court on November 1.


Scott Morrison says Government won't reveal when asylum seekers boats turned back

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the Government does not plan to publicly reveal when or if any asylum seeker boats are turned around - a measure that is a key plank of the Coalition's border protection policy.

The Coalition's measures, Operation Sovereign Borders, began last week and Mr Morrison and its commander Angus Campbell held the first weekly media briefing on Monday.

The Minister says the Government will announce how many boats arrive and the numbers of asylum seekers at the briefings, but there will be no information about whether boats are turned around.

"That goes to operational matters that, whether they affect current or future operational activity, you will not be getting commentary from this podium or that podium either way on those matters," Mr Morrison said.

"We want to make it crystal clear: operational and tactical issues that relate to current and prospective operations... will not be the subject of public commentary from these podiums.

"We will tell you what vessels have arrived and have gone into the care of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

"Those updates will be provided as well as transfers and other key policy decisions and announcements and implementation issues regarding this policy, but we are not getting into the tactical discussion of things that happen at sea."

Under the Howard government's Operation Relex, four asylum seeker boats were turned back to Indonesia.

Acting Opposition Leader Chris Bowen says the Government has "no excuse" not to tell the public if boats are intercepted and turned around.

"Turning back the boats has been a centrepiece of Coalition policy now for a long time," he said.  "They've told us at every opportunity that they would turn back boats where it was safe to do so.  "Now we're seeing Mr Morrison saying we may or may not tell you if we've ever turned a boat back.  "This lack of transparency is completely unacceptable."

Lieutenant General Campbell has advised the Government to hold "periodic" media briefings on asylum seeker matters "to prevent the potential for messaging to people smugglers with regards to changes to procedures or our tactical activities that might evolve over time".

Mr Morrison says the intention is not to "keep a lid" on asylum seeker matters.

"This is an open briefing process but there are obvious limitations to what can be discussed in these forums for the protection and safety of the people who are doing our service for our nation," he said.

He said there may be specific briefings if a boat was involved in an accident or somebody went overboard.

"If there are significant incidents that occur, then obviously a decision will be taken at that time as to what briefing will be provided," the Minister said.

The Coalition's policy, released in July, promises that an Abbott Government would instruct the Defence Force to "turn back boats where it is safe to do so" and to intercept "all identified vessels travelling from Sri Lanka outside our sea border".

Morrison sets 48-hour transfer target

The Government has also announced that it is pushing ahead with its plans to expand offshore processing facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

It has also cancelled plans to build a centre in Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley, and is in the process of transferring $58 million in funding to offshore centres instead.

People who arrive by boat will also be subject to a new target of transferring them overseas within 48 hours.

Mr Morrison says once asylum seekers are deemed fit to fly, they will be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for further health checks and full processing.

"You won't be settling in on Christmas Island if you come on a boat," he said.

"You will find yourself very quickly and rapidly transferred by air to one of the offshore processing centres."

But Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the plan could cost lives because 48 hours is not enough time to do proper medical checks.

"If we haven't worked out whether a child is asthmatic, if we haven't worked out whether a child has a particular health concern, we are effectively dumping that child in the middle of a deserted island with no appropriate medical assistance," she said.   "That's not humane."

Hundreds already sent offshore

Earlier on Monday, Mr Morrison said hundreds of asylum seekers who had arrived by boat since the election had already been transferred.

In the past two weeks, 523 people have arrived by boat and claimed asylum in Australia.

Mr Morrison says around half of those have already left Australia's shores for processing on either Manus Island or Nauru.

Previously the process of carrying out health and security checks has taken several weeks.

The Minister also revealed the Rudd-Gillard government had not funded its offshore processing operations on Manus Island beyond this year.

"There is not currently $1 that the previous government put in place for operations - operational funding for offshore processing at Manus Island," he said.

"Not $1 did they fund it beyond the first of January, so that's one of the early nasty surprises that we've had to deal with."

Mr Morrison said the Abbott Government would "make sure that's addressed" but added there was "an enormous amount of work to do to salvage that arrangement".


24 September, 2013

Qld. workers face being stripped of right to travel compo

Sometimes people have to take responsibility for themselves!

WORKERS injured on their way to and from work face being stripped of their right to compensation under a shake-up to WorkCover Queensland.

The State Government is considering dumping journey and recess claims, which last year cost the scheme $50 million for 6000 cases. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland will today increase pressure on Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie to introduce reforms to WorkCover, which also include stopping staff from suing employers for minor injuries suffered at work.

Workers who are involved in car accidents or hurt themselves in other ways while travelling to and from work can apply for compensation.

However, CCIQ believes the system is being rorted by staff and want journey claims dumped so business can cut its premiums. Employers pay a workers' compensation premium based on the wages, their industry classification and the number of claims in the past.

Statistics show most claims are made in southeast Queensland.

Business lobbying has alarmed the Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams, who said he had been leaked information that Mr Bleijie was getting ready to buckle to the big end of town. However, Mr Bleijie made it clear that no decision had been made.

"The Government is currently considering a report from the Inquiry into the Operation of Queensland's Workers' Compensation Scheme," Mr Bleijie said.

Mr Bleijie said lodgements for journey claims had been stable for 10 years but more money was being paid because of a growth in wages and medical costs. He said depending on the circumstances of the injury, the motor accident insurance scheme (CTP) could also provide coverage.

WorkCover was able to recover costs of the statutory claim from the CTP insurer if the person subsequently lodged a successful damages claim under that scheme, he said.

A review of the scheme was required by law and was completed this year. A Parliamentary Committee recommended that journey claims and the right to sue remain.

A briefing note sent to Mr Bleijie in April - and obtained by Saturday's Courier-Mail - revealed that WorkCover had costed three options in relation to ditching journey claims. It modelled scrapping it for all workers, scrapping it for all workers except police and scrapping for all workers except police and emergency service workers.

Mr Battams said workers would be left in the lurch if the Government dumped both provisions.

He said Queensland's scheme was fair and sustainable.

"The nature of our state is that people have to travel long distances to get to work on bad roads," he said.  "Many of them have no choice."

He accused Mr Bleijie of deliberately waiting until after the Federal election to make a decision.

CCIQ spokesman Nick Behrens said it would help business if the Government restricted access to compensation. Mr Behrens said while business wanted journey claims scrapped it really wanted to stop workers for suing for minor injuries.

He said injured workers should be given a set amount depending on their injury.

"The common law process is an expensive way of awarding compensation to employees compared to the statutory process, particularly for minor injuries in the lower levels of whole of person injury.

"The average common law claim settlement, $120,150, is approximately 17 times more than the average cost of a statutory claim, $7070," Mr Behrens said.



Bill Shorten who is running for the federal Labor Party leadership has more skeletons in the closet than any other federal Labor politician which is a sign that nothing has changed and that the Labor Party has learnt nothing from their mistakes.

Worse still for Bill is that some of those skeletons are coming back to life with a fresh Fair Work Commission inquiry into corruption at the Heath Services Union.

Add this to numerous recent incidents, many covered on this site, and Bill Shorten if elected as leader will be nothing more than the Mafia Don of the Labor Party and the voters will know this. So let’s have a look at some of those recent incidents and it is the HSU we will focus on as Bill Shorten is right up to neck in it. He claims he put the HSU into administration to clean up the corruption, the reality is all he wanted to do is put his own crooks and cronies in charge of the HSU.

New Fair Work Commission inquiry

It was reported on Friday (20/9/13) that the Fair Work Commission has started an inquiry into the Health Services Union regarding new allegations of corruption and cronyism. The new allegations relate to this year and they have Bill Shorten’s fingerprints all over them.

Some of the new allegations are: “Jobs were not advertised, but were instead handed to factional Labor Party allies, former councillors or council staff and their relatives, and a former state MP, Nathan Murphy.” (Click here to read more)

It is Bill who put the Union into administration to sideline Kathy Jackson and even worked the phones to do so which shows up in a couple of Statutory Declarations. (Click here to read the Statutory Declarations) He had his preferred candidate, Michael Moore, a corrupt former judge appointed as the administrator. Then he supported the new crooks that are now running the show.

This site has written three recent posts on the matter which has helped put the spotlight on the HSU and Bill Shorten. The first being on the 14th July in a post titled “Bill Shorten tried to stab Julia Gillard in the back one last time. Return of corruption at the HSU” (Click here to read) and then on the 20th July in a post titled “Does Kevin Rudd support the Bill Shorten backed “Kimberley Kitching for Senate movement”? Andrew Bolt does!” (Click here to read) and on the 18th August  a post titled “The return of the Labor Party, HSU, stolen money, defamation and a prostitute. And this time it isn’t Craig Thomson” (Click here to read)

I have spoken to a couple of people with first hand knowledge of the current complaint and who are personally involved and this story has some real legs and if it goes as far as it should then Bill Shorten will have plenty of questions that he needs to answer.

How can Bill Shorten be an alternative Prime Minister given his intimate involvement in the return of corruption at the HSU?

Other recent handiwork by Bill Shorten

I will not mention them all and leave it up to commentators to write their favourite corruption tale about Bill Shorten, and there many. But one of my favourites is when Bill Shorten as Employment and Industrial Relations Minister appointed Bernie Riordan, secretary Electrical Trades Union New South Wales, as a Fair Work Commissioner. Bernie Riordan at the time was a thief on the run from his own members after he had stolen $1.8 million from the union. Bernie Riordan pocketed the $1.8 million in directors fees from industry boards he sat on that was meant to go to the Union.

In a previous post I wrote:

"At the end of February 2012 Electrical Trades Union New South Wales secretary Bernie Riordan “accused of pocketing $1.8 million in directors fees was appointed a commissioner of Fair Work Australia just the day after long-running legal action against him was withdrawn.” (Click here to read more) I wonder who put the call through to make sure the legal action was dropped so he could be appointed to FWA?

“Bill Shorten was the one who appointed Bernie Riordan as a commissioner. He did not just decide to appoint him the day after the legal proceedings had been dropped. The planning for appointing him would have been weeks in the making. It looks to me that Bill Shorten did a deal to appoint Bernie Riordan as a commissioner to save embarrassing the union movement and the Gillard Government even more. He probably did a deal with the people who launched the legal action against Bernie Riordan along the lines that he would appoint him a commissioner and they could move up the pecking order in the union and Labor Party. The point to this is that is consistent with how Bill Shorten operates.”

Then there is Bill Shorten’s penchant for stabbing Prime Ministers in the back. The voters will not forget this.

Lastly but not least is the infamous interview Bill did with the Melbourne paper the Herald Sun in 2012 denying a rumour and claiming he had called his lawyers but failed to say what the rumour was. Bill seems to think if he does an interview and denies something without saying what it is, then that is the end of it. Imagine if Bill was PM? What would he be like then? I wrote a post after his interview saying what the rumour was but never heard from his lawyers. I wonder why? (Click here to read the post)

The Labor Party Leadership and why you should care

It is up to the opposition to keep the government of the day honest and accountable whether that is the Labor Party or Coalition (Liberal Party and National Party). Governments that go unchallenged and unchecked become riddled with corruption which is what happened in NSW and other States where there were weak opposition political parties for long periods. It is also important that the opposition at least be a possibility of an alternative government which keeps the pressure on the current government. With Bill Shorten as leader the Labor Party will never be a possibility of an alternate government as he is rotten to the core. The Labor Party needs major reform to weed out corruption which Bill Shorten will never do given he is at the heart of it.

The title of this post is a slight take on the title of the book “Confessions of a Faceless Man” written by Bill Shorten’s successor at the Australian Workers Union Paul Howes who is very much in the Bill Shorten mould.


Goward campaign a vicious vendetta

DESTRUCTION of the Fairfax media brand and what remains of “our” ABC’s reputation continues apace with the vendetta being pursued against Pru Goward, the NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Minister.

The media organisations are running a strident campaign for the laughable rump that ?remains? of ?the ?NSW Labor Party and the real force within the opposition, the trade union movement.

Over the past five weeks there have been more than 50 questions to Goward, many based on leaked documents, and most from the former minister, Linda Burney, whose legacy of disaster has been swept under the carpet.

But the media attacks on Goward have nothing to do with competency, they are all about the blatant partisanship of the two Left-wing organisations which have been prosecuting a union battle against genuine reform of the sector.

I certainly have nothing against media campaigns against governmental failure, indeed, The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs were instrumental in disclosing facts which forced NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to dismiss former Finance Minister Greg Pearce for a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

The assault on Goward is entirely another matter and led FACS Director-General Michael Coutts-Trotter, a respected public servant (who happens to be ?married to former federal Labor health minister Tanya Plibersek) to issue a strongly-worded warning to FACS staffers on Thursday.

In his unprecedented admonition, he slammed the unnamed persons who provided a copy of an internal death review report to the ABC.

He said the profound breach of trust was completely unacceptable, breaching the privacy of the little boy who died, his siblings, his family and friends. The report contained the most intimate details of the family, “information that is gathered and held in strictest confidence”.

The leaked material “contains unproven allegations about many people,” he said, and breached the privacy of those who reported their concerns? about? the child to the department. ?Revealing such information increases the chance that others will not report concerns about other children at risk.

“It is quite possible that the person or people responsible thought that some good would flow from their actions,” Coutts-Trotter wrote. “If that’s the case, they are quite wrong.

“I have noted only dismay, shock and hurt among our colleagues inside the department and from the family of the little boy who died.”

The ABC’s 7.30 Report led its program with an anonymous attack on Goward by union members last Wednesday, the first full day of the new Abbott government.

The ABC report on the death of the little boy mentioned earlier led to an immediate suppression order on the case, which is still before the courts.

Lawyers for the mother in the case noted that the ABC had made no contact before the broadcast, and that The Sydney Morning Herald had named and published photographs of the dead boy even though the naming and publication of images of those deceased who identify as Aboriginal is regarded as being highly offensive to their families. The photo has now been removed from the Fairfax website.

Leaking of FACS files is a breach of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, subsequent reporting of such material by the media is also illegal, as is the publication or broadcasting in any way the name of a person that connects that person with criminal proceedings under the S15A of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act.

Such has been the enthusiasm of the ABC and Fairfax to act as spear carriers for the dysfunctional NSW ALP and union moment that their reports may well lead to a plea for a mistrial.

The campaign to discredit Goward is viciously and bitterly personal. The ABC and Fairfax cannot acknowledge that her predecessor, Burney, had a shocking record.

In attempting to cover up Burney’s ministerial failure, the SMH even published one article in July taking Goward to task for FACS’ actions in relation to the death of six-year-old Kiesha Weippeart - who died when Burney was minister in 2010.

The record - which the ABC and Fairfax will not publish - shows that under Burney, case workers were seeing just one in five children and now are seeing one in four, or more than 4000 more than they were under Labor.

There were 83 child deaths in 2012, under Burney in 2010 there were 139 - and there is greater transparency with an annual Child Death Report now being published.

Children’s lives should be above politics, but they are not when Labor and its media allies see their core ideology under attack.


ABC's programme "Q&A" of 23rd.

Tonight provides further evidence of bias at the ABC. David Suzuki appears on Q&A without any other panelists. Normally Q&A consists of a panel of six people with Tony Jones. Occasionally there will be just two (and Tony Jones) – such as when Chris Bowen and Joe Hockey appeared on 19 August 2013.

Very rarely there will be just one panelist, like tonight’s show with David Suzuki. The previous examples are:

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2 September 2013 and 8 February 2010)

Prime Minister Julia Gillard (6 May 2013, 11 June 2012, 11 July 2011, 14 March 2011, 9 August 2010)

Former Prime Minister John Howard (25 October 2010)

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott (16 August 2010)

Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull (13 October 2008)

Retiring Leader of the Greens Senator Bob Brown (23 April 2012)

With the exception of Bob Brown (who was at least leader of a minor party in the Parliament of Australia), all the others have been Prime Ministers or Opposition Leaders.

Now comes David Suzuki with no particular claim to fame except on the Q&A website as a: "Renowned Environmental Scientist and Campaigner"

How much did the ABC pay David Suzuki to appear? Have they provided young ladies to accompany him as is his wont?

It is time to privatise the ABC.


23 September, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has drawn TWO cartoons celebrating the sacking of a certain psychopathic "Australian of the year".  The way Flannery makes big prophecies that get him kudos in the present but earn him ridicule in his future is template  psychopathy.

New Broom: Commonwealth agencies to be cut by Abbott Government

AGENCIES responsible for tackling obesity, city planning and security advice on asylum seekers are to be slashed as Tony Abbott takes the axe to Labor's reform agenda.

Less than a week after taking office, the Coalition Government has scrapped plans to build a multimillion-dollar embassy in Africa, and will also wipe $100 million off research funding.

The Prime Minister has also pulled the pin on a key Kevin Rudd initiative - Community Cabinet - as he instructs his new ministry team to put the broom through the bureaucracy.

Key elements of Labor's reform agenda are being dismantled.

The Major Cities Unit - which provided advice on developing Australia's 18 biggest cities - and the Social Inclusion Unit in Mr Abbott's own Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet will be dismantled.

The Coalition will also begin unwinding key "nanny state" agencies such as the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, established to lead the national fight against obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use.  Health Minister Peter Dutton has been critical of ANPHA's decision to spend $500,000 on a study into a potential "fat tax" despite neither side of politics supporting such a move.

Senior ministers are now searching for big savings from departments with a raft of back office operations and smaller agencies on the chopping block.

"It's out of control," one senior minister said, of the rapid growth in Commonwealth agencies.

Even the Australian Institute of Criminology, established by Gough Whitlam in 1973, is under review and could be merged with a major university. in a bid to save millions of taxpayer dollars.

Two major health agencies - the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the year-old National Health Performance Authority - are under review and could have their combined budgets - of around $40 million a year - slashed.

One micro agency likely to be scrapped is the Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments. It was established in 2012 last year and reviews assessments by ASIO into people in detention.  But with a $1 million a year price tag, the Government will likely scrap the organisation.

The future is also uncertain for key agencies such as the Human Rights Commission.

Some senior Coalition figures are keen to scrap the Commission altogether - but that would provoke a serious political brawl that Mr Abbott is not keen to have.

Attorney-General George Brandis has signalled his intention to challenge what he sees as a Left-controlled human rights agenda, and the role of issue-specific commissioners - such as Disability - could be broadened as part of an overhaul of the HRC.

The future of the national Children's Commissioner - announced by former PM Julia Gillard in February - is also in doubt. Its role could be radically reshaped to focus on cyber bullying.

Around $100 million will be cut from Australian Research Council grants with the Government determined to wipe out costly academic indulgences, such as a $443,000 study into the "God of Hegel's Post-Kantian idealism".

Senior Coalition figures say the Australian Institute of Criminology will be reviewed to see whether it should remain a stand-alone agency.  The Institute produces academic-style research papers and there is a view that its operations should be taken over by a big university, saving taxpayers a considerable sum of money.

Climate Change Minister Greg Hunt has already taken the knife to key agencies, including the Climate Commission.

And another of Kevin Rudd's pet initiatives, Community Cabinet, will be scrapped with a saving of around $13 million over the four year forward estimates.

Other key Rudd reforms - including the expensive bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council - are being wound back with a planned new Australian embassy in Senegal to be abandoned.

Scrapping ANPHA will leave the Government open to criticism that it's not taking seriously a raft of key health challenges - including the growing obesity challenge and tobacco and alcohol control.

But Mr Dutton is determined to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in bureaucratic expenses and is reviewing the ongoing role of the AIHW - which provides a national service on health and welfare statistics.

The National Health Performance Authority - established in 2011 to provide uniform statistics on the performance of hospitals and other health facilities - could also be absorbed back into the health department.


Companies to get protection from activists' boycotts

CONSERVATION groups seeking boycotts of products linked to alleged poor environmental practices may soon be liable for prosecution under consumer law.

The move, which could severely hamper market-based campaigns by groups such as Markets for Change and GetUp!, is to be pursued by the Abbott government.

Parliamentary secretary for agriculture Richard Colbeck told The Australian the move would prevent green groups from holding companies to ransom in their markets.

"We'll be looking at the way some of the environmental groups work because we are very concerned about some of the activities they conduct in the markets," Senator Colbeck said. "They have exemptions for secondary boycott activities under the Consumer and Competition Act. We are going to have a complete review of the act.

"And one of the things I'd be looking at would be to bring a level playing field back so that environment groups are required to comply with the same requirements as business and industry."

The move has strong backing within the Liberal and Nationals parties, as well as among sections of the ALP, concerned about groups targeting the customers of timber and agricultural products in campaigns against old-growth logging and live-animal exports.

Section 45D of the act prevents action to hinder or prevent a third person supplying goods to, or buying them from, another person. The law restrains business from unfair dealings and trade unions from dragging third parties into industrial disputes via sympathy strikes or trade boycotts. However, section 45DA exempts people from the secondary boycott provisions if their actions are "substantially related to environmental or consumer protection".

The timber industry has long complained about green groups organising boycotts and campaigns to pressure their customers not to accept products sourced from so-called high-conservation-value forests. The tactic has been used successfully in Australia and in Japan to pressure timber companies such as Gunns and Ta Ann to shift out of contentious forest areas and to adopt top-flight green certification. Senator Colbeck also told The Australian the Coalition would push ahead with its policy to ask UNESCO's World Heritage Committee to rescind the recent Gillard government listing of an additional 100,000ha of Tasmania's forests. "That was our commitment to the Tasmanian people and we intend to carry through with our commitments," he said.

"So we will sit down with our departments and work through processes, as far as that is concerned, and look to see how we go about doing it."

He was not swayed by calls from the timber industry - including the CFMEU forest union, Ta Ann and the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania - for the policy to be scrapped because it would jeopardise environmentalists' support for the sector.

The Tasmanian Forest Agreement - a landmark peace deal three years in the making - has seen the peak green groups join industry on joint trade missions to win back markets lost during the so-called forest wars. However, signatories to the deal fear seeking to unwind the World Heritage listing at the heart of the agreement would destroy it.


Coalition bid to cut green tape and fix project paralysis

MASTER plans for future development of the Great Barrier Reef and the nation's major coal, iron ore and gas regions have been fast-tracked to help deliver a Coalition promise to cut green tape and break the decision-making "paralysis" of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said 50 projects had been left stranded by the former government without a decision on whether they even needed to be assessed under bipartisan legislation to protect prime farmland and groundwater.

Mr Hunt has promised to act immediately on the projects and complete strategic plans for the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Pilbara in Western Australia and the Hunter Valley in NSW.

Renewed urgency will be given to joint planning with state governments to manage bushfires in South Australia and development of north Queensland's major urban growth project at Mount Peter, 15km south of Cairns.

Mr Hunt said a master plan of environmental values and commonwealth concerns would enable the creation of a "one-stop shop" for environmental approvals promised by the Coalition.

Future projects would be measured against the strategic assessment template and state governments would be given the power to make assessments.

Writing in The Australian today, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Josh Frydenberg, says an "avalanche of green and red tape stifles investment and innovation, seriously hurting the economy".

Mr Frydenberg, who has responsibility for driving the government's deregulation agenda, has pledged a "paradigm shift" in tackling bureaucracy.

"Ministers will be required to include regulatory impact statements on their submissions as well as establishing their own ministerial advisory committees from which they will seek recommendations on cutting red and green tape," the Liberal MP writes today.

He says the performance of senior members of the public service "will be assessed in part according to their proven record in reducing regulation, with their remuneration calculated accordingly", and the Productivity Commission ordered to determine a framework for auditing the performance of regulatory agencies.

Business groups have lobbied hard for a review of the environmental review process, claiming it is delaying projects and threatening billions of dollars worth of investments.

Labor and the Greens had argued that state governments could not be trusted to make final environmental decisions on behalf of the commonwealth.

Environment groups have warned a full delegation of decision making to the states poses a risk to business of lengthy and expensive delays in the courts.

Mr Hunt said the strategic assessments were a "vital framework that has largely been missing".

Strategic assessments to date had focused on planning for major urban growth corridors rather than industrial projects, he said.

"It is a model where you really begin to look at the deep, long-term cumulative impacts."

Completing the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef and onshore development in co-operation with the Queensland government was the Coalition government's priority.

"I think it is very important for our international commitments as well as to the future wellbeing of the Great Barrier Reef," Mr Hunt said. "The Great Barrier Reef is the No 1 environmental asset in Australia and you need to look at the reef as a whole."

Mr Hunt said he believed it would be possible to complete the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef within two months.

The federal Environment Department has been instructed to have the remaining priority areas assessed and open for public exhibition in the first half of next year.

"The big picture is about achieving two things: a deep strategic assessment of the environment allows proper consideration of cumulative impacts and the connectedness of the region and it allows for a much more streamlined process," Mr Hunt said.

"If you know the environmental concerns of a region you don't have to reinvent them in every case. Everything is then seen against the grand strategic framework of the environment and the economy."

Mr Hunt said environmental decision making had become paralysed in the final months of the Gillard/Rudd government.

He said 50 projects had been left "in complete limbo" because the Labor government had been unable to make a decision on whether they should even be assessed under the new water trigger legislation.

"They didn't make a single decision after the legislation was passed," Mr Hunt said.

"It was not even whether projects should proceed but whether they should even be considered. From my perspective it is a legacy of complete chaos that 50 decisions are left in limbo. It is not right that the law is changed and there is then complete indecision about what you do about it.

"The dying months (of Labor) were a complete paralysis."


Once again rural and regional areas have seats at the cabinet table

LAST week we saw the Labor opposition selectively highlight demographics in an attempt to measure how representative the Abbott-Truss government is. But this does not serve to inform the public of anything substantial.

The commentary has focused on the lack of women in the Abbott-Truss ministry. But in terms of outcomes, gender is less important than geography.

Representatives with a broad range of experiences who are connected to constituents will result in real and effective change.

Aside from competence - a commodity lacking around the cabinet table for the past six years - individual experience informs the decision-making process more than gender, religion or race.

The Rudd-Gillard governments, in their various guises, suffered from a significant lack of regional experience in their ministries. At the low-water mark, there were no cabinet ministers who represented regional areas. This was evident in the decisions the government made that had disproportionately negative impacts on regional economies and communities - decisions such as bringing in the carbon tax, the mining tax and shutting down the live export trade, to name just a few.

The former government's own figures showed that the carbon tax made electricity at least 10 per cent more expensive and gas bills at least 9 per cent more expensive, rising each year as the carbon tax increases. This hit families, small businesses, farmers and manufacturers in regional areas particularly hard.

One year after the implementation of the carbon tax, dairy farmers were experiencing an estimated cost increase of between $5500 and $7000 a year.

The ban on live exports was similarly disastrous for regional communities in Australia's north. Indeed, Australia's largest beef cattle producer, Australian Agricultural Company, blamed the suspension of live exports to Indonesia for a March-quarter loss of $46.5 million. The uncertainty has had serious effects on exporters' livelihoods and consequently on their mental health.

Changing the eligibly rules for Youth Allowance, disproportionately disadvantaging rural and regional students, was another example of the former government's contempt for rural Australia. Or perhaps there was simply no one at the cabinet room table who thought to ask, "How will this affect country kids?"

In 1999, National Party leader John Anderson said: "The sense of alienation, of being left behind, of no longer being recognised and respected for the contribution to the nation being made, is deep and palpable in much of rural and regional Australia today." That mood has been felt strongly in many regions during the past six years.

In stark contrast, more than 30 per cent of those in the Abbott-Truss ministry have direct and significant experience of regional Australia. Interestingly, they are not all farmers, neither are they all men, but each understands the crucial role local industry plays in underpinning the national economy. This understanding is more important than gender in making the strategic decisions necessary in government. Regional Australia has the most to lose from hasty, ill thought out political decisions and is often the first and worst hit in recessionary periods. It will also lead our economic recovery. This is the reason it needs adequate representation at the decision-making level of government. As the academic Jennifer Curtin has noted: "Rural representation provides us with a social perspective that is fluid but place-based. Without it we risk undermining the communicative and responsive dimensions of a representative democracy."

That is why the Abbott-Truss ministry has prioritised rural and regional Australia.

It's important that our political representatives have a range of personal experiences, so each member can, in the words of Edmund Burke, exercise their "unbiased opinion, mature judgment, enlightened conscience". Our role is to represent our constituents, not to simply reflect the physical make-up of Australia's population.

I am sure we would all like to see more women, fewer lawyers and union officials and a greater diversity of ages, backgrounds and cultures in our parliament and in senior government positions, to better reflect the population of modern Australia. This is something that will happen over time.

In the meantime though, geography is more important than demography in governing for all Australians.


22 September, 2013

Ban kids from starting school until they turn five to ensure they don't fall behind, experts say

This is ridiculous:  A "one size fits all" approach.  In fact some kids may be ready at 4 and others not ready until 6.  All kids are not equal.  Mental age (IQ) is what matters and IQ is not equally distributed

CHILDREN should be banned from starting formal education before they turn five, with experts warning students who begin too young are falling behind and calling for a standard national school age.

Amid a new international push towards later school entry, early childhood teaching experts and peak bodies warned many Australian children were too little to learn in classrooms.

"There is considerable international research showing that children who start school when they are older tend to do better," said Associate Professor Kay Margetts, from Melbourne University's Graduate School of Education.

"But there is no evidence that suggests that starting school before the age of five is of any benefit to children."

States and territories control what age children must be before starting school and that age varies widely across Australia. In some states there can be a gap of 17 months, or a third of a kindergartener's life, between the youngest and oldest in a class.

In NSW children can start as young as four years and six months, but they must be in school by the age of six, while in Tasmania they need to have turned five before they enter their first year of primary, which is known across the country by various names including prep, kindergarten and reception. Prof Margetts said children should not be able to start school before turning five.

"It is well documented even with only a 12 month gap, those older children were doing better than the younger children," Prof Margetts said.

More than 120 leading educators in Britain this month launched a new "too much, too soon" campaign calling for formal schooling to be delayed until children turn six or seven because most four year olds are not ready to study in a structured environment.

The Australian Primary Principals Association said there should be a national uniform age for the foundation year of school.

"We believe all states should have some consistency in the starting age of students, and also the naming of that starting year, given that it's known by so many names like reception and kindy," said APPA deputy president Steve Portlock.

"It would certainly help for families who travel between states, but it would also mean that when test like NAPLAN are sat then students who were older and possibly more ready wouldn't have an advantage over younger students."

The Australian Parent's Council also argues for a standardised age and title for the foundation year, but executive director Ian Dalton said an enforced cut-off for those under five would not be appropriate.

"There is no doubt one of the main mistakes parents will make is to start their children at school too young, but that age varies from child to child," Mr Dalton said.

"You are probably better off to start them a little bit older because it can be difficult for a child when all through their schooling they are younger than their peers. But I don't know that there is any hard and fast rule that will suit all children - I think that parents are in the best position to know when to start their at school."

Prof Margetts said what age to start was one of the most vexing issues for parents of younger children, and a uniform age would make the decision easier.

"What we typically find is that the children starting younger in Australia are the children of parents who don't necessarily have a choice about it," she said.

"It's often people with financial difficulties because it's much cheaper to send a child to school than to keep them in preschool or early childhood services. It's also often children from immigrant families who don't realise the flexibility of the rules.

"We know that younger children in the class are at risk of falling behind and if they come from families who are having financial difficulties, then those children are doubly disadvantaged."

Some states have previously implemented a staggered start to the school year for later birthdays, but this practice is currently being wound-back in South Australia amid concern children with less formal schooling were being disadvantaged in standardised testing.

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the Federal Government supported a move to a standard age for starting school but it was up to the states and territories to administer it.

Mr Pyne would not comment on whether children should be banned from starting formal schooling before they turn five.

"The Federal Coalition supports national uniformity of school starting ages where possible," he said through his spokesperson.


Qld: New measures restore principals' right to crack down on unruly students

PRINCIPALS say tough new school discipline measures will help restore a respect for authority in students.

A Parliamentary committee yesterday held hearings into legislation introduced by Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek which will allow principals to crack down on unruly students.

Changes include longer periods of suspension and detention as well as the ability for a principal to compel a student to perform community service or suspend them if they are facing charges.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association spokesman Jeff Major told the committee he hoped the changes would restore respect for authority.

"Respect for authority and for the principalship over time has diminished," he said.

"We believe that the Bill and some of the work that's done in promoting this Bill will help to reinstate the principal's position in the community and their authority.

"Over time we hope that will lead to better discipline and better behaviour in our schools."

Mr Major said principals did not set out with a desire to issue suspensions or exclusions.

"Unfortunately this has become part of our role in dealing with some of the pointy end behaviours that occur in our schools so we can set high expectations and set good tones in our schools so that all students can benefit from good learning," he said.

"Principals do strive to have very positive cultures in their school to ensure students are engaged."

Several submitters raised concerns with some of the more controversial aspects of the changes including Queensland Law Society children's law committee deputy chair Damien Bartholomew.

He told the committee the society had concerns with the decision to allow principals to suspend students who have been charged with an offence before they have found guilty.

"This appears to be inconsistent with the presumption of innocence," Mr Bartholomew said.

"These changes would also empower the principal to make a decision based on behaviour that occurs beyond the school grounds and may be entirely unrelated to conduct affecting the school."

Mr Bartholomew said the society was concerned those students affected would become further isolated as a result.

"One of the primary concerns of the society in making a representation in relation to this Bill is that we know that young people who are disengaged from school are far more likely to be engaging in the youth justice system," he said.

Mr Major said people who had not had the benefit of schooling were more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

He said the decision to suspend a student who is facing charges would also undermine bail conditions which usually include that a juvenile continue to attend school.

The parliamentary Education and Innovation Committee also heard from other groups including the University of Queensland school of Education, the Queensland Teachers' Union, the Brisbane Youth Education and Training Centre Parents and Citizens Association and teacher Jack Dacey during almost three hours of hearings yesterday.

It is due to report back to State Parliament on the Education (Strengthening Discipline in State Schools) Amendment Bill 2013 by October 9.


When mandarins turn into lemons

DESPITE the predictable bleating from the ABC collective and the Fairfax cooperative, no one inside the Canberra beltway is surprised that the Abbott administration is showing Labor-aligned federal bureaucrats the door.

Heading the queue at the exit was Don Russell, the secretary of the department of Industry and Climate Change.

It was no secret that Russell enjoyed special status within the Labor administration. He was joined at the hip to Paul Keating both when Keating was Treasurer and later Prime Minister. For his faithful service, Russell was rewarded with the plum post of Australian Ambassador to the US from 1993 to 1995 where his portrait now hangs in the Washington Embassy along with others including such giants as Richard Casey, Sir Owen Dixon, Sir Percy Spender all of whom history might view as rather more illustrious than Keating’s sherpa.

Russell’s Labor connection didn’t seal his fate however. There was also the widely held perception that he didn’t do a brilliant job with the Industry portion of his brief.

As for the department of Climate Change, Abbott and his Environment Minister Greg Hunt had long foreshadowed its extinction and it shouldn’t have taken a fortune teller to discern that those who public servants who had aggressively promoted Labor’s global warmist fearmongering would be unlikely to enjoy a warm reception after the change of government.

The department, headquartered in a new environmentally friendly Canberra building leased for 15 years in a $158m deal, was a $1.6 billion a year boondoggle renowned for waste.

With more than 1000 public servants spread across Australia and the Pacific, it spent more than $1.7m on travel in the first four months of the 2012-2013 financial year and $45,000 on coffee machines.

Blair Comley, also ousted, was another former secretary of Climate Change, as was Martin Parkinson, the current Treasury secretary, who will depart next year.

Axing the whole department and its equally wasteful subsidiary and associated agencies, the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Energy Security Council and the Climate Change Commission, had long been foreshadowed.

With the Climate Change Commission will go Tim Flannery, who history will record as one of the most hysterical of the global warming scaremongers along with Canadian David Suzuki.

Another shown to the departure lounge was former Immigration secretary Andrew Metcalfe, and again, no surprise. Metcalfe went along with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ill-fated Malaysian Solution to the extent that he held an off-the-record briefing for the Canberra media on its purported virtues just hours before he was scheduled to provide a briefing on the soon-to-be-scuttled plan to the Opposition leader, then shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and shadow Attorney-General George Brandis in Brisbane.

Metcalfe’s role wasn’t meant to be leaked but he must have been naïve to believe that he could hold a background-only briefing in a Parliament House meeting room barely 50m from the Opposition rooms and expect Labor’s cheer leaders in the press corps to keep his identity secret.

Labor dug a hole for him and he jumped in. His role in providing the off-the-record briefing was revealed by the ABC which is no respecter of such journalistic conventions.

In 2007, the ABC’s Michael Brissenden spilt the beans on an off-the-record dinner with then Treasurer Peter Costello, and also dobbed in The Bulletin’s Paul Daley and The Age’s Tony Wright.

Another who will be joining the queue of those soon to sling their hook is the Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, who has also been prominent among the climate change barrackers.

Labor and the Greens have made much of the Abbott government’s decision not to name a separate Minister for Science but the coverage this has received has not mentioned the fact that the last Chief Scientist, Penny Sackett, quit in 2011, midway through her five year term, and revealed that she had never once been asked to brief then Prime Minister Gillard.

Chubb was supportive of almost every Labor policy but when the Gillard government slashed university funding in the last Budget he was impossible to find and curiously, when the ABC’s Fran Kelly did interview him on Radio National, the cuts weren’t canvassed.

After Abbott revealed the makeup of his Cabinet Tuesday, Chubb was once again seen hurrying through the Ministerial corridors briefing against the new government.

Labor’s politicisation of the public service was scandalous.

It debauched the notion of an independent and fearless public sector, though given the Green-Left voting record of the People’s Republic of Canberra, it would seem that little coercion may have been needed.

Those public servants who joined in the political game cannot be surprised they are now paying for their partisanship.


Coalition targets ARC’s weird and wonderful grants list

The Australian Research Council has been getting some attention recently. Days before the election, the Coalition announced it would redirect some $900 million worth of funds from some weird and wonderful research projects, “to deliver funds to where they’re really needed.”

WasteWatch is no stranger to the joys of reading through the ARC grants list (which can be found here and here). We have previously brought you news of one project’s tax-payer funded South Pacific trip, and also a handy $300 000 spent on ‘enhancing the Australian theme park experience‘.

Philippa Martyr over at Quadrant recently ran through a further list of interesting ARC grants from last year.

WasteWatch is pleased to be able to add a few more examples from this year to the list.

A personal favourite is the $750,000 of your money given to UNSW for “the Australian naturalistic driving study.” Apparently:

"This revolutionary new approach will investigate what people actually do when they drive…It will provide Australia with answers to some intractable, high priority, road safety problems that cannot be answered using current methods."

What people ACTUALLY do when they drive? Phew. WasteWatch wonders what the current methods are of investigating how people drive.

Another good one is the nearly $140,000 given to Deakin University to investigate “the legacy of Tim Winton.” Mr Winton, who was alive and well last time WasteWatch checked, may feel this is slightly premature, but academia and their pursuit of knowledge must not be constrained by simple good manners.

Finally, WasteWatch enjoyed the nearly $240,000 given to RMIT University for an investigation entitled “Agile opera,” which opens up all sorts of great ‘fat lady’ puns.

However, concerns over the politicisation of the ARC process are fair enough. ‘Re-prioritisation’ ought not to become short-hand for targeting investigations into Immanuel Kant, for the benefit of incomprehensible projects like Sydney University’s “Asymptotics in non-linear cointegrating regression: theory and applications”, or UNSW’s “How symbiotic bacteria manipulate the phagocytic behaviour of their eukaryotic host.”

While Joe Hockey may feel more comfortable judging philosophy than phosphorylation, all projects ought to be assessed by whether they meet the ARC’s guidelines of “delivering cultural, economic, social and environmental benefits to all Australians.“


20 September, 2013

False prophet Tim Flannery sacked, Climate Commission dismantled by Coalition

PROFESSOR Tim Flannery has been sacked by the Abbott Government from his $180,000-a-year part-time Chief Climate Commissioner position, with the agency he runs to be dismantled immediately.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt called Prof Flannery this morning to tell him a letter formally ending his employment was in the mail.

Public service shake-up as heads go

In the letter, Mr Hunt tells Prof Flannery: "The Climate Commission does not have an ongoing role, and consequently I am writing to advise you that the Climate Commission has been dissolved, with effect from the date of this letter."

He thanked him for his personal contribution and then said "The Department of the Environment will soon write to you concerning administrative arrangements for finalising your engagement as Chief Climate Commissioner."

All other climate commissioners will also be sacked with the move to save more than $500,000 this financial year and $1.2 million next financial year.  The Coalition will now take advice on climate change from the Department of the Environment.

Five other commissioners were also told they were no longer needed.  Letters from Mr Hunt have been sent to each of the six Commissioners telling them their position has been terminated.

"The Coalition believes it is the role of the Department of Environment to provide independent advice and analysis on climate change and that the role of the Climate Commission was duplicating the work of the Department," a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said.

Prof Flannery had travelled the country holding climate forums and produced academic work on climate change after being appointed in 2011.

Among his most alarmist forecasts was a warning in 2007 that "Even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and river systems.  "In Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months".

Brisbane later grappled with flooding and Warragamba Dam in Sydney spilt over.

Prof Flannery expressed disappointment yesterday after his Commission, which produced 27 reports and held more than 20 public forums, had been axed.

"The commission represents the idea that Australians deserve to be informed about climate change and the implications for our health, our economy, and our future," he said.

"I believe that Australians have a right to know. A right to authoritative, independent, accurate information on climate change."

"We've just seen one of the earliest ever start to bushfire season in Sydney following the hottest 12 months on record."

Greens Leader Christine Milne called it "a black day in the struggle against global warming."

"Future generations will look back on this day and remember it as the day Tony Abbott condemned them and their peers to climate chaos," she claimed.


Tim Flannery: climate prophet

By James Paterson, writing last year

'I wake up in the morning thinking there are lots of times when people have woken up feeling like this, like the Old Testament prophets.'

That's Tim Flannery, Julia Gillard's hand-picked Climate Change Commissioner, or preacher-in-chief, if you prefer.

Appointed by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet to his $3,000 per week, part-time job in February, Flannery is tasked with turning around the climate change debate for the minority Labor administration.

His comments, made in a 2004 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, are just one indicator of the depth of Flannery's quasi-religious fervour for climate change, not to mention his exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Many commentators have noted the extensive use of quasi-religious language by climate activists. Followers of the hypothesis that man is responsible for so-called dangerous climate change are referred to as ‘believers' whilst doubters are often labelled ‘deniers,' ‘sceptics' and even ‘heretics.'

The public shaming and bullying of any scientist who differs from climate science orthodoxy is eerily reminiscent of a latter-day Salem Witch-trial or Spanish Inquisition, with public floggings meted out-metaphorically speaking-for their thought crimes. Indeed, ‘dissenters', as they have also been labelled, suffer ritual humiliation at the hands of their colleagues and the media, with their every motivation questioned and views pilloried.

Elements of the climate change movement are beginning to bear more resemblance to a religious cult than a scientific community. Dalliances with authoritarianism are never far from the fringes of the green movement.

Prominent green activist, Clive Hamilton, for instance, has suggested that the ‘suspension of democratic processes' might be a necessary ‘emergency' response to the threat of climate change. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly recently wrote that ‘Australia's ludicrous dithering on a pollution tax' was evidence that voting should be a ‘privilege' rather than a right and that China should be envied because it need not ‘pander' to voters.

Flannery epitomises the trend of science with cult-like characteristics. Modern climate activists appears to increasingly rely as much on faith as science when arriving at their predictions of doom and gloom. And with their reliance on belief at least as much as sober scientific predictions, the climate change movement and its advocates adopt a positively unscientific approach.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in April, Flannery laid out some of the beliefs of this new climate religion, including his conception of ‘Gaia' in very human terms:

"For the first time, this global super-organism, this global intelligence will be able to send a signal, a strong and clear signal to the earth. And what that means in a sense is that we can, we will be a regulating intelligence for the planet, I'm sure, in the future ... And lead to a stronger Gaia, if you will, a stronger earth system."

It's not the first time Flannery has made religious statements about ‘Gaia.'

When appearing on the ABC's Science Show in January this year, Flannery said: ‘This planet, this Gaia, will have acquired a brain and a nervous system. That will make it act as a living animal, as a living organism, at some sort of level.'

To be fair, Flannery is not the only scientist to embrace the kooky theory that Gaia has human properties. But it would be fair to say that it is well outside the scientific mainstream. Even fellow Gaia-fans like Roger Gifford, Will Steffen and John Finnigan have distanced themselves from Flannery's remarks.

Noting that his comments had caused some ‘confusion', they wrote for the ABC's opinion website, The Drum:

"For most scientists working in the relatively new area of Earth System Science, talk of the earth ‘growing a brain' trivialises the growing body of knowledge about the functioning of the whole-earth system ... While the Gaia hypothesis, first popularised by British scientist James Lovelock as a metaphor of ‘the living Earth', has been given religious overtones by some, most scientists, including Lovelock himself, do not assert that the Earth is ‘alive.'"

Gaia worship is not the only area of Flannery's work where religious elements have surfaced. Like others in the environmental movement, he exhibits a level of intolerance of dissent that religious organisations have previously been accused of.

Like Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, Tim Flannery is not averse to using the power of the state to enforce his views. He has openly fantasised about judicial punishments being handed out in the future to those who doubt climate science today. ‘Perhaps the day will come when a prosecutor in some yet-to-be-formed international court will appear with a copy of Scorcher under his arm,' he has said, referring to Clive Hamilton's book attacking the ‘greenhouse mafia' of citizens and businesses who are sceptical about man's contribution to climate change.

His record of inflammatory alarmism about climate change and his patchy-at-best attempts to forecast environmental doom also belie a fundamentalist viewpoint. It seems as if Flannery seeks out the worst and most extreme predictions of climate catastrophe from scientific models, and communicates it to the masses as if it is a certain outcome.

In an October 2006 opinion piece for The Age newspaper, entitled ‘Climate's last chance', Flannery asked readers to imagine what a 25 metre sea rise would look like. ‘Picture an eight-storey building by a beach, then imagine waves lapping its roof,' he said. Given the Australian Bureau of Meteorology estimates that, at worst, Australia's sea-level has risen by 10mm per year for the last two decades (and as little as 1.5mm per year in some areas), it will take thousands of years to reach Flannery's alarmist prophecy, if current trends persist.

Speaking at the National Climate Change Forum shortly after his appointment as Climate Commissioner, Professor Flannery warned Australian families their summer trips to the beach would be a thing of the past. ‘It's hardly surprising that beaches are going to disappear with climate change,' he said.

Flannery has predicted that many of Australia's capital cities would all run out of water at different times. In 2004 he predicted that ‘Perth will be the 21st century's first ghost metropolis.' The following year, he said that Sydney could run out of water in as little as two years.

Undaunted by that botched prediction, he tried again in 2007, saying Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane would ‘need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months.'

Undeterred by their failure to dry-out, Flannery was at it again in 2008, arguing that ‘the water problem for Adelaide is so severe that it may run out of water by early 2009.' Of course, even amid a severe drought, none of these cities have met Flannery's doomsday scenarios.

And the forecast from his 2007 article in the New Scientist magazine that ‘Australia is likely to lose its northern rainfall' looks awfully silly against recent flooding rains in Queensland.

These failed prophecies have all the hallmarks of a religious cult-leader or wacko preacher predicting Armageddon-if we don't atone for our environmental ‘sins' against the planet. The idea that we have sinned against Gaia-by its very nature a religious or moral question rather than a scientific or economic one-has never been far from Flannery's comments.

In 2007, for example, he mused that ‘some may say that Australia deserves its fate' because of our then failure to ratify the Kyoto treaty and as a high per-capita emitter of carbon dioxide.

Although Flannery has avoided directly attributing the recent floods in Australia to climate change, he has said that extreme weather events like the floods are more likely to occur as a result of climate change.

Using current weather events to bolster a case for human-induced climate change is fundamentally unscientific. Aside from confusing weather and climate-something sceptics are often accused of-it is also an un-falsifiable hypothesis, a key requirement of any scientific theory. If lots of rain, no rain at all, cold temperatures and hot temperatures are all evidence of climate change, what could we observe that would disprove Flannery's theory?

That Flannery is a strange man probably won't come as a surprise to his critics, climate science sceptics and those who are simply sceptical about the politics and economics of pricing carbon dioxide.

It may, however, have come as a surprise to the Gillard Government, who have entrusted him with selling their message that climate change is happening, humans are to blame, and that doing something drastic about it is in Australia's national interest.

But they should have known better, given his extensive record of odd or extreme public commentary.

Many in the media love Flannery for his ability to churn out a ready-to-print quotable quote. Too often, however, he is treated by the media as if he is an impartial climate expert, rather than a highly political or quasi-religious activist.

Yet his public comments betray his image as a disinterested scientific observer, and point to his true identity as an environmental activist with strong political views and religious-like certainty that has little to do with science.

Take, for instance, his belief that it is ‘is absolutely imperative as we move forward that we get some more equal distribution of resources', which he shared in his recent Guardian interview. A long-held political goal of many on the left, perhaps, but hardly a scientific response to climate change.

Yet despite his own thinly-disguised ideological bias, Flannery has not been averse to smearing other scientists for their supposed political beliefs. Speaking of the highly regarded Richard Lindzen, a Professor of Meteorology in Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said; ‘the problem with Richard Lindzen is his politics is to the right of Andrew Bolt and Genghis Khan.'

And like a cult leader who sees conspiracies to thwart him around every corner, Flannery has a paranoid streak. Even fellow climate-preacher Clive Hamilton has mocked Flannery's belief that he has been a victim of a conspiracy of powerful interests trying to damage him:

"when challenged about his back-flips Flannery claims that he has been ‘misrepresented', even referring to a ‘conspiracy' of powerful people trying to tear him down. There's no conspiracy, Tim, just a deep skepticism about opportunism when it comes to something as important as global warming."

Flannery's proposed solutions to climate change have veered on the radical, even excluding his enthusiasm for both a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme.

Interviewed in 2007, he likened the coal industry-which employs thousands of Australians and provides the vast majority of our cheap power generation-to those that had sold asbestos. He also argued their ‘social license to operate' should be withdrawn. A year before, he wrote that ‘the old coal clunkers need to be closed as quickly as possible' and proposed that they be replaced with hitherto unproven technologies like geothermal and wave energy.

There's no doubt that Tim Flannery is an effective media performer and a ceaseless advocate for his cause. He's also high profile thanks in part to his 2007 Australian of the Year award and the books he has written about climate change.

But Flannery bears much closer resemblance to a religious evangelist than a scientist. His doomsday prophecies, radical solutions and religion-like certainty are all indicators of his status as a modern-day climate prophet, rather than expert scientific advisor.

It seems the Gillard Government has failed to do their research into his absurd, inaccurate and often extreme public statements before appointing him to his well-remunerated public post. Or perhaps they're just hoping we won't notice.


Tony Abbott says Coalition 'respects' Indonesia's sovereignty on asylum policy

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the Federal Government "respects" Indonesia's sovereignty over asylum seeker policy after an Indonesian MP labelled the Coalition's policy "offensive" and "illegal".

A member of the Indonesian parliamentary foreign affairs commission, Tantowi Yahya, told Lateline the commission had "major concerns" about the Coalition's policies.

The Coalition's plan would turn asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia, buy old boats from Indonesian fishermen and pay Indonesians to spy on people-smuggling operations.

Mr Yahya says Indonesia "will fully reject the policy" and key aspects of the policy have not been discussed with officials in Jakarta.

However, Mr Abbott defended the Government's policies - dubbed Operation Sovereign Borders - and vowed to work with Indonesia to implement them.

"There are many voices in Indonesia but I am very confident that this Government will be able to work effectively with the Indonesian Government as former Coalition Governments have done," he said.

"I have no argument with anyone in the Indonesian establishment or parliament. My argument is with people smugglers and my point to the people smugglers is the game is up.

"We absolutely totally respect Indonesia's sovereignty.

"We aren't going to conduct discussions with Indonesia through the media.  "Too much damage has been done in the past by megaphone diplomacy and it's never going to happen under this Government."

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the Government would ask for Indonesia's understanding, rather than its permission, to implement its asylum seeker agenda.

However, Mr Yahya says implementing the policy as it stands "will obviously damage relations" between Australia and Indonesia and the governments need to work cooperatively.  "We have to work together," he said.

"Indonesia accepts all possible solutions, all possible proposals from Australia. We are also concerned about it. We don't want it to happen in the future. This case should be settled in a very modest and a very peaceful way."

In the lead up to the September 7 election, Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa indicated there was angst in Indonesia about Coalition plans to turn back the boats and said the vessels would not be accepted.

Meanwhile Australia's ambassador in Jakarta, Greg Moriarty, will return to Canberra to brief the National Security Committee of Cabinet on the people smuggler situation in Indonesia.


Weekend detentions for unruly pupils effective, says Brisbane principal ahead of possible wider rollout

THEY are controversial and children hate them, but weekend detentions work, a school principal says.  Today a state inquiry will hear its first public evidence on tough new legislation aimed at cracking down on poor behaviour in government schools, including Saturday detentions, an American institution popularised in '80s flick The Breakfast Club.

The parliamentary inquiry will hear from the University of Queensland, which has slammed the Newman Government's approach in a submission already made to the Education and Innovation Committee.

UQ professor Peter Renshaw warns imposing community service, one proposed change, could be in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, while other changes "only offer punitive measures".

He calls on the Government to focus on addressing the causes of student behaviour problems.

At MacGregor State High School, Sunday detentions are aimed at doing just that.

Personally taking the detentions herself, principal Karyn Hart said they were issued on a case-by-case basis, sometimes in place of suspensions and for chronic truanting, and they were only done with parental permission.

Students are required sit for about two hours in an administration office filling out documents about their behaviour and exercises around the issue.

"It's boring," Ms Hart said.  "They really hate coming here in full school uniform.  "I can count on one hand the number of repeat offenders I have had in 10 years."

But she said the detention also built a better rapport with students, who she was able to have a quiet conversation with.

"It just gives you the edge in talking to kids about better decision-making," Ms Hart said.  "A quiet two-hour chat can sometimes turn them around."

Along with UQ, the public inquiry today will hear from the Queensland Law Society, which has also been critical of the legislation and the Queensland Secondary Principals' Association, which supports it with some qualifications.

The laws will make it easier for principals to discipline students using measures such as Saturday detention and community service.

Principals can suspend students facing serious criminal charges before they are found guilty by the courts and children who bring a school into disrepute by acting up outside school hours.


Allergy alert after near death by ice-cream

A young boy's near-death allergic reaction to ice-cream has led to one of the heaviest fines for a food offence involving allergies in Australia and spurred his mother to campaign for major reforms in the restaurant and catering industry.

A Melbourne magistrates court this month fined a catering company $55,000 for serving Robert Surace, 8, a frozen dessert a waiter "guaranteed" was dairy-free. It was, in fact, vanilla ice-cream.

The "frightening and enduring experience" led Sandra Surace to call on the food service industry to overhaul its practices when it came to handling allergy requests.

"My son was violently ill and is still undergoing psychological trauma," she said. "A loss of life, severe illness or brain damage cannot be overlooked due to someone's negligence to follow correct procedures or simply understand [anaphylaxis]."

Robert was at a wedding reception in April when he went into anaphylactic shock with a lick of the ice-cream.

The family, from suburban East Bentleigh had advised the venue of his allergies multiple times before the event and, during the evening, intervened when waiters served Robert pasta with parmesan cheese and steak with gravy.

In the car to the hospital he felt like he was being choked as welts and hives erupted on his body and his eyes and lips ballooned.

The magistrate convicted Manor on High in Epping of breaching Victoria's Food Act by "falsely describing" food with the knowledge the consumer relying on the information could "suffer physical harm".

No NSW business has paid more than $50,000 for a similar offence.

The case has intensified calls by allergy sufferers for the restaurant industry to take their condition more seriously.

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said wants the introduction of a nationwide allergy management plan and compulsory allergy training for restaurant staff.

"Some food facilities have absolutely no idea what the legislation is. That puts allergy sufferers in a dangerous situation," she said.

But the industry's peak body Restaurant and Catering Australia rebuffed the calls, saying an agreement struck between the RCA and the allergy group through Food Standards Australia New Zealand last year was enough to reduce risk.

It required restaurants to know the ingredients and handle customers' allergy queries, said the RCA's chief executive John Hart.

"Our only responsibility is to serve customers the food they order," Mr Hart said.

Robert's reaction was so violent that, when he vomited, it poured through his nose. For weeks after, he suffered from stomach pains, became withdrawn and refused food to the point where he became iron deficient.

"I was worried if that was going to be my last day," he said. "People need to understand allergies. It's not our choice that we can't have it. I'd like to eat everything but I can't."

Manor on High owner Gezim Oxha said, within a month of the incident, employees were retrained, the manual updated and new protocols enforced.

"Every special dietary meal is now prepared by a dedicated person responsible for these special dishes and the dishes are marked with a coloured flag so a mix up of dishes cannot occur," he said.

"We have served over 4 million meals in the 25 years the Manor has been in our control and this was the first time an incident has occurred."


19 September, 2013

$1 billion e-health system rejected by doctors as 'shambolic'

This coincides with my experience of it.  I tried to register for it but after wasting 20 mins of my time their computer hung up on me  -- JR

AUSTRALIA'S billion-dollar e-health system is in danger of becoming an expensive white elephant with doctors refusing to use it.

A key clinical adviser to the government who quit in frustration last month has described the system as "shambolic".

And the medical software industry says the body running the system, the National E-Health Transition Authority, lacks the skills to do the job and warns patient safety could be at risk.

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal who resigned in frustration from work on the e-health record says he's uploaded 150 patient records on to the system but "no-one can read it".

Patients who want a hospital or specialist to see their e-health record have to take their own ipad to the consultation to show the record because hospitals and specialists don't have the software to read it.

Fifteen months after e-health was launched - 888,825 Australians have signed up for an e-health record but by last month doctors had loaded only 5427 health summaries on to the system.
Only hospitals in the ACT and South Australia can currently access the record, although more are scheduled to come on board next month.

Some of the medication records loaded on to the record by the government are wrong and Dr Haikerwal says this could have grave consequences for patients who could be misdiagnosed.

The AMA says doctors or hospitals trying to use the records have less than a 0.5 per cent chance of finding anything clinically relevant.

Last month, four of the clinicians advising the government quit in frustration.

The mounting problems with the system come as it emerged that the cost of Britain's failed e-health system has reached 10 billion pounds.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said it was wrong to compare Australia's e-health record with Britain's which managed the entire stay for every patient seen or admitted to hospital all the way to their billing system.

Health Minister Peter Dutton who was sworn in on Wednesday has pledged to undertake a "comprehensive assessment" of Australia's e-health record.

Doctors are demanding the new government pay them to spend the time writing and uploading patient health summaries on to the new system and want the system simplified.

"If you are running a business time is money and you do need to recognise, to value the work of the health professionals setting up these records," Australian Medical Association vice president Professor Geoffrey Dobb said.

The control of the record must also be taken away from patients and handed back to doctors so they had confidence it was complete and comprehensive, Professor Dobb said.

"I think it is much better to have health records that are controlled by health professionals but with the capacity of consumers to access it and correct it if the information is incorrect."

The 120 member Medical Industry Software Industry Association has told the new government the body running the e-health record "lacks the governance, knowledge and skills" to do the job.

It welcomes the government's pledge to review the record and says it is worried the new system is "immature" and this could impact on patient safety.

The e-health record is meant to bring medical records into the digital age and lists a patients medications and allergies, include a health summary written by a doctor and will in the future include X-ray results, pathology results, hospital discharge summaries.


New coal mines in Tasmania!

Pretty amazing for "Green" Tasmania -- and the ironically named Mr Green is a Labor Party man.  Will a new dam be next?

THE State Government has given approval for a major new coal mine in the Fingal Valley, which it expects will create more than 100 jobs.

Energy and Resources Minister Bryan Green has formally approved the mining lease for the project.

"It's great to see this project is ready to start," Mr Green said.

The mine, proposed by HardRock Coal Mining Pty Ltd, is touted to produce more than a million tonnes of coal a year, worth an estimated $100 million.

Mr Green said he expected the $50 million development of the mine would create more than 80 construction jobs and begin before the end of this year.

He said the mine was expected to be fully operational within three years.

"This is a very significant investment and clearly demonstrates that Tasmania is open for business," he said.

"The project will not only bring valuable investment and jobs to the Fingal Valley, it will also have enormous flow-on benefits for the North East region and the broader Tasmanian economy.

"When fully operational the new mine will provide economic benefits worth almost $180 million a year to the Tasmanian economy."

He said other jobs in services, transport and maintenance would follow.

"For example, when fully operational the new mine will see a 40 per cent increase in rail traffic and exports through the Bell Bay port grow by almost 30 per cent," he said.

"The project is also expected to generate mining royalties of $6 million a year.

"This will be a new export industry for Tasmania serving the needs of the rapidly growing Asian region."

Mr Green said the Fingal Valley project was further evidence of the industry's growing confidence in Tasmania.

It follows recent mine approvals near Smithton and at Tullah and strong growth in mineral exploration.

"Work is under way on Shree Minerals' new mine near Smithton and Venture Minerals' Riley iron ore mine west of Tullah is ready to go," he said.

The Riley mine is one of three major projects Venture is developing in the far North-West and will triple bulk mineral exports through the Burnie port.

"I have also granted a mining lease for Venture's Livingstone project, also near Tullah, and the company is finalising its Mt Lindsay tin and tungsten mine," he said.

"The Mount Lindsay project will create up to 1000 jobs during construction."


Education failing the hospitality industry too

If you've experienced inconsistent or inept service or food in a restaurant recently, don't be in too big a hurry to condemn the hapless restaurateur. We are experiencing the worst shortage of skilled staff I have seen in my 40 years in the hospitality industry. Many of my clients went into the past festive season with kitchens and front-of-house teams carrying a number of "warm bodies" - staff recruited in desperation just to keep the doors open, and it is going to be worse this season.

The reasons for this situation are complex, but the seeds were sown about 20 years ago with the conversion of what were then Technical Colleges into the TAFE colleges of today. The Techs, as they were known, concentrated on practical apprenticeship training for a range of industries, while the TAFEs, as they became, quickly moved towards academic diploma and degree courses and almost became pseudo universities.

This was the time when the well-respected waiter's apprenticeship was discarded. Until then, top restaurants and hotels were supplied with a steady stream of well-trained, qualified wait staff, who moved up as they gained experience to become "professional waiters" - the highly skilled and well-paid staff you often see in our top restaurants. A percentage of these progressed to higher levels and became restaurant managers.

But as the waiting apprenticeship was disappearing, the apprenticeship in cookery started to change from an indenture to one older, experienced chef, backed by quality technical college training to the questionable system we have today. Apprentices are now free to move around from one employer to another at whim, and their training and schooling are often not meeting the needs of the industry. I have asked senior chefs I deal with if they can count on a job applicant who has finished their apprenticeship and become qualified as a cook to know the basics, and I have not had a positive answer for years.

As a result, the burden of training has fallen to the industry itself, at a time when few businesses have the money, resources or skills to train their own staff. To compound this problem, the margins in hospitality businesses have fallen to the point where chefs and managers have to be competent to manage much more tightly than they have had to in the past. Because of this they require much more thorough training than they would have 10 years ago.

The hospitality industry has also grown rapidly - too rapidly - there are now about four times the number of hospitality businesses in Australia than there were in 1990, and as the traditional training and education systems have not kept pace, those skilled staff who are available have been spread thinly and the laws of supply and demand have forced salaries upward.

Many business owners, who have traditionally counted on being able to recruit skilled, experienced staff from the pool of unemployed, have found that there is a minimal response to their advertising, and that the few skilled people who do apply are prohibitively expensive.

The high salary levels demanded by those skilled senior staff have created the situation where staff are often required to work long hours on salary for wage costs to be kept at the correct ratio to income. This, in turn, has created the situation where many older, experienced staff have opted to leave the industry to regain a work-life balance.

We are also finding that the so-called Gen Y, who have made up the bulk of casual staff, are not terribly keen on working on nights and weekends, as these hours negatively impinge on their social lives and the pay on offer does not meet their income expectations. There is also a reduced need for casual income among many young adults because they are living at home with their parents until they are much older than was common 20 years ago - so the pool of labour has shrunk at a time when the industry has sustained a major growth spurt.

These varied factors have forced many restaurateurs and cafe owners to accept staff that are far from ideal, just to keep their doors open. You may have experienced some of this yourselves - waiters with poor English language skills, a lack of hospitable personality, inconsistent delivery of your favourite meals, poor knowledge of the menu and wine lists, slow service, etc. I don't believe any reasonable business owner would accept these issues without concern - but many of them don't have a choice at the moment.

On the other hand, if you receive a flawless performance at a restaurant or cafe, you should warmly congratulate the business owner in charge, because the attention to detail, and the internal recruitment and training skills necessary to achieve this, is worthy of admiration.


Federal bureaucracy takes a small hit

TONY Abbott restored a pledge of allegiance to the Queen as he was sworn in as Australia's third Prime Minister in 84 days.  One of his first acts was to overhaul the public service by sacking top mandarins and abolishing some departments.

The biggest departure is that of Treasury chief Martin Parkinson, who leaves next year after helping new Treasurer Joe Hockey bring down his first Budget in May.

Mr Abbott told Governor-General Quentin Bryce he would lead a "problem-solving Government based on values, not ideology".

It was the fifth such ceremony this year for Ms Bryce, who has sworn in 95 MPs - 53 in four Labor reshuffles under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, and Mr Abbott's team of 42.

The Australian Republican Movement criticised Mr Abbott for "returning to the past" by swearing to serve the Queen rather than just Australia. However, Republican Malcolm Turnbull made the pledge in being sworn in as Communications Minister.

Victorian MP Scott Ryan was sworn in as parliamentary secretary holding a Bible from the 1880s, passed down from his great-great-grandmother.

Josh Frydenberg used a Bible that was held by the late Sir Zelman Cowan when he became governor-general in 1977.

Mr Abbott's first formal announcement as PM was a public service shake-up, in which he axed Paul Keating's chief of staff, Don Russell, as Industry Department secretary, dumped Blair Comley from Resources, and sacked Andrew Metcalfe from Agriculture.

Mr Abbott said these changes were to remove "confused responsibilities, duplication and waste".

Stand-alone departments of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts, Sport, Resources and Energy were abolished.

The Departments of Education and Employment have been split, Sport has been added to Health, and Arts will become part of the Attorney-General's Department.


18 September, 2013

Amanda Vanstone defends Tony Abbott on number of women in cabinet

FORMER Liberal cabinet minister Amanda Vanstone has defended Tony Abbott's decision to name only one woman to his cabinet, saying she'd rather have competent government than ministerial gender equality.

Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose today condemned the lack of women in the Abbott line-up as unacceptable in 2013.

But Ms Vanstone, a former senator and former Ambassador to Italy, said having more women in the cabinet should not be an end in itself.

"Would I like to see more women in the cabinet? Yes. But it didn't help the Labor Party, which had lots of women but was hopeless,' she told The Australian.

"I'd rather have good government, than have more women in the cabinet for the sake of it."

Ms Vanstone said the "die had been cast" for Mr Abbott's male-dominated cabinet a long time ago.

"He appointed his shadow ministry a long time ago and said if they did well, they'd keep their jobs. "If he made too many changes now he'd be accused of breaking an election promise."

Ms Buttrose said Mr Abbott's decision to appoint only one woman - Julie Bishop - to his 19-person cabinet, showed the "glass ceiling" still existed in Australia.

"We're told it doesn't, but that's a nonsense. It does exist," she told the ABC.

"I'm sure Julie Bishop is accustomed to being the token woman throughout her career, and here she is being the token woman again."

Ms Buttrose said when she was running Women's Weekly "years ago", she had then been concerned about the lack of women in decision making positions in the federal parliament.

"I felt that our voice wasn't heard well enough, and our views weren't canvassed well enough," she said.

"You can't have that kind of parliament in 2013. It's unacceptable."

Ms Bishop said she had never considered herself as a token woman: "I believe in people being promoted on merit. I don't see a glass ceiling," she told ABC Radio.

"The number of women in the ministry will build over time. Currently there are a number of capable, talented women who will be considered for cabinet in due course."

Liberal senator Sue Boyce has attacked the lack of women in cabinet as a systemic problem for the party, declaring the "embarrassing" omission had tarnished the Coalition victory.

Former Liberal senator Judith Troeth said the Coalition boasted women capable and suitable for promotion to the federal cabinet, but men had "an innate fear of capable women at that level".

Labor's acting leader Chris Bowen said the Afghanistan government's cabinet had better female representation than Mr Abbott's.


Foreign investment tests Coalition's free trade credentials

Stephen Kirchner

The issue of foreign investment made an impromptu appearance during the federal election campaign, with Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd both signalling a more cautious approach.

The new Coalition government has a policy of reducing the monetary threshold for Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) scrutiny of foreign acquisitions of agricultural land. However, in the absence of a change in the criteria applied to these acquisitions, the policy will serve only to increase the workload of the FIRB, without changing the already very low rejection rate for such acquisitions.

The government's caution on foreign direct investment (FDI) sits uneasily with its desire to develop Australia's potential as an exporter of food to Asia and to secure a free trade agreement with China. Agriculture is increasingly capital intensive, requiring new investment from abroad. Australia's regulation of FDI has been the chief stumbling block to the successful conclusion of a free trade deal with China.

Australia's caution on foreign investment also stands in sharp contrast to international developments. In July, China restarted negotiations on a comprehensive bilateral investment treaty with the United States. In August, the Chinese cabinet moved to create a new free trade zone (FTZ) centred on Shanghai that will serve as a test case for a much more liberal approach to its regulation of FDI. If successful, the new Shanghai FTZ will become a template for a much broader liberalisation of China's capital account. China is already a net importer of FDI and home to the world's largest stock of FDI outside the US.

Australia's regulation of FDI risks being left behind by these developments.

The Coalition should move to raise the monetary threshold for scrutiny of foreign acquisitions of Australian businesses to an inflation-indexed $1.078 billion, the same level that currently applies to US and New Zealand investors. This would eliminate the costly delays and uncertainties that currently affect the many foreign acquisitions that are too small to raise potential 'national interest' concerns.

The new government should also not trivialise the concept of the 'national interest' that is meant to inform the exercise of the Treasurer's discretion to reject foreign investment under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act. The 'national interest' test should not become a thinly-disguised proxy for domestic political concerns.

Instead, the new government should demonstrate political leadership on the issue by actively working to allay community concerns about foreign ownership.


Industry Minister dismisses coal seam gas protests

The incoming federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, says the development of Australia's natural gas industry will be a priority.

The resources, science and manufacturing portfolios have now all been rolled into the Industry portfolio, as announced by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, yesterday.

In particular, Mr Macfarlane says he plans to push hard for New South Wales farmers to rethink their opposition to coal seam gas.

He says he'll travel the state of NSW and tell farmers there first hand how CSG, coal mining and agriculture coexist alongside each other in his home state of Queensland.

Mr Macfarlane says there are 4,000 farmers in Queensland who have signed access deal with CSG and other mining companies and are reaping the economic and social benefits.

He's dismissed the opposition to the CSG industry as unscientific and driven by small but vocal interest groups.

"I'm not interested in noisy protesters, minority groups, with no interest in the development of regional Australia and the economic progress of agriculture and mining together.

"They simply want to politicise this issue and tell lies."


Don't mind the gap: deferring uni shown to give students academic edge

If the road from school to university for you or your teenager takes a short detour via the backpacking trails of Europe, do not be alarmed.

A new study shows students who defer tertiary education have an edge once they are actually at university, over those who take the plunge straight from school or who return much later as mature-age students.

Researchers from the University of Sydney tracked the academic results of 904 undergraduate students over their first four semesters.

The findings contradict the idea that taking a year off can disrupt the "academic momentum" a year 12 student may have developed at school, said the study's lead author, Andrew Martin.

"What we concluded was that a gap year, particularly a constructive gap year, is part of the momentum," Professor Martin said. "You're probably a little more likely to crystallise what you want to do when you come back, you're starting to test yourself out, developing the self-direction and the self-regulation and autonomy that you really do need at university."

While the differences were not huge and all students could achieve good marks, gap-year students had a consistent edge, even when factors such as socio-economic status were taken into account, findings published in the Journal of Higher Education show.

This time last year, Marcus Ho was part-way through a backpacking odyssey through Europe and northern Africa.

Mr Ho, 19, who is now studying a bachelor of commerce and bachelor of science (advanced) at the University of Sydney, also spent five months last year working at a hospital as a wardsman to save money for the trip. He thinks both experiences have helped, not hindered him at university.

"It really made me appreciate how hard it is to be financially independent because I had to fund my whole trip myself," he said.

"It made me realise how important education is. It drove me to try harder at uni as well."


17 September, 2013

Eva supports Tony

This is at least the second time that Eva Cox (nee Hauser.  Don't ask about Mr Cox) has spoken in support of Tony Abbott.  Has she swung right in her declining years (she is 75)?  It happens.  But what she says is spot-on anyway

Some of Australia's most prominent women voices support Tony Abbott's controversial paid parental leave scheme but they warn it will not have the desired productivity uplift unless childcare is made less expensive.

Melbourne University Publishing chief executive Louise Adler said Mr Abbott, labelled a misogynist in Parliament by former prime minister Julia Gillard, was to be congratulated for his new attitude to paid parental leave. "I'm in favour of anything that assists families to be with their children," she said.

Carol Schwartz, a key adviser to the Labor federal government on gender issues, was less concerned about the cost of the scheme than ensuring more money goes to accessible and affordable childcare at the same time.

And leading academic Eva Cox rounded on fellow feminists to declare their "shrill" criticism of Mr Abbott's policy was the product of their personal dislike for the would-be prime minister.

Mr Abbott is under attack from within his own party and among his traditional business supporter base after revealing the Coalition's parental leave scheme will cost $10 billion in the first two years and then $5.5 billion annually once fully operational.

The price tag, which will be paid for via a levy on big business to be offset by a cut in the company tax rate, has detractors questioning his promise of prudent economic management and a return to surplus as soon as possible.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Greg Evans said the scheme would no doubt benefit small businesses, which could offer staff more generous leave without being hit by the levy.

"We would have preferred, especially in the current circumstances, perhaps a more modest scheme." he said.
Adler published Abbott's book in 2009

"We understand the policy intent is to create greater workforce participation, allow more women to get back into the workforce and the like. We certainly agree with that but .?.?. a more modest scheme could have also done the job."

Ms Adler published Mr Abbott's 2009 book, Battlelines, in which he revealed he had - much to the consternation of other Conservative politicians - come around to the idea of paid parental leave. "I was very impressed when he committed to that," she said.

"If we want the skills, productivity and intelligence women bring to bear, then we have to have family-friendly workplaces."

However, she is not convinced that women earning top dollar need as much support as lower to middle-income earners.

"I'm not sure that women earning $150,000 a year need the same level of financial support that people who are on $50,000 need," Ms Adler said.

"Those of us who are earning well can manage our lives with greater ease than those who are not earning enough. I would suggest maybe it's tapered off, but the principal of paid parental leave seems to be extremely important and I congratulate both parties for their commitment to it, but particularly for Tony Abbott who has taken a personal interest."

Professor Cox remains fully supportive of the Abbott scheme amid the criticism of recent days. She said the Coalition's scheme was good policy, but many in feminist and Left circles were against it simply because it was being proposed by the opposition leader.

"It's not even political, it's personal," she said. "There's a lot feminist groups that are so anti-Abbott that they are objecting to this because it's come from him. "
Childcare policies failing

Ms Schwartz is the foundation chairwoman of the Women's Leadership Institute Australia and was in January appointed to lead consultations with business and other interest groups on the reporting requirements for the federal government's workplace gender equality reforms.

She said childcare policies had failed under both of the major parties, and called on governments to support in-home care by nannies as an alternative to traditional child care places.

"The cookie-cutter approach that this government and previous governments have taken to childcare is really inappropriate," she said.

"That is where we miss out on GDP growth by having more women participate in the workforce.

Brisbane mother-of-two Danielle Kalpakidis said she supported paid parental leave but believed the Coalition's scheme, which could pay up to $75,000 for six months off, was too generous and favoured working mothers.

Ms Kalpakidis, a former teacher who is a full-time carer for her two children (aged two-years-old and nine months), said the parental leave policy would not sway her vote. "I absolutely support paid parental leave but I think the $150,000 [limit in the Coalition policy which allows a $75,000 payment plus superannuation] is a bit ridiculous because it could be better spent elsewhere in more useful policies," she told The Australian Financial Review.

"Because I'm a stay at home mum I'll only receive $3000 bonus and the difference between $3000 and $75,000 is quite huge. It is skewed towards working women.
Policy considered `middle class welfare'

"If I was working I could see the benefit but it's not enough to encourage me to go back to work because I would like to stay home and look after my children."

Ms Kalpakidis said she considered the Coalition's policy as "middle class welfare" and did not encourage her to have any more children.

The former teacher, who is currently on unpaid leave, received the federal government's 18 weeks' maternity policy on top of the standard 12-week public servant maternity policy after the birth of her first child.

"It was very helpful to our family. But I won't be benefiting from any new policy being a stay at home mum," she said.

She said she would prefer the extra money going to stay at home carer.


Gillard says the ALP has no principles

She's right about that.  But it is the pot calling the kettle black

SENIOR Labor figures have justified the decision to topple Julia Gillard, arguing that the return to Kevin Rudd added as many as 10 seats to Labor's election tally in the wake of a blistering assessment on the party's election loss by Ms Gillard.

Writing on The Guardian Australia website, the former prime minister hit out at the decision to return to Mr Rudd, arguing the party had sent Australians a "very cynical and shallow message about its sense of purpose".

She also attacked Mr Rudd's new rules for selecting the leader and revealed that she watched the election night coverage alone, as she "wanted it that way".

"I wanted to just let myself be swept up in it," Ms Gillard said.

"Losing power is felt physically, emotionally, in waves of sensation, in moments of acute distress".

But leadership contender Bill Shorten yesterday defended the decision to return to Mr Rudd, saying it was in the national interest for Labor to be competitive. "I believe that Kevin Rudd did make Labor competitive," Mr Shorten said.

Outgoing agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon argued that Labor under Mr Rudd had added about 10 seats to its tally compared with the likely result under Ms Gillard.

Interim leader Chris Bowen said while it had to be acknowledged that Labor suffered a significant defeat, it had the basis of a viable and fighting opposition going forward.

No cabinet minister lost their seats, he said, adding that Labor had a chance to return to office at the next election if it won as many seats as it did at the 1998 or 2007 polls.

On the change of leader to Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard wrote: "Labor unambiguously sent a very clear message that it cared about nothing other than the prospects of survival of its members of parliament at the polls . . . Labor in opposition faces this as its first task: re-embracing purpose."

Ms Gillard criticised Labor's campaign tactics and having "not one truly original idea" but conceded she had "erred by not contesting the label 'tax' " referring to carbon pricing - a decision that "hurt me terribly".

She urged Labor in opposition not to abandon its support for the carbon pricing scheme.

She also urged the party to defend its economic credentials but jettison Mr Rudd's "economic nationalism", different tax rates for the Northern Territory and the policy to move navy assets away from Sydney's Garden Island. Ms Gillard said new rules for electing a leader represented exactly the wrong approach to address the so-called "revolving door" of the Labor leadership.

"These rules literally mean that a person could hang on as Labor leader and as prime minister even if every member of cabinet, the body that should be the most powerful and collegiate in the country, has decided that person was no longer capable of functioning as prime minister.

"I argue against them because they are a clumsy attempt to hold power; they are not rules about leadership for purpose."

Ms Gillard said Mr Shorten and Anthony Albanese were worthy candidates for leader.

But the party needed to start demonstrating Labor's purpose again. "Caucus and party members should use this contest to show that Labor has moved on from its leadership being determined on the basis of opinion polls, or the number of positive media profiles, or the amount of time spent schmoozing media owners and editors, or the frippery of selfies and content-less social media."

Mr Fitzgibbon conceded some of Mr Rudd's election policies were written "on the run".


Left's loony losers

Tim Blair

Our friends on the left aren't coping well with the election result. Perhaps they didn't see it coming. In any case, they've been getting their hate on during the past week. Here's how Fairfax reported the election reaction of columnist Clementine Ford:

"As an antidote to the crushing reality of Post-Abbott world she's created some cathartic t-shirts with slogans that include 'F**k Abbott' and 'Abbott is not my Prime Minister' that can be bought online."

An adult subsequently edited that free ad for Ford's T-shirts, removing the most obscene option: "As an antidote to the crushing reality of a Post-Abbott world she's created some cathartic T-shirts with slogans that include 'Abbott is not my Prime Minister' which can be bought online."

Besides cleaning up its promotion for a columnist's little side project, Fairfax also claimed that "Ford is going to direct profits" from the T-shirts to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Council of Single Mothers and Their Children. Not mentioned was the exact quantity of profits that would be so directed. Ford later clarified matters on her Twitter feed:

"This is for all the pro-Abbott folks out there who hate my T-shirts. I've made around $4500 in profit in two days … Some profits going to charity though!"

By "some", it turns out that Ford only meant "at least 20 per cent" of her T-shirt profits. So that's $3600 to Clementine and just $300 each to her three nominated charities. Tony Abbott hasn't even been sworn in yet, but he's already generating wealth for the privileged white professional sector of our economy.

Welcome to capitalism, Clementine. Good for you. The benefit for the rest of us is that we once again see where the left's values lie. Imagine if Abbott wasn't Australia's elected leader but an Islamic terrorist whose followers killed nearly 3000 people. Did Fairfax sell "F**k Osama" shirts? Not exactly.

Here's Fairfax columnist and cartoonist Michael Leunig writing shortly after September 11, 2001: "Might we, can we, find a place in our heart for the humanity of Osama bin Laden and those others? On Christmas Day can we consider their suffering, their children and the possibility that they too have their goodness? It is a family day, and Osama is our relative."

Fairfax types are more inclined to express hatred towards an Australian conservative than they are to a murderous Saudi psychopath. Over at the ABC, Australia's other leftist media collective, a similar divide is evident.

Recall how cautiously the ABC stepped back in May, when Mujahid Adeboloja hacked off-duty soldier Lee Rigby to death in a London street. Adeboloja lingered after the killing to explain his motivation. "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. You people will never be safe," the Islamic convert declared.

The ABC's response was bafflement. "What happened was clear," the ABC London correspondent reported. "The motivation, less so." A few days later, ABC staffers complained to 2UE after I'd mentioned this extraordinary delicacy. "Where is your primary and official source that these crimes were carried out in the name of Islam?" one demanded. Answer: the killer's confession.

Another ABC identity sent this note: "If we get it wrong it can be an international incident and inflame enormous social disharmony." Well, all Mujahid Adeboloja did was slaughter an innocent man. Let's be gentle with him. It's not as though he did something seriously wrong, like suggest a reduction to ABC funding.

That was Chris Kenny's crime. For this, the News Corp columnist was depicted by the ABC's The Hamster Decides having sex with a dog. In case nobody got the visual hint, the ABC added a handy graphic: "Dog F**ker."

Play it safe next time, Chris. Steer away from issues like ABC funding and kill somebody instead. If you claim Islamic motivation, the ABC and Fairfax will look for the possibility you, too, have some goodness.


More parents defy law with overseas surrogacy

A sharp rise in Australian children born in India shows laws criminalising commercial surrogacy are doing nothing to stop parents going overseas to find birth mothers for their children, surrogacy advocates say.

The number of citizenship requests for children born in India has risen by more than 300 per cent over the past five years, documents obtained under freedom of information show.

Surrogacy Australia founder Sam Everingham said Australians were fast becoming the highest per capita users of compensated, or commercial, surrogacy, despite laws in NSW and other states criminalising it, even if it occurs overseas.

"Australia, funnily enough, has become one of the largest surrogacy markets internationally because of the perfect storm created by the lack of access to international adoption, women leaving childbirth later on and the fact we are a wealthy country and women can afford it," he said.

Mr Everingham estimated that about 100 NSW couples each year were engaging in compensated surrogacy overseas, and about 500 nationally.

Since March 2011 NSW parents who do so have risked two years' imprisonment and fines of $275,000.

Nationally, the Family Law Council is reviewing how best to deal with the legal issues posed by increasing use of surrogacy, with a report due in December.

University of Technology, Sydney professor Jenni Millbank said figures she obtained from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship show that there were 519 applications for citizenship for children lodged in India in the 2011-12 financial year. This compared with only 126 in 2007-08.

She said it had "never been easier" to pay for surrogacy overseas but its legal status meant many IVF doctors were refusing to give any advice to couples considering it.

"Patients are going in blind, with no information from their doctors about how many embryos to transfer and the risks of those sorts of things," she said. "People don't want to go to a poor country and behave harmfully but they work with the information they have."

She said her discussions with Indian fertility providers indicated some had multiple pregnancy rates of between 25 and 40 per cent due to the common practice of transferring multiple embryos. Multiple transfers can put the mother and babies at risk, and in Australia IVF clinics have cracked down on the practice and have a multiple birth rate of only 8 per cent.

Professor Millbank said the steep rises in Australian children born in countries like India indicate more children are being born through compensated surrogacy, although the figures also include children who were not born through surrogacy but need to apply for citizenship overseas.

The rise is also evident in other countries commonly used for surrogacy, with Thailand increasing 54 per cent, from 297 to 459 applications, and Ukraine 122 per cent, from nine children to 20.

In a recent presentation at the Fertility Society of Australia conference, Professor Millbank argued that Australia should create an ethical framework for compensated surrogacy.

"That doesn't mean a profit-driven system, or an incentive system, but one that doesn't make it so hard to do it if people want to do it," she said. "Parents say the idea that they would ask someone to do that for free is abhorrent."


16 September, 2013

How the West was won: ALP's heartland not so progressive

The mainly blue-collar areas of Western Sydney are no longer rusted on to the Labor Party

IN 1995, a precocious first-term opposition backbencher stood in the House of Representatives and made a rash prediction.

"Howard's battlers are going to be to the 1990s what Menzies' forgotten people were to the 1940s and 1950s," the member for Warringah told the house.

"It is on their shoulders that a new generation of Liberal dominance is going to be created."

Few outside the Liberal's partisan inner core would have given much credence to Tony Abbott's impertinent analysis; the Coalition had been in power for barely seven of the previous 23 years.

Yet, with last Saturday's victory, the evidence of a new era of Coalition ascendancy is compelling. The scoreboard across seven elections since 1996 tells the story: five Coalition wins, one to Labor and one draw.

The Howard battler strategy, a conscious attempt by the Liberal Party to win over Labor's once rusted-on, blue-collar constituency, began 20 years ago after Paul Keating's "sweetest victory" election. Under then federal director Andrew Robb, the Liberals campaigned to win over middle Australia with considerable success: Labor's share of the blue-collar vote fell 12 percentage points to 37 per cent in 1996, to give the Coalition a 10-point lead.

Then, as now, western Sydney was the demographic and symbolic heart of the Labor vote.

Taking a 20-year view of the political landscape in western Sydney, Labor's ability to keep the swings against it below the national average across western Sydney gives little ground for comfort.

Across 15 seats in the west and northwest of Sydney, the Coalition gained four seats to give it seven in total. A stronger candidate than Jaymes Diaz in Greenway would have given it an eighth, while Banks has slipped out of Labor's hands for the first time since its creation in 1949.

The battle may ebb and flow and preference distribution may mask Labor's losses, but the historical trend is unmistakable.

At the 1993 election, Labor won 57 per cent of the primary vote across the 15 seats and the Liberals just 34 per cent. Even in 1996, the "Howard battler" election, Labor had a clear lead of 47 per cent to 40 per cent.

This year, for the first time, the parties are level on 43 per cent.

Like John Howard, Abbott appears suited for western Sydney. His socially conservative views that irritate his critics in politics and the media are readily accepted in the west of Sydney where attachment to family, tradition and religion is keenly felt.

Abbott's personal campaign to win acceptance in the west predates that of the Liberal Party. A product of a middle-class, north shore upbringing, and a Rhodes scholar, Abbott has consciously tried to shake off the silvertail stereotype since returning from Oxford in the early 1980s. His first experience of the west was as a trainee assistant priest at Our Lady of the Way parish in Emu Plains near Penrith in 1985-86.

After leaving the priesthood, he joined the staff of The Bulletin for a year, then took the unusual step of quitting for a year to run a concrete-batching plant in Silverwater. It was a job, Abbott writes in his book Battlelines, "that could not be dismissed as 'ivory tower' ".

Labor's decline in the west coincides with its embrace of progressive causes projecting values antithetical to those of the conservative west.

The 2011 census points to clear differences. Across the 15 seats, one in eight people say they have no religion; in the rest of the country, it is close to one in four.

Chris Bowen's seat of McMahon has the distinction of having the lowest proportion of same-sex couples in the country; one in 614, compared with one in 11 in Tania Plibersek's seat of Sydney.

In the 15 seats, couples in registered marriages outnumber couples in unregistered relationships by 10-1; in the rest of the country, couples are twice as likely to cohabit.

Work patterns are different too: western Sydney residents are likelier to work in the private sector than those elsewhere and they are likelier to work in a trade than a profession.

Counter to received political wisdom, the people of western Sydney appear not to be looking for handouts. They are less likely to collect all major categories of welfare, with the exception of the Youth Allowance. Nationally, one in 11 adults are on the Newstart Allowance; in western Sydney it is one in 23.

Abbott's Menzian self-help rhetoric - lifters, not leaners; a hand up, not a handout - is well tuned for this audience.

A third trend that, on paper at least, should run in Abbott's favour is the region's multicultural mix. By portraying ethnic minorities as disadvantaged and vulnerable, Labor convinced itself that the party of redistribution was the non-European migrant's natural home.

Yet, across the board, migrants from Asia and the Middle East are strongly socially conservative. They put family and community values ahead of individualism or universalism, and issues such as gay marriage are not easily accomodated. They put a premium on education and their work ethic is strong.

Migrants, then, qualify perfectly as Menzies' forgotten people, those he defined in his 1942 radio talk as "salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women taken for granted by each political party in turn".

Abbott's attempts to win friends in ethnic communities has proceeded largely unreported but has been conducted with the same strategic intent as his broader western Sydney project.

At the start of the election campaign, when Kevin Rudd was berating Abbott for being reluctant to take part in a leader's debate, Abbott was delivering an ecumenical message to an Islamic audience in Auburn at a gathering to mark the end of Ramadan.

"A good God smiles on all who sincerely seek the truth," Abbott said. "I believe that religious faiths, all religious faiths, seek to come to grips with the complexity of the human condition.

"They help us to come closer to being our best selves and to love and to care for others as we all know in our hearts we should. I believe in the fundamental unity of mankind."

In the absence of more detailed data of voting intentions, the Liberal Party's multicultural strategy is, at best, a work in progress.

On the ground, it is not immediately clear from Saturday's election how the region's ethnic diversity is playing out between the parties.

The Liberal Party candidate most clearly identified with an ethnic community, Andrew Nguyen in Fowler, had a disastrous election, losing 11 per cent of the primary vote, a defection that almost entirely benefited Labor's Chris Hayes.

The Liberals did relatively poorly in the two seats with the highest Muslim populations: Blaxland, where the Liberals' primary vote fell by 1.3 per cent, and Watson, where it increased only slightly.

All other things being equal, Labor will enter the next election looking vulnerable to further losses in western Sydney. A stronger Coalition candidate in Greenway would give the party a strong chance of retaking the seat, which Labor holds on a margin of a little more than 3.5 per cent.

Labor will be defending a margin of less than 6 per cent in Bowen's once rock-solid Labor seat of McMahon. The gap in the primary vote in Mark Latham's former seat of Werriwa was 17 points when Latham lost the 2004 election; this year it was reduced to 5 per cent. A swing of less than 3 per cent at the next election would give the Coalition a historical victory.

There is nothing inevitable in this presumed onward march, however. Should Labor draw the lessons of this defeat that it failed to heed in 1996, it would refocus on middle Australia and turn a deaf ear to the campaigns of the progressive Left.

An Abbott government may falter, and this may be the Coalition's natural limit in the west.

The long-term trend, however, is not encouraging for Labor.


Should the taxpayer fund "useless" research?

Only if it could be indirectly useful, it seems to me  -- JR

Last week, the Coalition called for a reprioritisation of Australian Research Council (ARC) funding away from what have been labelled 'ridiculous' otherworldly projects on Hegelian idealism and the Heideggerian understanding of self to where it is 'really needed' in medical research and the applied sciences.

Academics were quick to fire back, attesting to the value of esoteric research and accusing politicians of being unqualified to pass judgement on the value of intellectual pursuits 'they don't understand and don't care about.'

However, in the rush to rally around their profession, the academics weighing into the debate ignored the most important stakeholder in ARC-funded research: the community-at-large.

The rationale for reprioritising ARC funding is not that theoretical research is useless; it is rather that some highly specialised intellectual pursuits might not offer value for money for taxpayers.

In a democracy, taxpayers' dollars need to be wisely used in the service of society, and public benefit tests must be a key determinant of how government funds are distributed.

University research should certainly not be held hostage to the personal judgements of politicians, but it behoves government-funded academics to offer a return on investment from the public purse.

To be sure, it would be unrealistic and counterproductive to expect research paid for with taxpayers' money to always produce immediate and obvious benefits for society.

Research without a clear 'real-world' use can yield massive but unforseen dividends: Alan Turing's arcane philosophical work on logic, metaphysics and mathematics formed part of the groundwork of modern computer science.

The wider contribution of research is also sometimes diffuse: Rigorous academic output, even in seemingly out of touch disciplines, helps fuel Australia's colossal $15 billion worth of annual education exports by securing the high international standing of our universities and luring lucrative foreign students.

Taking cheap pot shots at supposedly 'ridiculous' ARC projects is ungracious and short-sighted; it does a disservice to the world-class research being done at Australian universities and the contribution it makes to our social and economic life.

Nevertheless, a more broadly epicurean outlook that stressed the importance of healing 'mortal suffering' and other earthly concerns would give due regard to Australian taxpayers - the often unacknowledged patrons of ARC research.


University of Queensland chief's kid favoured over 343 others

Some official admissions at long last

The daughter [stepdaughter] of a University of Queensland chief secured a spot in a medical course over 343 more suitable applicants, a report has revealed.  The Crime and Misconduct Commission tabled its report into a nepotism scandal at the university on Friday.

The scandal forced the resignation of UQ Vice-Chancellor Paul Greenfield and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Michael Keniger.

The report reveals Mr Greenfield's daughter secured a spot on the medical course ahead of hundreds of other better applicants.

It says university staff did not immediately report their nepotism concerns because Mr Greenfield himself had responsibility for dealing with such matters.

"It is clear from the reviews and investigation undertaken by the CMC the decision to offer a place in the 2011 undergraduate medical program to the daughter of the then Vice-Chancellor was not based on merit," the CMC report says.

The CMC found the university had played down the scandal in public statements in order to protect its reputation.

The university had also not been transparent about why professors Greenfield and Keniger resigned in late 2011.

‘‘The CMC considered the public statements made by the University of Queensland in November 2011 downplayed the seriousness of the matter and the involvement of two of its most senior executives,’’ the CMC said.

The watchdog said it had been unhappy about the university’s decision not to be specific about the reasons for the men’s resignations.

The watchdog also revealed it had asked for their resignation dates to be brought forward.

Acting CMC Assistant Commissioner Misconduct Kathleen Florian said the public must be able to have faith that decisions on university places are based on merit and equity.

‘‘It may be considered that the right balance was not struck between the public interest on the one hand, and protecting the reputation of the university and the reputations of the two most senior officers on the other,’’ she said in a statement.

"The offer was more than an irregularity in the enrolment process as previously described by the University and helped the student in question receive an offer before 343 other students who were better placed to receive an offer."

The University of Queensland admitted in a statement that it should have been more open.

It said the university senate’s decision not to reveal the reasons for the resignations was ‘‘difficult’’.

But it said the senate had to weigh up competing interests with ’’... the avoidance of operational disruption and reputational damage on the one hand, and the promotion of transparency on the other hand.

‘‘The university accepts, however, that its response was not well handled and acknowledges that it lacked the transparency called for in the circumstances,’’ it said.

UQ said it had noted the CMC’s conclusions on board and had been working on more transparent systems to manage issues of integrity and misconduct.


NSW child protection supervisors failed test

Many caseworkers are employed as senior supervisors at the state's child protection hotline despite having failed the application process for the role.

Internal documents obtained by Fairfax Media show that seven of the 14 caseworkers who failed to achieve a pass when they applied for the role of team leader were already acting in the more senior position. It is understood that most of the caseworkers who failed the application assessment are still acting in the more senior roles.

The document, signed by Michelle Allan, the acting manager of the Child Protection Helpline, on May 9, shows that caseworkers deemed "not successful" scored marks of 11 to 15.5 out of 30. To pass they are required to get 16 out of 30.

The senior role involves leading teams of up to five caseworkers who answer calls to the hotline, which fields reports about children at risk of abuse and neglect. The team leader supervises the caseworkers and escalates the priority given to more serious complaints if child safety is at serious risk.

A former community services worker who has seen the documents said some of the people who failed the application process have continued to act in the supervisory roles. "Normally if you don't pass the application process, you would get culled. In this case they were given another two tasks to try to get them over the line, but a lot of them did even worse in those," she said.

Opposition spokeswoman for family and community services Linda Burney said the department of community services was "willing to do everything possible to fill those positions". "Instead of culling them if they fail, they were desperately trying to fill those senior caseworker positions with people who were clearly unsuitable," she said. "That suggests a dangerous practice."

A caseworker who works for the hotline said team leaders are supposed to provide caseworkers with support and guidance.

"People who clearly failed a recruitment process are being promoted," she said. "Aside from it being unethical and setting them up for failure, it's outright dangerous and places the very people we are suppose to protect at risk. Why does management think this is OK? Does a child need to die for this practice to stop? My fear is that one day a team leader will incorrectly sign off one of [the] reports, and there will be a tragic consequence from some little child."

The concerns about the recruitment process at the child protection hotline follow those about a shortage of caseworkers in NSW. The caseworker said she and her colleagues had been asked to do more overtime in the lead-up to a visit by a newspaper to the child protection hotline office.


15 September, 2013

Carbon tax to blame for loss, says senior Leftist

FORMER ACTU secretary Bill Kelty has accused Labor of underestimating Tony Abbott for years, declaring the party's breach of trust with voters over the carbon tax was a bigger cause of its defeat than the disunity cited by senior ALP figures.

Mr Kelty, who is backing Bill Shorten in the mould of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating to become the next ALP leader, said the seeds for last Saturday's loss could be traced back to the failure of Labor to explain to voters why Kevin Rudd was dumped in favour of Julia Gillard in 2010.

"To be honest, I think they lost the election in two points of history," Mr Kelty said.

"They didn't ever explain the change of leadership from Rudd to Gillard. Therefore they didn't lose the next election, but they didn't win it either. So there goes that first downward trend. People couldn't understand why it wasn't explained to them.

"Second, when Julia Gillard actually announced the Greens policy (of introducing a carbon tax), people saw it as a breach of faith, a breach of trust. When people have come to a view that they don't trust you, when you have broken a commitment to them, when enough people believe that, it gives them a great opportunity therefore not to be interested in politics, they just wait until the next election."

Mr Kelty's frank assessment contrasts with a raft of senior Labor MPs, including Tony Burke, Tanya Plibersek and Greg Combet, who have primarily blamed Labor's defeat on the leadership instability and party division.

Mr Kelty said when trust was lost between a government and voters over broken policy commitments, "You can see it".

"With Paul Keating, it was after the budget in 1993. People said: 'I think you have broken our commitment of trust, it's very hard for us to vote for you,' " he said. "When Anna Bligh decided to sell assets and she didn't explain it to the electorate beforehand, then it broke that covenant of trust.

"All the other things don't matter. When that essential covenant of trust between the electorate and those who are elected is broken, it's very, very hard to rebuild."

Asked about senior Labor MPs citing disunity for the defeat, he said: "You just think when that essential covenant of trust is broken, don't blame the media, don't blame all these petty divisions, always look for the fundamental cause. I think you learn in politics that the last thing you break is the covenant of trust."

Mr Kelty said Labor had underestimated Mr Abbott "for some years (and) you should never underestimate your opposition".

"Abbott has a lot of ability and works very hard," he said. "I think the best way to deal with Abbott is to deal with him honestly, combatively and fairly, and recognise his talent and work hard at it - the same way Abbott did against Rudd.

"If you want a lesson, then some of the lessons you get in life is that Howard stood up to Bob (Hawke), and to Paul Keating. He never beat them, in a sense, but he was a campaigner against them, was honorable, and he just worked assiduously at it."

He did not want to be critical of Anthony Albanese but believed Mr Shorten was better-placed to be the next leader.

"If the party wants to look to the next generation, look to the next generation, and I think Shorten is more of the next generation," he said.

Mr Shorten was an "old-fashioned leader, in the sense, that he is more Hawke, and more Keating, and more traditional Labor". "I think he's got to that point in his life where I think he has the maturity and the responsibility to lead the Labor Party," Mr Kelty said.

The process of opening up the leadership to party members had its advantages and disadvantages but "there's no point complaining about it".

'It gives the party an opportunity to give a legitimacy to a new leader," he said.


Coalition takes axe to climate programs

PUBLIC servants are drawing up plans to collapse 33 climate change schemes run by seven departments and eight agencies into just three bodies run by two departments under a substantial rewrite of the administration of carbon abatement schemes under the Coalition.

Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt briefed public servants on the dramatic restructure of the federal climate change bureaucracy before the election was called and yesterday confirmed the Coalition was committed to proceeding with the plan.

Under the simplification, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Resources and Energy will run all of the climate change programs under the Coalition's direct-action program.

The move is forecast to save the government tens of millions of dollars. The Coalition budgeted for savings of $7 million this financial year rising to $13m in each of the next three years for a saving of $45m across the budget period.

The changes will see all carbon abatement schemes run by three bodies: the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which will be overseen by the Department of Resources and Energy; and the Clean Energy Regulator and Low Carbon Australia, which will be run by the Department of the Environment.

The Climate Change Authority, which sets emissions caps, the Climate Commission, which has conducted research into climate change, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which funds renewable technologies, are all slated to be abolished under the plans.

Treasury has responsibility for Low Carbon Australia and the CEFC, while the Industry Department has control over a range of clean technology programs. The Department of Agriculture runs a series of carbon farming programs, while the Department of Families runs household assistance packages, home energy savings programs and the remote indigenous energy program.

Under the Coalition, Low Carbon Australia will be responsible for purchasing emissions reductions under the Coalition's direct action program.

"What we've said is we will commence the merger as soon as the process of appointing the ministry and swearing in the ministry has been complete," Mr Hunt told the 2GB radio station in Sydney yesterday. "To be frank, during the course of the pre-election period, when we were allowed to consult with departments, we laid out the fact that there would be a merger. "We were express and clear and absolute about that, and we indicated we would like it to begin right from the outset. I imagine that the public servants are preparing to do that. Our agenda was clear and open and that is an official process we'll go through as soon as possible."

The moves came as Tony Abbott continued briefings with senior public servants, including the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Ian Watt, as he continued his transition-to-government plans.

The CEFC confirmed yesterday it had stopped making loans for energy efficiency and clean energy programs. Staff at the $10 billion green bank are seeking a meeting with the incoming Abbott government as a top priority.

"The CEFC congratulates the new government upon its election and will welcome the opportunity to consult with the incoming responsible ministers," the bank's chief executive Oliver Yates said. "The CEFC has approached the Coalition to engage in consultations about the transition and looks forward to engaging with the new government concerning how its activities can best be supportive of their policy priorities under Direct Action."

The Coalition will need to legislate to abolish the CEFC, which has amassed a $560m investment portfolio and leveraged $1.6bn in private sector investment. But the bank is understood to be lobbying a Coalition government to utilise its staff and assets as part of its Direct Action scheme, and change its investment mandate so it could work within the framework of the Coalition's policy.

An Abbott government will need to legislate if it seeks to abolish the Climate Change Authority, which is proceeding with work on a draft report about emissions reductions targets that is due to be completed next month. In the wake of Labor and Greens declarations that they would oppose the abolition of carbon pricing, Mr Abbott said he expected the parliament to "respect the mandate that the new government has".

"It will obviously be an issue (for the Labor Party) . . . whether it learns from its mistakes and whether it's prepared to accept that it simply got it wrong when it came to these toxic new taxes," Mr Abbott said.


Climate sceptic MP Dennis Jensen wants to be science minister

Coalition MP Dennis Jensen, who is a vocal climate science sceptic, has called on Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott to appoint him as science minister.

"At the moment to be honest I'm feeling under-utilised," said Dr Jensen, the member for Tangney in Western Australia, who has a master's degree in physics and a PhD in material science.

"I think that I've got a lot to offer," he added. "I've got some unique attributes."

Mr Abbott was expected to give the science portfolio to Victorian MP Sophie Mirabella, but she may lose her seat of Indi to the popular independent Cathy McGowan.

Dr Jensen suggests he would be better qualified than anyone to take charge of science.

"I'm not aware of any other scientist [in the Parliament]," he said.

Dr Jensen has made headlines by questioning the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to global warming.

Dr Jensen believes carbon dioxide is contributing somewhat to global temperatures, but not as much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is suggesting.

Moreover, Dr Jensen does not think governments should be taking urgent action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"In the climate area there is appeal to authority and appeal to consensus, neither of which is scientific at all," Dr Jensen told Fairfax Media on Thursday.

"Scientific reality doesn't give a damn who said it and it doesn't give a damn how many say it."

It was wrong to accept the view of the 97 per cent of climate scientists who agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely caused by human activities, because "the argument of consensus . . . is a flawed argument," Dr Jensen said.

The colourful Englishman, Lord Christopher Monckton, who toured Australia to debunk the "bogus science" of global warming, was closer to the mark, Dr Jensen suggested.

"Most of the stuff [Lord Monckton] says is entirely reasonable," Dr Jensen said.

"Some of it I don't agree with but on the whole a lot of what he says is in my view correct."

Dr Jensen also commended the work of Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Lindzen is known as one of the most qualified global-warming sceptics in international science.

Dr Jensen said if he were appointed science minister, his vision for science in Australia would centre on encouraging more young people to study science and fixing up the funding model of the Australian Research Council to encourage more innovation.


Qld.: Another Labor Party white elephant

Anything rather than build a new dam, was the thinking

PETER Beattie says the Bligh Government made a "tragic error of judgment" in the way it handled the creation of the water grid, saying he "steamed" in LA at the time.

The former Premier has also called on the State Government to resurrect the controversial Traveston Dam project.

"I've got to be frank with you, I was disappointed with a number of decisions the Bligh Government made in relation to water," he said today in Brisbane.

"I'm not hiding it anymore.  "I didn't say anything when the Bligh Government was in office out of loyalty to the party.  "But frankly, the coordinator general who was operating it, didn't supervise it properly.  "If Ross Rolfe was there, there wouldn't have been problems in the desalination plant."

Mr Beattie said Ms Bligh's biggest failure was the decision not to appoint his former Coordinator General Ross Rolfe to oversee the project.

"The Bligh Government didn't appoint him and they appointed someone else - it was a tragic error of judgment, in my view," he said.  "I think Anna made a terrible mistake in getting rid of Ross Rolfe.  "I just sat there and I've got to say I steamed in LA.

"You cannot build a water grid unless you've got a person with brains building it."

He also took aim at the Newman Government, labelling it a "whinger brigade".

"They've taken every opportunity for the last 18 months to whinge about something Labor has done," he said.

"My question is when are they actually going to do something about these issues?"

The former Premier said the water debacle was the result of a "series of bad decisions", adding he was "yesterday's fish and chip wrapper".

"It started under the Bligh Government, it's continued under the new government - when it comes to water, both of them have stuffed it up," he said.

He said he was "happy to accept any responsibility, without any difficulty, for the water grid up until (he) retired in September 2007".

"I understand the politics of smear, but the bottom line is my water grid included the Traveston Dam, which was cancelled by the Rudd Government," he said.

Mr Beattie said it was time to build the divisive Traveston Dam.

"With climate change, they are off their cotton-picking minds if they don't build the water grid as I intended it initially," he said.

"They should build the Traveston Dam, they should build, as far as I'm concerned, the water grid as I intended it.

"If they built that, that would be a serious investment in infrastructure for Queensland's future."

Earlier, a $2.7 billion water recycling scheme will remain mothballed, unless there are customers for it, Premier Campbell Newman says.

As revealed by The Courier-Mail, the Western Corridor Recycling Scheme is shaping up to be a bigger fiscal folly then the health payroll, four years after its completion.

Premier Newman said the scheme was to blame for the "high water bills" now hitting householders in the hip pocket.

"A whole lot of work was done in the crisis period of the drought and we can see now that was money wasted," Mr Newman said.

"I imagine at the moment the recycled water scheme, unless there are customers for it, industrial customers, can only be mothballed."

The Beattie government's Western Corridor Recycling Scheme was mothballed last month, and State Parliament has been told it is "defunct" and shaping as a bigger fiscal folly than the Queensland Health payroll debacle.

Completed in 2009, the business linked three water plants and was the linchpin in the $6.9 billion water grid that was designed to drought-proof Queensland.

Water Minister Mark McArdle said although the recycling scheme produced water for power stations, none of it made it to drinking supplies.

"The scheme has been an unmitigated disaster," he said.

"Proper planning did not take place. Because of the incompetence of the Beattie government, Queenslanders will be paying for it for years."

Mr McArdle said he was shocked at the costs.

While it was projected to produce water for less than $1000 a megalitre, costs last year soared to $4419/Ml. The scheme has so far cost $113 million to operate.

It was a white elephant and mothballing it would save millions, Mr McArdle said, adding it was "most unlikely" it would ever be used again.

He said the three "advanced recycling plants" in the scheme were Luggage Point and Gibson Island in Brisbane and Bundamba at Ipswich.  Gibson Island at Murarrie was already under shutdown.

The plants took wastewater from Brisbane and Ipswich and produced 232Ml of purified recycled water a day. It was to be used in cooling towers in power plants at Swanbank, Tarong and Tarong North but even that was stopped when it was found the water produced was corroding equipment.

The Beattie government said the water grid was necessary to meet increased demand due to population growth, climate change and the "worst drought in recorded history".

State Auditor-General Andrew Greaves also criticised the scheme, saying there was no "rigorous assessment" of the cost. In a report to Parliament Mr Greaves said the benefits outlined by the Beattie government were "overstated".

"Better planning may have avoided the need for such drastic and costly action," he said.


13 September, 2013

Optus never ceases to amaze

Optus is probably not the world's worst phone company.  Some British company would probably beat them for that title.  But they would be in the running.

Would you like to take over somebody else's phone number?  If they are with Optus it is a cinch.  You just sign up with some other company  -- say Dodo -- and tell them that you want the number.  Dodo will then simply ask for it and Optus will give it to them no questions asked.  You would imagine that Optus would ask their customer if he wanted to lose his number or not  -- but no siree!

Sound crazy?  It is.  But Optus have just done exactly that to me.  They cancelled my number and gave it to Dodo -- even though my account was paid in advance and I have had it for ten years without giving them any problems with late payments

I of course protested and it was then that I was told that they perform no checks if another phone company asks for a particular number.  It's obviously a cost-saving measure for them.

After I wrote to Paul O'Sullivan, their CEO, about the matter, they got my number back from Dodo but tell me that they are so hard worked that it will be another week before my account will actually be restored.  Most people who ring me have my mobile number but otherwise it would be a read teeth-grinder to lose my landline for 3 weeks.  It could happen to you.  Change to another provider.

I have been battling with Optus since the year 1999.  You can read some of the correspondence here

The strange personality of K. Rudd

It was clear to me for years that Rudd was a psychopath and the diagnosis suggested below is essentially a refinement of that.  The diagnosis was certainly confirmed by Rudd's amazingly egotistical "concession" speech on election night (pic above)

The people who knew him best  -- his own party -- were always leery of him and many disliked him from the start.  It was only his vote-winning psychopathic charm that finally caused them to make him leader. Rather amazingly, however, their disquiet about him grew rather than waned after his 2007 election win.  So they eventually fired their own Prime Minister.  And it was only when they were absolutely desperate over Gillard's disastrous poll numbers  that they gritted their teeth and brought Rudd back at the last moment in 2013.  Altogether an amazing saga centred around the defective being that is K. Rudd.  It is a great mercy that the alternative to Rudd was a thoroughly decent man: Tony Abbott

A Liberal party document provided by a friendly psychiatrist suggested Rudd was held together by one key strut: an absolute conviction of intellectual superiority over everyone else.

Held deep within the top strategy group of the Liberal war room was a document which gave a name and a diagnosis to the personality of Kevin Rudd. It was a document provided to the Liberal’s strategy team on an informal basis by a psychiatrist friendly to the Liberals after Rudd had returned to the Labor leadership on June 26. In a nutshell, this document offered an arm’s-length diagnosis of Rudd as suffering a personality disorder known as “grandiose narcissism”.


The document was not shown to Abbott, but rather remained within the strategy group as an informal check-list, often as a tool for comparison after Rudd had already behaved in ways that the Liberal strategists believed could be leveraged to their advantage. The Liberal war room had reached its own conclusions about Rudd long ago, based on his public behaviour and the damning revelations of his colleagues.

But the document provided an affirmation that the snapshot of the enemy on which a fighting campaign was based had a context. It listed recognisable symptoms and behavioural patterns linking Rudd’s personality to the clinical symptoms for grandiose narcissism – drawing conclusions about Rudd’s mindset. It also proposed tactics to leverage Rudd’s personality.

Describing grandiose narcissism as less a psychiatric disease and more a destructive character defect, the document suggested Rudd was held together by one key strut: an absolute conviction of intellectual superiority over everyone else. “Kick out that strut and he will collapse; basically he is a self-centred two-year-old in an adult body. Prone to wanting everything – now! If not, then he has a two year-old’s tantrum.”

Rudd, the document went on, was vulnerable to any challenge to his self-belief that he was more widely-read, smarter and more knowledgeable than anyone else “on the planet”. Such a condition of grandiose narcissism would make Rudd obsessively paranoid, excessively vindictive – “prepared to wait years to get revenge”, and “a spineless bully” who would strike an easy target; he would predictably be excessively sensitive to personal criticism. If publicly goaded, he could easily have a “mega tantrum”. If described as “stupid”, such a personality would mount an almost impenetrable intellectual defence. If undermined in front of an audience, with his intellect undermined, Rudd could be prone to “narcissistic rage”.

“Later, in attempts to repair the damage, he will claim, in the calmest, coolest and most reasonable way, that his meltdown occurred because those around him are ganging up on him to prevent him from ‘saving Australia’ or some other such grandiose concept.

“Kevin’s explanation for the meltdown will run something like this: ‘Under the difficulties I face trying to save this country from the terrible threats facing it, any reasonable person would have naturally reacted the way I did.’ And then, blah blah, with grandiose ideas of being the country’s saviour.”

Rudd would be threatened by a rival in any of his fields and would be obsessively paranoid and ready to retaliate to real or perceived threats; he would suffer from excessive suspicion. This could be tactically exploited, the document suggested, by promoting the idea that Rudd was merely a caretaker prime minister, to be terminated by colleagues once the election was won.


Inside the Liberal war room the document explained why Rudd “knew best” and “why he had to take over” again as prime minister. And while the document went to explaining behaviour, it also aided the development of pressure points against Rudd – such as pushing the notion that he was full of flimflam, an accusation designed to undermine a superiority complex. The document was a confirmation that many of the tactics and strategic assessments in the war room were on the mark. It crystallised a view of Rudd rather than creating a framework, confirming views of his likely behaviour – a crucial weapon in the psychological warfare of an election campaign.

While Labor fed a storyline (ultimately proved incorrect) that the enemy, Abbott, was so disliked as to be unelectable, the Liberals fed a storyline (ultimately proved correct) that the enemy, Rudd, was so assured of his own superior ability that his campaign would become mired in chaos as he micro-managed and displayed suspicions of those outside his own small cult circle.


We all want a conservative national leader

Ross Gittins probes the national unconscious

At last. God's in his heaven and all's right with the world. The rightful rulers of this country are back in charge, so now things can only get better. You think I'm joking? I'm not.

We see the Liberals - the party of the bosses - as the party best suited to run the country.

Sometimes enough of us feel sufficiently rebellious to install Labor - the party of the workers - but this leaves many of us uncomfortable and yearning for the return of the masters. And when, sooner or later, it becomes clear Labor isn't doing well, no one is terribly surprised and we rush back to the security of our pater familias.

You don't understand anything about the underlying forces of Australian politics until you understand that.

It applies particularly to the economy. For decades pollsters have asked people which side of politics is better suited at managing the economy. And for decades the almost invariable answer is the Coalition.

There was a time during the term of the Hawke-Keating government when the economy was doing well and Labor was ahead on this question. But such times are the exception. Normally, Labor judges its success just by the extent to which it has narrowed the gap with the Libs.

It follows that the more the economy is seen as the dominant issue of federal politics - as it has been since Gough Whitlam's day - the more the Libs are seen as the natural party of government.

No one believes this more fervently than business people, of course. Business is always uncomfortable with a Labor government, but the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government proved much less adept at maintaining good relations with business than the Hawke-Keating government.

So much so that the economist Saul Eslake has noted "the extent and depth of antipathy among the business community towards the present [Labor] government - which goes way beyond the normal inclination of most business executives or owners towards centre-right governments".

A big part of the problem was Labor's resort to the language of class conflict, starting with its decision to rename the original mining resources rent tax as the resource "super profits" tax.

New governments always enjoy a honeymoon with the electorate and a lift in business. But this time it's hoped the turnaround in business confidence will be big enough to lead to a recovery in non-mining business investment, which has been weak for several years.

The resources boom and its high dollar, the end of the housing credit boom and the return of the more prudent consumer, and the continuing digital revolution mean that, although the economy has been travelling well enough overall, various industries have been hard hit by "structural change".

Most of these structural pressures are beyond the influence of government policy. That's particularly true of retailing, which includes a lot of small businesses and has been doing it especially tough.

The temptation for hard-pressed business people to blame their troubles on a Labor government has been irresistible. The change of government will make them a lot happier. And the more confident business is about the future, the better it's likely to do. The test will come when businesses realise their underlying problems haven't gone away.

Business people are usually highly critical of anyone seen to be "talking down the economy". But, we've learnt, this ethic applies only when the Coalition is in government. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were talking the economy down for at least three years, and many business people were publicly agreeing with them.

Of course, the assumption that Liberal governments always manage the economy well - that, in Abbott's revealing phrase, it's in their DNA - is wrong, just as the assumption that Labor governments are always bad at it is wrong.

The hope that all our problems will evaporate now the good guys are back in charge is wishful thinking.

But that doesn't stop our deeply held assumption to the contrary - an assumption shared by both Liberal and Labor politicians - from having real effects on our behaviour. One of the surprising truths of economics is that, to some extent, our expectations are self-fulfilling.

And already the budget and boat-people crises are over.


WasteWatch: Sport Barrelling; Food Grants; Guns.

Well, the 2013 election campaign has run its course and Australia now has a new government. While this election was not the spendathon of some past contests, it was not without its waste.

Kevin Rudd had something of a fixation on sport during the campaign. One of his thought bubbles was to give $166,000 to the Robinvale & District Motorcycle Club, to upgrade their 'Arena X Track.' An 'Arena X Track,' for those wondering, is a small stadium where riders race off-road motorcycles on artificially constructed dirt tracks.

Another of Rudd's thought bubbles was to spend $15 million on 'detailed design work' for the proposed Stadium Northern Australia in Townsville. But that's only loose change because the company in charge of the development, Townsville Enterprise, want another $150 million from the government over the next five years.

Sadly, the Coalition Government may be just as trigger happy with your hard-earned dollars. Their recently announced policy to tackle crime includes a $100 million boost to Customs to crack down on illegal gun imports. We think this policy had more to do with shoring up the Western Sydney vote than in tackling Australia's already low level of illegally imported firearms.

After finishing his crusade on illegal firearms, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will look to sweeten Tasmania's flailing economy with a contribution of $16 million to Cadbury for 'factory upgrades.' With profits approaching $170 million globally, we think Cadbury can finance its own upgrades.

But Cadbury is not the only food producer feeding on the public teat. If you don't remember what a Chiko roll tastes like, you will surely remember the famous red-leather-clad Chiko Chick on a motorbike.

NSW Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner recently announced the NSW Government would provide a substantial rescue package to the Bathurst factory which produces our beloved Chikos.

With a new federal government in power and a steadily eroding budget position, WasteWatch will be working overtime to hold this government to account.


NT Unions want prisoners to be paid up to twice the normal  (award) rate

The Northern Territory branch of the United Voice union says a program that allows prisoners to work at a central Australian salt mine for award wages is akin to slave labour.

The Territory Government says low-security prisoners are being trained for work at a potash project near Curtain Springs because the company had trouble recruiting staff.

It is not known how many prisoners are working at the site, which is about 250 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs.

The Country Liberal Government introduced its Sentenced To A Job program for prisoners in Territory jails earlier this year.

They can work on both public and private projects, but only inmates in the lowest security classifications can take part in the scheme.

Of their earnings, 5 per cent goes to a victims' assistance fund and $125 a week is deducted to cover their board costs in jail.

The prisoners get $60 a week in spending money, and the remainder of what they are paid is put into a trust fund and they are paid a lump sum when released from custody.

But Matthew Gardiner from United Voice says concerns have been raised by miners.

"We've had some miners in those different areas we represent coming forward, and they're a bit worried because of these large mining companies who actually quite happily use undercutting of labour and undercutting of wages to try and maximise their profits while driving down the different areas," he said.

"If anyone's working in this sector, regardless of where they come from or what they've done, they should be paid at market rate.

"This is the fair rate that's been done between employers and employees over a long period of time.

"It shouldn't be an award rate. No one in the mining sector works on award rate.

"Currently the award rate for the area is around $16 an hour, whereas someone who works off the award rate would be working about $35 an hour."


12 September, 2013

Labor at odds over carbon tax repeal

CRACKS have emerged in federal Labor ranks with two party MPs conceding the incoming government's plan to scrap the carbon tax should be allowed to pass parliament.

Backbencher Nick Champion and Richard Marles, Labor's most recent trade minister, on Wednesday broke the party line which has promised to block moves in parliament to repeal the impost on emissions.

"We do need to acknowledge the fact that Tony Abbott won the election, and we lost," Victorian MP Mr Marles told Sky News.

The coalition classified Saturday's election as a referendum on climate change and say they come to power with a mandate to remove the tax.

"If the majority of people vote for bad policy, then they simply need to see that experiment fulfilled," Mr Champion told ABC radio.

"It's not our job to save the Liberal Party from bad policy and it's not our job to save the Australian people from bad policy if that's what they choose and vote for in an election."

Incoming climate action minister Greg Hunt welcomed the "good sense" of the Labor duo.

"There can be no reason and no excuse for the ALP not to honour a fundamental, central referendum question," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

But others in Labor remained steadfast in their opposition of the coalition's intention to shift to a direct action plan to combat climate change.

Sydney MP Michelle Rowland said the plan, which includes using soil and trees to soak up emissions, is an "absolute figleaf".

"I'm not voting for a policy about planting trees and magic soil," she said.

Mr Champion did not agree with the coalition policy and said it should be opposed in the lower house, but allowed to pass the Senate, to expose the shortcomings of the incoming government.

"In effect, I think the Liberal Party want to hang themselves," Mr Champion said.

"Well, we should give them as much rope as they need."

Asked if the coalition would push ahead with its threat of a double dissolution election to see its policy pass the parliament, Mr Hunt said "there is a long way to travel" before reaching that consideration.

When Labor came to power in 2007 Mr Hunt said the coalition accepted and honoured the new government's mandates including signing the Kyoto Protocol, shifting away from WorkChoices and the government apology to indigenous Australians.


Premier Campbell Newman asks prime minister-elect Tony Abbott to push through approvals for new coal mines in Galilee basin

QUEENSLAND premier Campbell Newman has asked prime minister-elect Tony Abbott to push through approvals for massive new coal mining projects in the Galilee basin.  Campbell Newman said Mr Abbott called him on Monday to find out what the "blockers" were for the Queensland government.

"I said without any hesitation the need to see the massive Galilee Basin coal projects approved as soon as possible," Mr Newman told ABC radio.  "Because they will see thousands of jobs created over the next few years and billions of dollars' investment in the state."

He said he'd kept the message about what Queensland wanted from Mr Abbott very simple.  "And it's really just to get out of the way and let this government get on with taking the state forward economically," Mr Newman said.

He said Mr Abbott had also raised his desire to get on with jointly funded major road projects, including the Bruce Highway upgrade.


Coalition to take axe to NBN Co

The biggest certainty facing the country's national broadband network is that it will undergo a complete metamorphosis in the next 12 months with a new board, a new management team, a new culture and strategy, new cost structures and a new set of relationships in the telecommunications sector.

Three separate reviews and a forensic audit of NBN Co will be undertaken immediately, which will effectively give the incoming Abbott government a get-out-of-jail-free card to oust the existing board and take the national broadband network in any direction it wants - and it will.

Critics have described the NBN in its current form as "overstaffed", a "bottomless pit of taxpayer funding" and a "quagmire wrapped in a minefield".

Besides providing political fodder to humiliate the Rudd government, the reviews will look at the NBN's ownership structure and its regulatory protections. This could result in the private sector being invited to take equity to help fund the rollout. It could also precipitate a review of the role of the competition watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in administering the current open access regime.

NBN Co has suffered more than its fair share of scandals in the past few years, including massive cost blowouts, timetable delays, board disharmony, asbestos scares and some unhappy contractors who are losing money and want out.

Critics have described the NBN in its current form as "overstaffed", a "bottomless pit of taxpayer funding" and a "quagmire wrapped in a minefield". But its own figures are the most damning. In 2010 the target was for almost 1 million homes and premises to be hooked up. By June 2013 fewer than 175,000 homes and businesses were connected. In simple terms after almost five years and $5 billion later the NBN is only 2 per cent built.

The first change a Coalition government is likely to do is appoint Ziggy Switkowski to take charge of the audit and reviews and negotiations with key vendors. His appointment will be followed by others with a depth of experience in the telecommunications and/or construction sectors. Kerry Schott is likely to be one of the few board members to keep her job.

But the biggest change will be the relationships with retail service providers, ISPs and others as the new government switches from a fibre-to-the-home NBN to a cheaper fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-basement network.

This will require a new and published business plan coupled with analysis, which will be used to renegotiate the Telstra/NBN deal to arrange copper access and compensation in the fibre-to-the-node footprint as well as redesigning the rollout. It will also mean holding discussions with Optus and other industry players as well as contractors.

It will make for interesting times for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which was blackballed from tendering for the NBN due to national security issues. That was the only explanation given at the time by the then Gillard government. Instead, it appointed Alcatel-Lucent as the main broadband technology provider.

Huawei is currently doing the equivalent work on the British version of the NBN, which is a combination of fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-node using a new technology called vectoring, which increases the bandwidth of traditional copper lines. As one former senior telco executive said: "There is plenty of run left in copper." Alcatel-Lucent is also an expert in vectoring, a technology that communications minister-elect Malcolm Turnbull has made clear will be used in its cheaper version of the NBN.

Turnbull has said he will revisit the banning of Huawei if elected to government, which means if Huawei gets the all-clear in terms of national security issues, it could end up with a role in the NBN.

The change from fibre-to-the-home to fibre-to-the-node will have profound implications for Telstra, contractors and other telco players including Optus. But at the end of the day the aim is to have a network that costs less, is finished sooner and is more efficient. The aim is to create a hybrid fibre, copper, wireless and satellite network with components brought together that offers affordable prices and has a configuration similar to that being adopted in other countries.

With so much change, the new government will need to be mindful that the right industry structure emerges. It was a need to change the structure that inspired the creation of the NBN in the first place. This is an area Switkowski will be well versed in given his background as a former chief executive of Telstra.

Turnbull and Switkowski will have their work cut out for them unpicking some of the contracts put in place by their predecessors and making sure the right industry structure, regulation and entity is created. But given the current state of play, it seems they are starting from a low base.


Another set of university rankings

ANU at 27th in world university rankings

The US has come out on top in an authoritative list of international university rankings, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University leading the way.

MIT came top of the QS World University Rankings for the second year running, while Harvard displaced Britain’s Cambridge University to take second spot in the 2013 table, which was published on Tuesday.

US institutions made up six of the top 10, with the remaining four places being filled by British universities.

The QS rankings included a record number of British institutions in the top 20, with University of Edinburgh and King's College London making their first appearances.

Four Australian universities made it to the top 50. The Australian National University came in at 27, dropping three places; the University of Melbourne at 31 (up five places); The University of Sydney at 38 (up one place); and the University of Queensland at 43 (up three places).

According to the study, graduates from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were the most employable in the world.

The rankings take into account the subject range, research results and academic reputation offered by 3000 institutions internationally.


11 September, 2013

Palmer tries to hose down split on carbon tax

New divisions within the Palmer United Party over the carbon tax scheme threaten to derail Coalition plans to repeal the scheme and install its Direct Action funding program.

Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie – expected to be a senator for Clive Palmer’s party – said on Tuesday the Coalition should not expect her support to repeal the carbon scheme, despite the PUP’s clear policy on the issue.

“If he [Tony Abbott] thinks Pauline Hanson was a pain in his rear-end in the past, I can assure you he hasn’t come up against Jacqui Lambie yet, and I’ll be going in hard,” Ms Lambie told ABC radio. “There still needs to be a carbon tax, but it just needs to be a lot lower than it is.”

But Mr Palmer said Ms Lambie had “got confused” and both PUP senators would support the repeal of the carbon scheme. “She was talking about our ­policy on ethanol pricing, she just got mixed up,” Mr Palmer said.

The push for reform of the Senate voting system has gained momentum with the Australian Electoral Commission revealing there was nothing to stop front parties being established to farm Senate preferences to other candidates.

The Australian Financial Review has revealed the Liberal Democratic Party – which emerged from obscurity to secure a Senate spot in NSW – was behind the Outdoor Recreation Party and the Smokers’ Rights Party.

“There is no explicit provision that prevents the same person being the registered officer of more than one political party,” AEC spokesman Phil Diak said.

Highlighting the complex Senate preference flows at this election, it looked increasingly likely on Tuesday the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party would win the last Victorian Senate spot with the support of preferences from the Animal Welfare Party, WikiLeaks Party, Drug Law Reform Party and Sex Party. As a result, the Coalition is likely to have 33 senators and will require the support of six crossbenchers after July 1 to overturn the ­carbon scheme, if Labor refuses to budge from its position of opposing repeal in this Senate or the next .

Democratic Labor Party senator John Madigan has indicated he will support repeal, and three likely senators-elect have also said they would – the PUP’s Glenn Lazarus, Bob Day of Family First and David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The Coalition would need to win the support of a further two likely crossbench senators. Ricky Muir of the AMEP  and Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party have refused to say how they would vote.

South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has said he will only support repeal legislation if it is replaced with the baseline and credit emissions scheme proposed by Frontier Economics in 2009.

It would be even more difficult for the Coalition to introduce Direct Action with the Liberal Democrats and DLP indicating they would not support such a scheme. Prime Minister-elect,Tony Abbott, said he expected Labor to respect his mandate and work with him to abolish the carbon and mining taxes, describing them as “handbrakes” on jobs and investment.


Tony Abbott instructs bureaucrats to prepare to axe carbon tax

PRIME Minister-elect Tony Abbott has personally instructed his new departmental secretary to make preparations to axe the carbon tax and activate Operation Sovereign Borders to stop asylum boats.

Mr Abbott got down to business this morning after his landslide election victory, with a briefing with Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Ian Watt.

Meetings were scheduled with Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson and Finance Department head David Tune, while Mr Abbott was also due to hold talks with senior Coalition colleagues later in the day.

He told Dr Watt to prepare the ground for the Coalition to implement its agenda swiftly, and he was confident the public's "reasonable expectations" could be met.

"Obviously, a very early item of business is scrapping the carbon tax," he told Dr Watt at the commencement of their meeting.

"There's border security, there's economic security and the people expect, quite rightly, that the incoming government will build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.

"I deeply respect the professionalism in the Australian Public Service. You are experts at policy implementation and I'm confident that we will be able to successfully implement our agenda because that's what people expect of us."

As Labor enters a period of deep introspection over its future, Mr Abbott has also begun to field calls from world leaders, receiving a congratulatory call from UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this morning.

Voters last night delivered an emphatic verdict on six turbulent years of Labor rule, sending the party packing on the back of strong results in NSW, Tasmania and Victoria.

Mr Abbott has a packed agenda for his first 100 days in office. On the top of his agenda is rescinding the carbon tax.

But senior Labor figures have warned they are unlikely to recognise his claimed mandate to axe the measure, and are likely to frustrate the measure if the Senate numbers allow it.

Coalition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said the economy was in for a confidence jolt, declaring an Abbott government would "reboot" the mining boom and "massively" boost jobs.

"We can do so much," he said.

"We can get Australia open for business, we will restore an appetite for risk and investment."

With more than ten million ballots counted, the Coalition has received more than 53 per cent of the primary vote, and looks like ending up with about 90 seats to Labor's 57.

Labor suffered its worst primary vote in 100 years, but Mr Rudd managed to hang on in Griffith and former treasurer Wayne Swan appears to have retained his seat of Lilley.

Greens MP Adam Bandt retained his seat of Melbourne, while the party also looks like gaining a Victorian senate seat, despite a slump in the party's national vote.


New treasurer Joe Hockey likely to take a sharp knife to bureaucracy

It was the morning before election day that the cracks widened in Tony Abbott’s plan to overhaul the $400 billion-a-year cost of governing Australia. Speaking to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell as part of his last-minute pitch to the electorate, Abbott copped a curly question on one of his more prosaic of election promises: an audit of government finances by the end of the year.

Known as a commission of audit, the exercise is typically adopted by incoming state and federal conservative governments and Abbott’s audit would be the 14th commissioned since 1988.

For the Coalition, a commission of audit is the answer to its relentless attacks on Labor’s “waste and mismanagement”. In the dying days of the campaign, Labor tried unsuccessfully to paint a Coalition audit commission as a type of nightmarish inquisition of Australia’s thousands of public servants.

Mitchell was not satisfied with Abbott’s reassurance that a Coalition would “wait and see what it comes up with”. The radio host wanted to know if the commission recommended cuts, would the Coalition do it?

As election day grew closer, Abbott’s commission of audit – where everything would be “on the table” – was a little more selective.

“What we aren’t going to do is we’re not going to cut health spending, we’re not going to cut education spending,” Abbott said.

“We’re not going to reduce pensions, we’re not going to change the GST – all of the scares that Kevin Rudd has been hyper­ventilating over, over the last few weeks, is simple nonsense.”

There would be no vote-killing moves to axe nurses, doctors, teachers or teachers’ aides. As Abbott pointed out, the Commonwealth doesn’t employ any nurses, doctors or teachers.

“If we can get the money to the schools and to the hospitals more effectively with fewer bureaucrats, why wouldn’t we?” he asked.

And so the great political and economic compromise begins.

There’s a political cliche: never commission an inquiry if you don’t know the answer. But it seems the Coalition – like governments before it – will get some answers it won’t like.

The grandfather of audit commissioners, Professor Bob Officer, who was the chairman of John Howard and Jeff Kennett’s audit commissions, says cutting jobs from education and health bureacracies is exactly what an Abbott government should do.


What’s more, the GST and the way the Commonwealth pays the states to deliver services such as health and education, as well as which level of government should have those responsibilities, will inevitably be part of a would-be auditor’s interrogation.

One of Treasurer-elect Joe Hockey’s first jobs will be to pick the person who will lead a commission of audit to find savings across the Commonwealth.

It will be a tough job with the report due by Christmas, in time for the Coalition to map a path toward next year’s May budget in which it will aim to introduce sweeping cuts across the public service.

The person who takes on the job will need nerves of steel to tell the government news it does not want to hear.

There are several big names believed to be on the Coalition’s candidate short-list, including Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, Merril Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake, who served on the original Howard government’s audit commission secretariat, Doug McTaggart, who recently completed the Queensland government audit commission, former NSW auditor-general Tony Harris, and former Liberal Victorian Treasurer Alan Stockdale.

Then of course, there are the Coalition’s “three wise men” – the co-founder of Ac­cess Economics, Geoff Carmody, former public service head Peter Shergold, and former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan.

There are compelling reasons why a “once-in-a-generation” review of government – as Abbott describes it – is crucial.

The budget will remain in structural deficit until the end of this decade, and ad hoc spending cuts are unlikely to solve the problem any time soon.

The Business Council of Australia’s election manifesto says short-term budgetary fixes, involving the time of policy changes or “deft” accounting treatments, have undermined the credibility of the federal government’s books.

“Such a review is needed because already-existing long-term fiscal pressures are being compounded by community expectations that governments will provide new services and spend more on existing ones,” the BCA says.

“We need to get a better handle on which level of government is best placed to deliver services and make sure there is appropriate funding support.”

Westacott, who served on South Australia’s 2009 commission, has told the Coalition its commission of audit must look at some of the most untouchable agencies within government to ensure they have an adequate grasp on long-term fiscal sustainability. These include the Parliamentary Budget Office, Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee, the Australian National Audit Office and the supposedly three-yearly Intergenerational Reports.

Scott Prasser, the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Public Policy executive director, would add the Productivity Commission, the Council of Australian Governments and the COAG Reform Council to that list.


The new audit commission will also take into account the impact of the Coalition’s own election promises on the size of government, Prasser says.

Professor Prasser and his colleague Kate Jones have just completed a six-month research project on audit commissions – a timely interest given the debate Australia is about to enter.

The audit’s findings could have both the Coalition and Labor squirming as signature policies come under the knife.

There’s Labor’s DisabilityCare Australia scheme which some forecast will cost more than $20 billion a year, and Abbott’s own policy baby, the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Then there’s a whole new layer of bureaucracy that will come with the Coalition’s well-intentioned plans to include business representatives at every level of policy development.

A brief by Coalition-aligned lobbying firm Barton Deakin, sent to clients on Tuesday, identifies at least 26 new review bodies that will include business representatives. Twenty ministerial advisory councils consisting of business, not-for-profit and industry representatives will meet cabinet ­ministers four times a year to advise on cutting red tape, administration, procurement and policy.

One of Abbott’s tasks in his first six weeks of government will be to meet Maurice Newman – the inaugural chair of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council, which will be the most important business conduit to federal cabinet.

Business wants a better dialogue with government, but the mechanism to do it could be just as “constipating” as the multi-committees choking the interaction between federal and local governments in the COAG process, Prasser says.

Previous audit commissions have recommended widely lauded changes, like the Charter of Budget Honesty from the Howard-era audit and the corporatisation of government-owned business enterprises.


But other recommendations can be politically unpalatable.

These include privatisations, outsourcing of government services, and, of course, job cuts.

The Queensland audit commission, by former treasurer Peter Costello, Doug McTaggart and James Cook University vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, recommended culling 20,000 public service jobs.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman baulked at that number and settled for 14,000 job cuts, but the backlash was still white-hot in its intensity.

Doug McTaggart, one of the auditors of the Queensland government’s finances, complained in June that the state would not reclaim its AAA credit rating quickly without the widespread asset sales his audit recommended.

McTaggart grumbled that the Liberal National Party government had ruled out the sale of the state-owned energy companies Powerlink, Energex and Ergon Energy, one of the key recommendations of the audit.

“Why would I as a taxpayer want to own a high-voltage or low-voltage distribution asset like Powerlink or Energex?” he said at the time.

“Why lock up $20 billion in an asset they can’t use?”

The Coalition has already committed to selling Medibank Private, now worth quite a bit less than the $4 billion it was valued at in 2010, at “the best time for Commonwealth taxpayers”.

The problem is that the easy dollars from asset sales are not available for the Coalition government. Qantas, Telstra and Commonwealth Bank have already been sold and the Snowy Hydro scheme needs the approval of its other owners, the NSW and Victorian governments.

Bob Officer says there is still plenty of “low-hanging fruit” in the bureaucracy, and he is confident Abbott will tackle some of that. However, he is less certain about whether the new Prime Minister will address the need for deeper reform, such as addressing the division between states and Canberra on services and funding.

“I think it is relatively low-hanging fruit, but the politicians might not see it that way when they’ve got to downsize significant departments and the states equivalently are going to have to assume more responsibility – not that they’re that way inclined, they’d rather shoot the responsibility back to the feds,” Officer says.

Asked whether the new government has the determination to tackle large scale reform, Officer says; “I’d love to think so, but I’ve got no real feeling for Abbott.

“Like a lot of us, I’ve looked at his history. He’s very much a Howard man, and Howard was a consummate politician but – apart from the GST, which was a brave move – was not inclined to rock the boat too much.”


Australia-China trade no longer just a resources story

Australia has become more reliant on China as a buyer of its exports than any other trading partner in the past 63 years, surpassing the dependence on Britain after World War II.

In the second quarter of 2013, China bought 35.4 per cent of all Australian exports, a new record high and more than double the level of five years ago.

China is not only the largest buyer of Australian minerals, but also the No.?1 purchaser of agricultural products and has surged past Singapore and South Korea in recent years to be the fourth-largest buyer of our manufactured goods.

Not since the wool boom of 1950 has Australia been so reliant on a single trade relationship. Even Japan in the early 1970s and late 1980s was not as significant, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“As you become more exposed to one country, you become increasingly vulnerable to short-term shocks,” said Scott Haslem, a senior economist at UBS in Sydney.

And while economists remain fiercely divided on the likelihood of a hard landing for the Chinese economy, a recent run of positive data suggests the strong trade performance will continue in the near term.


China now accounts for 38 per cent of all mineral exports and 20 per cent of rural exports, but to the surprise of many it has also become a strong buyer of Australia’s manufactured goods.

High-value medical and pharmaceutical exports to China have grown by more than 200 per cent over the past three years and now command the largest share of Australia’s manufacturing exports to China – worth $856 million in the first quarter.

This can be seen in the strong growth experienced by medical device companies Cochlear and ResMed , but also drug manufacturers such as AstraZeneca, which has a plant in Sydney.

The British drug maker expects exports to grow by 33 per cent by 2015 and has brought forward an additional $20 million in capital expenditure to meet growing demand in China.

But even exports of power generation equipment, beverages (wine) and explosives have grown by more than 50 per cent over the past three years.

“The exponential nature of our resource export growth to China masks the fast growth in . . . rural and manufacturing exports,” Mr Haslem said.


In the second quarter of 2011, China surpassed Japan as the number one destination for Australian rural exports. Meat, oil seeds, cotton and dairy products have seen growth of between 50 per cent and 400 per cent over the past three years. Australian wheat exports could reach 4 million tonnes this season, making China the number one buyer ahead of Indonesia.

This year, China could overtake Korea as the third-biggest buyer of Australian beef behind Japan and the US.

And next year it is tipped to become the biggest single-country buyer of Australian lamb, although the Middle East is the top importing region. “China is the biggest growth market,” said Tim McRae, Meat and Livestock Australia’s chief economist.

“Growth in beef exports to China has taken off in the last 12 months but for lamb and mutton, there has been consistent growth over the last five to 10 years.”

BHP Billiton demonstrated its confidence in the China food story on Tuesday by investing an additional $2.85 billion in its Canadian potash project.

BHP said its bet on potash, a key ingredient in fertiliser used for growing crops, was based on a belief that an additional 250 million Chinese would move to cities over the next 15 years and demand higher-quality food.


10 September, 2013

How come the survival of the ALP in Queensland and Western Australia?

Since nobody else seems to be addressing this, I will say something.

The recent landslide to the conservatives in the Australian federal elections was almost entirely the work of voters in NSW and Victoria.  Very little changed in Queensland and Western Australia and the South Australian results were dominated by a quite different landslide  -- to the Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.  The mind boggles about what might have happened if Xenophon had stood candidates in the lower house.

Part of the answer in both Queensland and Western Australia is that the Conservatives were already dominant in those two States.  For instance, Labor had 8 seats in Queensland before the election while the LNP had 20 seats before the election in Queensland.  So Labor were already down to a hard core there.

But what about the public opinion poll results?  Most of them showed Labor doing much worse than in fact happened.  I think that we were sold a PUP there (forgive the pun).  Clive Palmer's PUP party was the dark horse:  Lots of people who said they would vote for the LNP decided at the last minute  to vote for an independent conservative candidate  -- and Palmer is that to a degree.  So the polls weren't wrong if you lump together the  LNP and PUP as the conservative vote.

The sad thing is the preference deal Palmer did with the Greens in the Senate.  His preferences will probably install another Green Senator for Queensland.  That should upset a lot of his voters.  Nominally conservative independents Oakeshott and Windsor betrayed their voters last time around and Palmer may do similarly this time  -- JR

Tony Abbott sets a hot pace on his first day as Prime Minister

JUST 12 hours after claiming a historic election win, Tony Abbott was straight into briefings in which he discussed border security, the economy and scrapping the carbon tax.

The Prime Minister-elect headed to the Commonwealth Parliament Office in Sydney after emerging from his home at 6.30am -- a late start by Mr Abbott's standards, barefoot and in lycra -- ready for his routine morning exercise.

Mr Abbott rode with a group of long-time friends and then spent some time with his family at home.

Having declared the Sunday after an election "a working day", Mr Abbott arrived at his Sydney office about 9.30am ahead of a briefing with Dr Ian Watt, the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

"It is important that a new government gets down to business pretty quickly because we have got a strong agenda and it is very important that we move swiftly and purposefully to implement our agenda," Mr Abbott said.

"Obviously, a very early item of business is scrapping the carbon tax. There's border security, there is economic security and the people expect, quite rightly, that the incoming government will build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia."

Mr Abbott promised to begin moves to scrap the carbon tax within his first week as Prime Minister.

He will get power to give such orders and implement his first 100 days program once he is sworn in by Governor-general Quentin Bryce in a ceremony expected late this week or early next week at the latest.

The Coalition has also promised to reduce the flow of boats within its first three months in office.

It came as the first boat arrived within 24 hours of the Coalition taking power, with Customs intercepting the vessel, carrying 88 passengers and two crew, north-west of Darwin.

Once sworn in, the new Government will also move to scrap the Schoolkids Bonus payments of up to $820 a child and to abolish the mining tax.

Following the briefing with Dr Watt, Mr Abbott had meetings with the head of Treasury Martin Parkinson and Finance chief David Tune.

The two men distanced themselves from former prime minister Kevin Rudd's use of Treasury advice to claim a hole in Coalition costings in an intervention that proved devastating for Labor's credibility during the election campaign.

Late yesterday, Mr Abbott received a briefing on Syria from Defence Force commander David Hurley and Department of Foreign Affairs chief Peter Varghese.

Following a phone hook-up with his leadership team, he was due to attend a function to thank his staff before going home to spend the night with his family.

Mr Abbott's sister Christine Forster said his barefoot and understated start to the day illustrated the style she believed her brother would adopt as Prime Minister.

"He is a very ordinary fellow in a lot of ways. He is very no nonsense," she said yesterday.

"I don't think he is going to be a lot of hype and hoopla in the way he goes about the job of leading the country.

"He will be very down to earth, he will be hard working, I think he will be the opposite to the hype we have seen for the past three years."

The first world leader to call Mr Abbott after his election win was British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron who phoned on Saturday night.

"The Prime Minister offered his warmest congratulations to Prime Minister-elect Abbott and spoke of the very strong links between the two countries," Downing Street said.

"Prime Minister-elect Abbott stressed his full support for the UK, saying he looked forward to the closest possible cooperation."New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Canadian PM Stephen Harper called yesterday morning.


Kevin Rudd slammed by Bill Glasson for gloating over Griffith victory in concession speech

LNP star candidate Bill Glasson has labelled Kevin Rudd churlish, sanctimonious, disrespectful and a smart-arse after the deposed prime minister used his concession speech to brag about victory in his own seat.

Giving his speech on Saturday night, Mr Rudd said: "It would be un-prime ministerial of me to say, 'Bill Glasson, eat your heart out,' so I won't."

Mr Rudd's primary vote in his seat of Griffith was more than 1000 behind that of the Dr Glasson at last count, but the former prime minister will hold on to his seat as a result of preferences.

His primary vote was sitting at just over 27,700 and Dr Glasson's at 28,900-plus with about 73 per cent of the vote counted.

Dr Glasson, who is returning to work as an ophthalmologist, described Mr Rudd's parting shot at him as "disrespectful" and said it showed a lack of humility.  "I thought that was rather churlish," he said.

He added he may consider running for the seat again if Mr Rudd walked away from politics.  However he would be less likely to have another go if he was forced to wait three years to do so.

"If he's going to pull a by-election sort of short term, it could possibly interest me," he said.  "If he's going to go the three years - and I do hope he goes three years for the sake of the people of Griffith - then I'd have to look at the situation then."

The political newcomer said he believed the LNP had delivered Mr Rudd "a good kick in the pants" through its primary vote in Griffith.  "So he doesn't need to be too sanctimonious with his sort of smart-arse comment last night," he said.

Dr Glasson said that both camps had always "treated each other with respect", with volunteers getting along well.

"I was more disappointed last night, not so much for myself - because I suppose I expected that to beat him was unrealistic - but I was disappointed for my team because they had worked so hard," he said.

Griffith was one of many Queensland Labor seats the party managed to retain at the weekend.


An Australian government friendlier to Israel

by Isi Leibler, formerly a prominent member of the Australian Jewish community  -- now based in Israel

Australia’s election results are good news for the Israel-Australia relationship. Labor party incumbent Kevin Rudd, who held office for less than three months following a coup against former prime minister Julia Gillard, lost by a landslide, bringing an end to six years of Labor government. Rudd is a political chameleon who abandoned Australia’s long-standing pro-Israel position when he previously served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010.

The victorious Tony Abbott of the center-right Liberal party is an outspoken friend of the Jewish state.

He has pledged to improve relations with Israel, toughen the government’s approach toward terrorist organizations and end financial support for organizations connected to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. These results therefore represent a sea change in Israel-Australia relations.

Before assuming office in 2007, prime minister Rudd portrayed himself as a Christian Zionist. But in office, he launched a campaign to downgrade Australia’s relationship with Israel. He reduced Australian support for Israel at the UN and adopted policies akin to those of hostile European countries.

Gillard, who displaced him in 2010, made efforts to revive the friendly relations with Israel. But after Bob Carr was appointed foreign minister in March 2012, the relationship again began to decline.

Carr, a former state premier, was a founding member of the parliamentary Labor Friends of Israel and had previously been considered a friend of the Jewish community. However, in 2003, he awarded the Sydney Peace Prize to Palestinian propagandist Hannah Ashrawi, and since then has become increasingly critical, insisting that he understood better than Israelis what was in their best interest.

After visiting Israel in August 2012, Carr intensified the campaign to solicit support for Australia’s UN Security Council candidature by cozying up to Arab governments, even sending a delegation to Iran.

Distancing Australia from Israel was obviously crucial to win the Arab vote and he succeeded in compelling prime minister Gillard to reverse her decision to vote against accepting the Palestinian Authority as a member state at the UN General Assembly, stating: “I don’t apologize for the fact that Australia has interests in the Arab world. If we had voted no, that would have been a heavy blow to our interests in over 20 countries. The truth is they all see this as a bedrock issue.”

Foreign Minister Carr stunned the Australian Jewish community a few weeks ago when he told Muslims at a Sydney mosque, “I’ve been to Ramallah, I’ve spoken to the Palestinian leadership, and we support their aspirations to have a Palestinian state in the context of a Middle East peace... we say unequivocally: All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease.”

Australia’s Jewish community leaders condemned the statement and the AIJAC, the Australian Jewish lobby equivalent of AIPAC in the US, accused Carr of having “altered a long-standing bipartisan policy in Australia by repeatedly asserting a contentious and disputed legal claim... which... potentially undermines progress towards a negotiated two-state resolution to the conflict.”

Australia’s long-standing friendship with Israel dates back to Australian troops serving in Palestine in both world wars. From 1948 until recently, both the Labor and Liberal parties consistently allied themselves with the Jewish state (the only major aberration was prime minister Gough Whitlam’s hostility during the Yom Kippur War).

Both parties also supported broader Jewish concerns.

In 1962, Australia became the first country in the world to raise the issue of Soviet Jewry at the UN, condemning anti-Semitism and calling for the right of Jews to emigrate. Successive governments made major global contributions toward ameliorating the plight of Soviet Jews. Australia was directly involved in efforts to rescind the infamous 1975 UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism. It also served as an intermediary for Jewish leaders seeking to promote diplomatic relations between Israel and Asian countries.

Australian Jewry, which numbers approximately 120,000, includes the highest proportion of Holocaust survivors of any Diaspora community and is one of the most Zionist Jewish communities in the world. 15,000 Australians – more than 10 percent of the entire community – have made aliya and strengthen the relationship.

The “Lucky Country” enabled hard-working Jewish immigrants, many of whom were penniless Holocaust survivors, to prosper. While a Jewish underclass exists, a number emerged to become the leading commercial and industrial giants in the nation, many of whom were appointed to prominent roles in public life, including two governor-generals. The immigrants created a thriving Jewish cultural and religious community establishing a broad range of Jewish day schools ranging from Chabad to Reform.

Community leaders are united and do not hesitate to confront their government when they consider it biased or guilty of applying a double standard against Israel. The community can take much of the credit for its country’s historic support for Israel.

Traditionally, most Jews tended to support Labor rather than the Liberal party which was originally perceived as being aloof toward Jews and even anti- Semitic. However this has changed in recent years and Jews are more inclined to direct their support according to individual economic and social predilections.

This week’s election is a case in point. Even though Israel was not a major electoral issue, it is believed that because of the government’s hostility toward Israel, Australian Jewish voters went even further than the general public in expressing a broad lack of confidence in prime minister Rudd and the Labor leadership.

The community came out strongly for the Liberal party and Tony Abbott, who has been leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives since 2009. Abbott has been a passionate friend of Israel since his first visit to the country as a young man and subsequently as an MP prior to being elected leader of the party. He is a protégé of former prime minister John Howard, recognized as having been one of Israel’s greatest champions among world statesmen. It is anticipated that the new government headed by Abbot will foster robust support for Israel on par with that of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

It is also ironic that, whereas the former Labor government abandoned Israel in order to procure Arab support for its candidature to the UN Security Council, the Arabs will have effectively guaranteed the appointment of what will in all likelihood be the most pro-Israel government on the council.

The Australian Jewish community leaders now face the challenge of restoring Australia’s bipartisan policy towards Israel. Jewish organizations, particularly AIJAC, must focus their efforts on restoring ties with Labor leaders. Despite the powerful influence of 500,000 Muslims in a number of key electorates, most Labor MPs retain positive attitudes toward the Jewish state and the prospects for restoring Labor’s commitment to Israel are good.


9 September, 2013

The South Australian man who got more votes than the entire Labor party

Perceived as genuinely independent

INDEPENDENT Senator Nick Xenophon says he's humbled by the staggering support he received from voters at the weekend, but he still has one regret.

The South Australian stunt master has polled more senate votes than the entire Labor Party, a whopping 25.8 per cent, and took to Rundle Mall in his sandwich board to thank voters.

As sweet as the victory is, Senator Xenophon says he's disappointed that fellow independent and running mate Stirling Griff won't be joining him in Canberra.

He blamed a series of "bizarre and spiteful preference flows" for denying Mr Griff a spot, including the Greens' preferencing of the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics.

"I don't get any advantage from anyone. I had to win basically two full quotas (a third of the total vote) in order for my running mate to get up," Senator Xenophon said.

The Xenophon phenomenon has caused pandemonium in the SA senate race, peeling votes off both the Labor and Liberal parties and contributing to several surprise results.

With Labor's vote down to 22.7 per cent and the Liberals' reduced to 26.6 per cent, the door has been opened for the likely election of both a Family First and Green candidates.

Senator Xenophon said he was prepared to mend fences with Greens Senator Hanson-Young, with whom he had a torrid campaign battle over preferences.

"The first thing is to unequivocally fight for South Australia," Senator Xenophon said. "I understand that an enormous vote like this brings enormous responsibility.

"If there's more of a target (on my head), that means I'm hitting the mark in terms of issues that resonate."

As the shape of the new Senate slowly emerges, it appears Senator Xenophon could again emerge as a powerful player in the corridors of Parliament House in Canberra.

With the Greens and Labor on track to lose their blocking majority from July 1, Senator Xenophon is likely to have a conga line of Liberal ministers at his door seeking support to pass key legislation, including repealing the carbon tax and expanded paid parental leave.

He says the reinstatement of $500 million in industry funding for Holden, which the Coalition plans to axe, and continued support for the River Murray will be his key issues.

The new Senate will take its seats on July 1 and appears likely to contain a ragtag group of independents who the new Coalition government will negotiate with to pass legislation.


Abbott to tackle rogue unions in Victoria

PREMIER Denis Napthine plans to team up with Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott to tackle the upswing in "union thuggery" on building sites as business leaders call for the speedy scrapping the carbon and mining taxes.

The return of the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, abolished by Labor, to reduce problems on worksites was the only major promise made by Mr Abbott on industrial relations.

Union leaders yesterday vowed to fight the Coalition's plans for the ABCC, while defending existing penalty rates and battling to lift the minimum wage.

But Dr Napthine said the return of the ABCC would allow more competition and deliver lower costs.

"There has been an upsurge of union thuggery in a lot of our building sites," Dr Napthine said. "We will work with them on that."

Big business yesterday demanded the Abbott Government put repairing the Budget bottom line and cutting red tape at the centre of the Coalition's to-do list.

Business leaders said scrapping the carbon tax and mining tax were also key reforms that would boost productivity.

Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd yesterday admitted the Government faced a "tough task" to lift growth in the face of a volatile global economic and political outlook.

He called on Parliament and the Senate, in particular, to respect the clear mandate for reform, saying "The result demonstrates overwhelming support for policies to lift productivity and competitiveness."

Retail magnate Solomon Lew said the new government must be given the support it needed to pursue its mandate to reduce taxes and ease cost-of-living pressures.

"If these initiatives were to be blocked by the Senate, I think there would be a big impact on confidence," Mr Lew said.

Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes said the certainty of the clear election result should flow back into business confidence to drive investment and job creation.

But the union movement is adamant the Coalition's low-profile on industrial relations issues during the campaign meant there was no mandate to roll back the Fair Work Act or reduce penalty rates.

ACTU president Ged Kearney also warned the Coalition's $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme might never come to fruition because of its high price tag.

The Coalition's planned inquiry into union financing was also branded as a "waste of time" by Ms Kearney.

"We will work with the new government to ensure our two million members are not left worse off," she said.

After each of the last five elections, the Australian dollar and share market climbed in the following three weeks.

"There are good reasons to expect a stronger Australian economy as the election uncertainty is resolved," CommSec chief economist Craig James said.


Campbell Newman welcomes Tony Abbott election victory as 'freeing him from shackles' of federal Labor

QUEENSLAND is set to get a $6.7 billion boost to the Bruce Highway and a "resurgence" in jobs under an Abbott Government, Premier Campbell Newman says.

The Premier - who spent the first 18 months in the top job feuding with federal Labor over major projects - has welcomed the return of a conservative government to Canberra, declaring he has been freed of the "shackles".

He immediately called on Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott to move quickly to scrap environmental controls to allow the state to expedite its own projects.

Mr Newman insisted the state would still protect the environment.   "We will protect the environment, I promise Queenslanders that, but we need to see the federal government's green tape removed so we can get on and take this state forward and create jobs and generate investment," Mr Newman said.

"(Mr Abbott's) made financial commitments as well, and I know he will honour those, commitments to things like the Bruce Highway and the Toowoomba Range crossing."

Mr Newman said the changes would lead to new jobs and opportunity.   "It's going to be a great state with great opportunity, we just need the federal shackles taken off, and if Tony Abbott delivers that as he's committed to do, then I promise Queenslanders the next six to nine months will see a real resurgence in business and jobs growth," he said.

But the Premier conceded the state would need to go it alone to deliver the unfunded Cross River Rail project.  The underground rail scheme was to be partly funded by federal Labor - a promise the Coalition never matched.

Before the election Mr Abbott made it clear his government would not fund "urban public transport projects", saying they were the responsibility of the states.

Despite Transport Minister Scott Emerson insisting he would continue to lobby the federal Coalition for funding, Mr Newman said yesterday it was now up to Queensland.

"Cross River Rail is something we're working on, it is our responsibility to come up with the revised project that minimises the capital expenditure and delivers the most benefits," he said. "At the moment we're still working on that. We're still totally committed."

However Mr Abbott has promised $300 million to get the inland freight line between Brisbane and Melbourne under way, including a new rail tunnel to the Port of Brisbane.  It would include 1800km of track.

The $5 billion project, which is due to be completed by 2026, includes updating existing train tracks and building three new rail tracks from Yelarbon to Oakey, Rosewood to Kagaru and Acacia Ridge to the Port of Brisbane.


As Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott will be true conservative in every sense

By Alexander Downer

It's over for another three years! Aren't you relieved? Well, maybe not because the State election is just six months away! But that, at least, will be a lower key affair with less at stake.

For the winners, the drama isn't over yet. For the next few days, Coalition MPs will have their mobile phones firmly at hand. Every time it rings they'll this Tony Abbott offering me a job? It isn't, its a message you've forgotten to collect the dry cleaning. The disappointment will hurt! Coalition MPs will constantly phone each other trying to get the tiniest hint of what may be happening to colleagues.

The day will come - around mid week - when the incoming prime minister rings those colleagues and offers them jobs. At the top of his list will be the fifteen or so MPs who will be offered Cabinet positions. For those who have never served in the Cabinet before, this will be one of the most exciting moments of their lives. To be a member of the country's most powerful boardroom is a privilege first and foremost. But it's also exhilarating. Add to that the huge responsibility of running a major portfolio of State and those lucky men and women can justifiably claim they've made it.

Then the junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries will get the good but less joyous news. But spare a thought for the third category of Coalition MPs. The ones who cling to their phones for two days but no one calls. The backbenchers for whom Saturday's joy has turned within a week to disappointment. That's politics.

My guess is there will be some surprises in the new ministry. But as prime minister, Tony Abbott will be a conventional conservative. He will be cautious and pragmatic not zealous and reckless.

This will manifest itself in a number of ways. For a start, Abbott will work very closely with the public service. He will listen to their advice, he will check things with them and new proposals will be considered and costed before announcements are made. So government will work more slowly and cautiously than the breathtaking initiative a day style of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd government. Abbott will be in a phrase an administrative conservative. He'll even start meetings on time so if you go to see him, don't be late!

Secondly, Tony Abbott is no economic radical. He will be an economic pragmatist unlike John Howard and his key Cabinet allies who could be described as economic liberals or rationalists. Abbott will gradually reduce the deficit and pay down debt but there will be no radical spending cuts - as Kevin Rudd claimed during the election campaign. Nor for that matter will there be radical reform of the industrial relations system. Work Choices won't be brought back. You may not know this, but the two members of the Howard Cabinet who were the least enthusiastic about Work Choices were Abbott and Kevin Andrews.

It's on economic issues that Abbott and Howard are most dissimilar: Howard was an economic rationalist, a neoliberal, whereas Abbott is an economic conservative. He wants the economy to evolve driven by the private sector. Howard wanted a Thatcherite revolution in taxation, privatisation and labour market reform.

So the Abbott government won't be the fifth Howard government. But Abbott will approach social issues in the way Howard did. He won't support gay marriage and while the Liberal Party probably will have a conscience vote on gay marriage, expect only about one-fifth of Liberals to favour "marriage equality". The republic, which doesn't have much public support these days anyway, will barely be discussed. Tony Abbott ran Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy for a while and he won't be changing his mind on that issue. Indeed, Tony Abbott is a traditionalist who values are existing national symbols and institutions. Don't be surprised if he does what the New Zealand prime minister did three or four years ago...brings back knighthoods.

Abbott will have to appoint a new Governor General early next year. It will be an interesting appointment which will reflect Abbott's conservative instincts. The current favourite is Peter Cosgrove...John Howard doesn't want the job!

An Abbott government will invest politically, intellectually and financially very heavily in indigenous affairs. For Abbott this is core business. He has a huge interest in indigenous affairs, has studied indigenous issues intensely and wants to introduce a totally new approach to lifting indigenous Australians out of relative poverty. Success will take time but my guess it will be much more a hallmark of the Abbott prime ministership than just abolishing the carbon tax and turning back the boats.

By the way, the boats will gradually stop, helped by the Papua New Guinea solution as it happens. And Abbott will say relatively little about fashionable issues like climate change. The CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology will brief him about climate science but this just won't be high on his agenda.

And finally, what about Tony Abbott and the world. Contrary to the rumblings of the Canberra Press Gallery, Abbott has a deep intellectual interest in foreign affairs. He's for the American alliance but Abbott is no neo-conservative. He has a deep affection for Great Britain and his cultural instincts are more British than American. So don't expect Abbott to be a slavish follower of Washington, just a reliable ally. But this week President Obama is planning to call Abbott. And he'll do two things. Ask for diplomatic support on Syria and support for Obama's free trade initiative, the Trans Pacific Partnership. Abbott will give him both those things.

As for Asia, Abbott will enjoy close relations with President Yudhiyono of Indonesia who he already knows and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. He'll be pragmatic in his dealings with the new Chinese leadership and friendly with the New Zealand and PNG PMs. But don't expect Abbott to throw all his energy into multilateral institution like the UN. We may be on the Security Council but that won't be front and centre of our new prime minister's thinking.

And finally Tony Abbott will be a low profile PM. All that Twitter, Facebook, daily press conference stuff will go. Ministers will do most of the talking. The prime minister will think, read and plan.


8 September, 2013

The Australian election -- with some U.S. comparisons

Conservatives have just had a huge win in Australia's Federal election.  Romney would have had a similar win but for the rusted-on vote of America's two big minorities.  There are no such big minorities in Australia.

The picture below shows voting in Australia.  Australians just use pencil and paper in temporary carboard cubicles.  No voting machines so no hanging chads, no accusations of the machines being "fixed" and easy recounts.  And results were known within a couple of hours of the polls closing.

Elections in Australia are also less hectic.  They are on Saturdays (Tues. in U.S.) when most people are not working.  And if you turn up to vote mid-morning there are usually no lines of people waiting to vote.  I had no wait at all.

A difficult Senate

A double dissolution was always on the cards  -- JR

TONY Abbott seems set to face an uphill battle steering his agenda through the Senate.

In upset results, Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party may have taken Senate places in both Queensland and Tasmania.

Independent Nick Xenophon appears sure to be returned from South Australia, while Family First's Bob Day may well have claimed the final position from the state.

The Palmer win in Tasmania and Mr Day's victory have robbed the Coalition of third Senate spot wins they hope for in the two states.

In a surprise outcome Green Sarah Hanson-Young may be returned in South Australia at the expense of "faceless man" and giant of the Labor Right Don Farrell.

The Greens may also have increased their representation with a second senator in Victoria.

Early results suggest one of the micro-parties, the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts, may have won the last position in Victoria.

Another micro-party that almost broke through at the 2010 poll, the libertarian Liberal Democratic Party, could take a seat.

Results were not available from Western Australia at the time of writing, but they are expected to split three to the Coalition, two to Labor and one to the Greens.

This scenario would put the Coalition with 33 votes in the Senate, short of the 39 needed to control the 76-member chamber.

Labor would have 26 and the Greens nine, also denying them control of the upper house.

That will make the crossbenchers - John Madigan from the Democratic Labour Party, not up for re-election at this poll, Senator Xenophon, Mr Day, David Leyonhjen from the LPD, the Palmer candidates, former rugby league great Glenn Lazarus and Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, and Motoring candidate Ricky Muir - key to controlling the Senate.

Mr Day is a former Liberal Party officeholder and donor who defaults towards economic rationalists. Mr Leyonhjen will swing the same way. This could open conflict between the more populist crossbenchers.

But while the process may be tortuous, the way is open for the new prime minister to negotiate his platform through.


Childcare move: Coalition to push for less qualified staff

A Coalition government would seek to slow or abandon requirements for childcare centres to lift staff to child ratios and employ more highly qualified workers.

The Coalition posted its childcare policy on its website late on Thursday, without issuing a press release or making an announcement.

In a shift from the their previous public position, the document says it would work with state and territory governments to slow down implementation of changes which require centres to lift the ratio of staff to children.

It would also seek state and territory agreement to pause requirements for higher staff qualifications.

Under the National Quality Framework, centres are required to have a worker for every four children under two years of age, every five children aged two to three, and every 11 children from three to preschool age. The timeline for implementation of each requirement varies between states.

By January, the framework also requires half of all staff to have or be working towards a diploma level qualification, with remaining staff required to have or be working towards a certificate III qualification. Centres with 25 children or more must have at least one degree-qualified early childhood teacher.

The Coalition document says it supports the National Quality Framework "in principle" but is concerned by reports that its implementation is causing staffing and administrative problems which are pushing up fees. The document also floats a proposal to allow Family Day Care providers who have had no serious incident for five years to take an extra child under preschool age.

It also states it will not approve any further spending from the $300 million Early Years Quality Fund, set up by Labor to provide pay rises for childcare workers.

The document says the Coalition would honour contracts already made, and remaining funds would be retained in the childcare portfolio.

The Coalition's aged care policy makes clear it will take a similar approach to wages, ending a $1.2 billion Labor scheme to lift wages in that sector.

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page said the organisation was "very sad to see the Coalition wanting to … water down those reforms".


Academic ridiculed by Coalition, says Sydney University vice-chancellor

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney has told staff he was "distressed" to see the work of a renowned philosophy academic from the university unfairly ridiculed by the Coalition as an example of "ridiculous" and wasteful government spending.

The Coalition announced on Thursday it would audit and redirect funds from the Australian Research Council (ARC) in an attempt to curb government "waste", with opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey singling out certain projects during a press conference.

Among the projects highlighted by the Coalition is "The God of Hegel's Post-Kantian idealism", a research project being led by Professor Paul Redding from the university's Department of Philosophy.

In a private email to staff on Thursday afternoon, obtained by Fairfax Media, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence expressed his alarm at the Coalition's actions. "I was personally distressed to see that the work of one of our academics was on a list of topics unfairly criticised today in a Liberal Party press release, which has been reported in the media," he wrote. "The academic is globally recognised as amongst the very best in the world in his field."

"I want to reassure you that we will do all we can to help the federal government understand the importance of university research across all academic disciplines, and the value of the robust peer-review process at the heart of our research funding system."

The Coalition's media release vowed to "crack down on Labor's addiction to waste by auditing increasingly ridiculous research grants and reprioritising funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC) to deliver funds to where they're really needed".

"The Coalition would look to targeting those ridiculous research grants that leave taxpayers scratching their heads wondering just what the government was thinking," it said.

"Taxpayer dollars have been wasted on projects that do little, if anything, to advance Australians (sic) research needs." Coalition costings released on Thursday showed $103 million would be "reprioritised" from the ARC and put towards health spending.

The union representing university staff said the Coalition's actions were an attack on academic freedom.

"Institutional autonomy and academic freedom are the essential characteristics that define what it means to be a university," said Jeannie Rea, president of the National Tertiary Education Union.

"To suggest that any research projects which have been through a rigorous, competitive, peer-reviewed application process could in any way be described as 'wasteful' is an insult to the hundreds of senior researchers who give freely of their time to assess the thousands of research applications the ARC receives each year." According to the ARC website, "funding recommendations are made to the minister responsible for research by the CEO following independent and extensive competitive peer review by Australian and international experts".


7 September, 2013

My Sabbath ... but

I generally keep the original (Jewish) Sabbath..  St Paul was a wimp in allowing the day of the Sun as holy to Christians!

But the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, as a certain wise teacher said.

So since today is a big day of decision in Australia, I am putting up something.

Below are three articles from CIS -- a market-oriented Australian thinktank

In addition, there is a comment from an American friend on the carbon tax:

An economic rationalist's guide to the election

Just as the truth is the first casualty of war, principled policy is the first casualty of election campaigns. Even in Australia's era of 'economic rationalism' that ended a long time ago, the economic dries took a back seat role during election campaigns (the Hewson-led Liberal campaign of 1993 being the exception). In the 2013 campaign, however, the dries are not just in the back seat but locked away in the boot, and it is not at all clear that they will be allowed out after the election regardless of who wins.

Economic rationalism cannot be tightly defined, but broadly speaking it is a set of beliefs in free markets and the price mechanism; a minimum of regulation; openness to trade and investment; raising government revenue through broad-based and neutral taxation; subjecting public investment proposals to rigorous cost-benefit analysis; and wrapping all of this in fiscal discipline.

Working from this definition, it is easy to demonstrate with examples that economic populism, not rationalism, has dominated the 2013 campaign.

In industry policy, while Labor upped the ante on subsidies to vehicle manufacturing and then pledged $25 million for the SPC fruit canning operation in Victoria, the Coalition came out with its own plan to 'co-invest' $16 million of taxpayers' money in an expansion of the Cadbury factory near Hobart. These are egregious departures from liberal economic principles.

Next we have both sides promising a plethora of small, local grants for things like sports fields and facilities, surf clubs and security cameras. These grants will not bust the budget, but they have nothing to do with the national government. The principle being violated here is that we have three tiers of government for a reason, and federalism works best if each tier sticks to its knitting.

'Think Big' projects have been constrained by fiscal realities in this campaign, but that has not stopped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from offering up distant visions of northern development, super-fast trains and a brand spanking new navy base somewhere north of Tweed Heads. The problem is that none of it is supported by rigorous analysis that says it would be a wise use of resources (which the government doesn't have anyway).

Both sides have dipped their toes in the waters of foreign investment xenophobia, particularly when it involves agricultural land.

Taxation is always a fertile field for populism, and taxing 'big business' is an old favourite. Tony Abbott's scheme for funding his pet parental leave scheme springs to mind - a 'levy' (aka increase in company income tax) on big business.

Not only does this attempt to side-step the reality that businesses one way or another pass taxes on to people, it also creates a messy two-tier company income tax system - something that was done away with decades ago. Into the bargain, double taxation of dividends makes a reappearance via the non-franking of 'levy' payments. This is nothing but opportunistic revenue-raising.

Many more examples of economic populism have come from the lips of the Queensland populists, Bob Katter and Clive Palmer, but at least they won't be sitting in the Cabinet room.

If the economic dries are allowed out of the boot, they had better hope that whoever wins the election didn't really mean a lot of what they said to win.


Crushing red tape for charities

The number of not-for-profit (NFP) sector workers reporting a negative view of the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC) tripled in 2012, as more details of its precise nature became clear.

The difference between the two parties on this new NFP regulator is simple: Labor wants to keep the ACNC, which it created last year, and the Coalition wants to abolish it.

Both major parties claim that their top priority for the NFP sector is reducing red tape.

So why the black-and-white difference in platform?

It's a matter of faith versus evidence. Labor puts its trust in the ACNC's statements, which are full of promises of reducing bureaucratic meddling. The Coalition looks to its actions, which thus far have confirmed the sensibly skeptical view that the best way to reduce regulation is not to create a new $15 million regulator.

A major blow to the ACNC's credibility came just last week when the massive charitable organisation UnitingCare Australia released a report saying that if the ACNC were up for review right now, they would, based on their experience so far, lean toward recommending it be abolished.

UnitingCare's main complaint was that in its first six months the ACNC has saddled their branches with more paperwork, not less.

Referring to the new Annual Information Statement (AIS) that the ACNC has made mandatory for Australian charities - some of which have never been required to submit such detailed information to a regulator - UnitingCare explained that 'much of the information required in the AIS has already been provided to government, often several times in different formats.'

'A significant opportunity for the ACNC to reduce red tape from the beginning of its operations has been missed.'

The ACNC had a chance to demonstrate its seriousness about streamlining the charity bureaucracy, and it did not take it.

The hostile UnitingCare report was followed a few days later by a statement from another large NFP, Catholic Education Melbourne. In it, executive director Stephen Elder criticised the ACNC for 'providing no additional transparency to the way Catholic education reports to government, only duplication of existing regulation.'

Elder estimated that new reporting requirements could take Victoria's Catholic schools 45 working days of 'unnecessary pen pushing' to fulfill.

Tony Abbott says his government would replace the ACNC with a slimmed-down version that, instead of regulation, focuses on providing support, information, and consultative services. The NFP sector itself has expressed a strong desire for better coordination of professional expertise and best practices.

A national body like the one the Coalition has proposed would meet the needs of NFPs and charities. The ACNC, if kept, looks poised to serve the needs only of federal bureaucrats.


You get the politicians you vote for

 'If you don't understand ... don't vote for him.' With those words Kevin Rudd tried to channel Paul Keating, whose cynical assassination of John Hewson in the "unlosable election" is frequently cited as the genesis of the current obsession with small target politics.

But Fightback! is not the only example of political vision being smacked down by the electorate.

In 1998, a first term Howard Government was almost toppled because it took a substantive tax reform agenda to the election. In 2007, Howard lost not only the election but his own seat due, in part, to Workchoices.

In 2010, Julia Gillard pledged she wouldn't implement a climate change package including a carbon tax - breaking this promise significantly contributed to her losing the Labor leadership. Pledging action on his climate change vision caused Malcolm Turnbull to lose the Liberal leadership in 2009.

Contrast the failure of vision-based campaigns with the most successful election campaigns of the last two decades - Howard's 1996 small target campaign that relied on the fatigue from a long-lived Labor government; a theme which also featured strongly in Kevin Rudd's win in 2007.

Yet time and again we hear the lament that there are no politicians with vision. Does no-one else remember the story about Pavlov's dogs?

The 2013 election campaign has largely been devoid of serious policy discussion (like our looming fiscal crisis or how our health system is collapsing) and has instead focused heavily on personalities and banalities. Both parties are trying to reassure the public that nothing will happen to their entitlements, that they won't have to pay more tax and can have everything they want.

How about this for a snappy slogan? 'No vision, just more entitlements.' The best thing is that it works for every political party. It was also the right answer to a slew of questions posed to Kevin Rudd on Monday's Q&A.

Voters have the power to change the political environment. We can demand better from politicians because they need our votes. It is not the media alone who should be expected to hold the blow torch to politicians; it is the job of voters to demand accountability of politicians.

You cannot complain about politics being empty rhetoric devoid of vision if you do not use your vote to punish politicians who mislead voters, misuse legislative power or misappropriate taxpayer money.

If you give a particular party your vote no matter what they do, then you can expect them to do whatever they want. If you are not engaged in policy debate (supporting the CIS is a great start!) then don't whinge when politicians treat voters with contempt by indulging in empty sloganeering.


Will Australians Vote to End the Carbon Tax?

By Alan Caruba

There’s an election in Australia on Saturday, September 7, and while the economy is of the greatest concern, it is a carbon tax that has driven up costs and put businesses into closure that is the issue that will determine the outcome. Meanwhile, in the U.S., imposing a carbon tax remains a top priority of the Obama administration.

A carbon tax is really a tax on the use of energy. Diehard environmentalists oppose any form of energy use. The code words are “greenhouse gas emissions”, meaning carbon dioxide (CO2) that the Greens constantly tell us will cause the Earth’s temperature to rise, but the Earth is not cooperating, having been in a natural cooling cycle going on 17 years now. Nor are the apocalyptic predictions about CO2 anything more than lies given the fact that it is a minimal element of the Earth’s atmosphere. That said, without it, all life on Earth would die because all vegetation depends on it.

In “Taxing Air: Facts and Fallacies About Climate Change”, Bob Carter and colleagues dismember green claims and, addressing Australia’s carbon tax, note that “price increases will cascade through the economy, and for most of them no compensation will be proposed. At the bottom of the pile, to whom the accrued costs will be passed, lies the squashed citizen and consumer.”  Those citizens will be voting on Saturday.

As an article in The Guardian, a British daily, noted, a conservative coalition led by Tony Abbott is likely to win, ending six years of Labor (socialist) rule that included a battle within the Labor party for its leadership, the result of its having passed a carbon tax after the then-Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had promised not to impose it. Kevin Rudd challenged and replaced her. Now he and the Labor party are expected to be defeated.

“Having built his standing as opposition leader on the contention that Labor’s carbon tax would destroy jobs and hurt households,” the Guardian article noted, “Abbott has promised his first legislative act as prime minister will be to repeal it.”

What has occurred in Australia is a case history example of what happens when greens get their way. They always manage to destroy the economy. A recent study of Australia’s carbon tax by the Institute for Energy Research yielded the following findings:

# In the year after Australia’s carbon tax was introduced, household electricity prices rose 15%, including the biggest quarterly increase on record.

# Currently 19% of the typical household’s electricity bill is due to Australia’s carbon tax and other "green" programs such as a renewable energy mandate.

# The job market had previously been stable, but after Australia’s carbon tax, the number of unemployed workers has risen by more than 10%.

# Because Australia's exports are relatively emissions intensive, the practical result of the Australian carbon tax serves as a tax on exports and import-competing industries.

# Australia’s carbon tax was accompanied by income tax increases for 2.2 million taxpayers.

# Due to fiscal gaps that exist between carbon tax revenues and increased government spending that accompanied the scheme, Australia's budget bottom line will worsen as higher deficits and greater public debt increase.

# Carbon dioxide emissions have actually increased, and will not fall below current levels until 2043, according to the Australian government.

Viv Forbes, chairman of the Carbon Sense coalition in Australia, an opponent of the carbon tax and other green proposals, says “The growing failure of green energy in Europe should warn Australia to abandon bi-partisan policies dictating targets, mandates and subsidies for ‘green’ energy.”

This mirrors the same problems here in America where billions in loans to so-called green energy companies can be added to the list of Obama administration scandals as one after another went out of business. Solar and wind power is proving to be as great a hoax as “global warming” and a very costly one at that. How long has it being going on? Jimmy Carter had solar panels placed on the roof of the White House. Ronald Reagan had them removed. Barack Obama has had them installed.

Fifteen million registered voters in Australia will go to the polls and render their judgment on September 7. It is a vote that should be reported upon in the United States, but it more likely to be ignored or buried.


6 September, 2013

Australians deserve a government they can trust

Wonder of wonders!  The heading above and the text below are a prominent editorial from the Sydney Morning Herald, which in its "news" pages has been campaigning heavily for the ALP, consistent with its usual Leftist slant.  Is Darren Goodsir, their new editor, heading the paper off in a new direction?  He spent many years working for Murdoch so he may have learned something  -- that balance sells papers

Australia is crying out for a stable government that can be trusted to deliver what it promises. The Herald believes only the Coalition can achieve that within the limited mandate Tony Abbott will carry into office should he prevail on Saturday.

Abbott does not so much deserve the chance to do what Labor could not do in the past six years. Nor has he earned the right to govern with a clear, articulated vision, as the Herald has sought from him during the campaign. But the party he leads is untainted by scandal and infighting, and therefore has the best chance to unite a tired and despondent electorate.

Labor will not be able to do this until it is stripped of corrupt rules that have rewarded those who value power more than the public interest.

Abbott needs to be true to his word. As he says, "No surprises, no excuses … No more, no less."

The Coalition has put to the people some aspirations of which the Herald approves if applied fairly: value for taxpayers' money, greater workplace flexibility and ending the age of entitlement. It has aped good Labor policies and banked sensible savings.

Notably, Abbott has also signalled policies the Herald considers unfair and a threat to national progress: slower broadband, his paid parental leave scheme, turn back the boats, and education inequity. And we will, as many Coalition figures privately do, continue to rail against these populist and frivolous indulgences.

A Coalition government will be entitled to pursue any elements of its agenda that have been detailed to the public. Then voters can judge Abbott on delivery in three years or, should he prove unable to manage a democratic parliament, much sooner.

Abbott will be free to conduct his commission of audit on government spending and implement recommendations within his pledge of no cuts to education, health or frontline services. He should conduct the promised reviews into workplace relations, industry assistance, regulation, legislation, competition law and tax. That will help him develop the sort of detailed policy reform agenda he has failed to flesh out in the past three years for fear of a political backlash. Australia needs to debate new ideas and better ways to ensure the economy is flexible enough to survive the end of the resources boom.

But the Herald will scrutinise a first-term Abbott government with the same independent eye that has exposed Labor graft and attacked Coalition policies. Too often Abbott has asked voters to buy his plan sight unseen; to believe his numbers even though they have emerged at the eleventh hour. They still omit key assumptions and have no independent analysis of broadband, refugees and climate change plans. Then there is a surprise reduction in foreign aid and water buybacks as well as an extra efficiency demand on the public service. Abbott's mandate will be weakened as a result of this opacity.

When John Howard claimed the right to implement the GST after winning the 1998 election, he defined the preconditions for a mandate: "We were upfront, we were unashamed, we were forthright, we were open, we were honest, and we didn't hide anything about it."

Abbott has hidden much and, as such, much must be taken on trust, just as Gillard Labor had to be taken on trust at the 2010 election. Labor then was a party that had corrupted the NSW government and allowed faceless men to unseat an elected prime minister.

Before the last election the Herald editorial said Abbott had not proved his case so Julia Gillard deserved a chance. After that election produced a hung parliament, the Herald recommended Abbott be prime minister because "stability is more likely". But Gillard retained power by, it emerged later, breaking her promise of "no carbon tax under a government I lead" in a deal with the Greens. Labor betrayed the voters.

While the Gillard government achieved important national reforms in trying circumstances and kept the economy strong, it squibbed tax reform, skewed taxes, overspent on optimistic revenue forecasts and did nothing to remedy Labor's fatal flaws.

All the while, Rudd remained a destabilising force; a reminder of betrayal - and an even bigger one when he retook the leadership just over two months ago.

Rudd Mark II has presented some laudable policy reforms on boat people and emissions trading. He talks of Labor's big ideas so Australia can rise beyond our station. But reformers must take the people with them - and reformers must be trusted to deliver.

Rudd has struggled to outline how Labor would strengthen the economy, beyond relying on its worthy record during the global financial crisis. Faced with shrinking budget revenues, Labor did well to outline a plan for a return to surplus, yet lost the moral high ground over Coalition costings.

It wasn't until his official launch that Rudd pushed Labor values based on a fair go for all. The Herald shares many of those values but believes Labor was a broken party in 2010 and is even more broken now. The Herald believes Australian democracy needs Labor to modernise and prove it respects the privilege of power. It cannot be supported for abusing that privilege.

Voters should not reward Labor before redemption, nor reward those who owe their influence to factions and betrayals of trust that have marked the past six years.

Labor under Kevin Rudd in 2013 is not offering a stable, trustworthy government on which Australians can depend. The Coalition under Tony Abbott deserves the opportunity to return trust to politics.


Abbott the father deserves more respect

I'll tell you what's creepy: journalists and media taking an everyday comment from the probable next leader of our country about his daughters being "not bad-looking" and sexualising it like a pack of sticky schoolkids who can't watch a deodorant ad without sniggering.

There are many subjects upon which I do not agree with Tony Abbott but his decision this week to appeal to Big Brother's household of twenty-something fame whores while standing beside his daughters wasn't a bad one.

Did we really expect a policy pitch in 24 seconds? Why not try to manufacture some semblance of empathy with young Australians by showing he also lives and regularly talks with other young Australians - his children?

Yet a father saying his daughters were "not bad-looking" was immediately translated as "vote for me because my daughters are hot" by one reporter. Even more vile was the characterisation by another writer, for an esteemed masthead, likening the appearance as a "man flanked with babes like an oily ganglord entering a nightclub".

Politicians have long decided it's acceptable to put words into people's mouths, invent motivations for others and just plain make up stuff when they feel like it. But we're truly lost if this has become the accepted method of operation for our media.

Words, as we're constantly reminded by Abbott's critics, matter. "Not bad-looking" has no sexual connotations, particularly when said by a father, while "hot", a word never uttered by Abbott, implies sexual arousal in the observer.

Motives, as we're constantly reminded by Abbott's critics, matter. Standing beside your children in a political campaign is as old as politics. Abbott has gone out of his way on many occasions to describe the intelligence, opinions, aptitude and energy of his three tertiary-educated daughters, yet it is a gender-aware media-writer that diminished them as "babes ... entering a nightclub".

Abbott, certainly, has perception problems when it comes to his attitudes to women, but to suggest a man complimenting the looks of his children is sexist or reduces them to ornamentation is just crude, offensive barrow-pushing.

The innuendo the comment was somehow, vaguely incestuous - and let's not kid ourselves this wasn't one of the snide implications of this piece - should be met with contempt and illustrates the lengths so many sulking reporters will go to to tarnish a politician they do not agree with.

I can't say I'm overly excited about the prospect of Abbott as our next PM, but I am looking forward to seeing the father-daughter relationship given some prominence and respect over the next three years.

If you watched Annabel Crabb's excellent Kitchen Cabinet interview with Abbott and two of his daughters on Tuesday night, what you'll plainly see is a 55-year-old man who has raised bright, opinionated 20-something children who respect and actually like being around him.

How many parents can make that claim?


Tony Abbott has forgiven Julia Gillard's misogyny speech

TONY Abbott and Julia Gillard are on track to revive their famous friendship, after their first "reasonably warm conversation" in more than three years took place at an airport lounge a few weeks ago.

The Opposition Leader and former prime minister once enjoyed a mutual affection for each other, but as Mr Abbott told the ABC's Kitchen Cabinet, this was set aside in the "rugged contest" of three years of a hung parliament.

"I'm sure the day will come when we can be genial and respectful again," Mr Abbott told host Annabel Crabb.  "In fact we had quite a genial and respectful exchange in an airport lounge a few weeks ago."

When it was pointed out that if making a Google search of the terms "Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard and flirting you get a 2.5 minute YouTube video of just extraordinary mutual affection", Mr Abbott agreed the pair had once been close.

"Well, we had a pretty rugged contest, particularly from the start of the carbon tax period and that obviously did a fair bit of damage to the degree of mutual respect which had existed beforehand," Mr Abbott said.

When they happened upon each other at the airport lounge, Mr Abbott said to Ms Gillard, "You've been through a pretty tough time" and "she agreed that yes, it had been a pretty tough time but that was the kind of thing that tended to happen in the rough and tough business we're in".

He said he was willing to put behind him Ms Gillard's infamous misogyny speech, which she made during a fiery parliamentary debate about then-Speaker Peter Slipper, who had been accused of sending sexually explicit text messages, and which went on to make international headlines.

"It was a very unfair speech, I thought, and it was a completely invalid speech in terms of responding to the issue of that day it was just an invalid thing to say," Mr Abbott said.

"But look, politics is about theatre and at the time I didn't think it was very effective theatre at all, but plainly it did strike a chord in a lot of people who had not followed the immediate problem that had brought on that particular parliamentary debate."


Collapse in youth workforce participation rate

With so much information being circulated during an election campaign, sometimes important facts go missing in action, such as the fact that Australia's youth participation rate is at its lowest ebb in recorded history.

In January 2008, the participation rate for 15 to 24 year old Australians was 72.1% and it has been going downhill ever since.  By March 2013, the rate had hit a rock bottom of 66.8% - the lowest youth participation rate ever since the Australian Bureau of Statistics began collecting the data in 1978.

To compound the problem, the government has been bragging about how it has managed to keep the youth unemployment rate at relatively low levels. The Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, for example has said, 'Average youth unemployment under Coalition with no GFC - 12.6%. Under us with GFC - 11%.'

A review of the Minister's claim by the website Politifact gave it a rating of 'mostly true', because it didn't take into account the fact that under the Coalition youth unemployment fell from 16% in April 1996 to 10% in November 2007; an average rate of 12.6%.

Whereas under Labor, it started at 9.4% in December 2007 and has increased to 11.8% as of June 2013; an average over the life of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments of 11.1%.

The record low youth participation rates can be partially explained by the findings from my recent report Not Looking for Work which show that the government has been pushing young people out of the workforce and into education and training. As a result, from July 2009 to June 2012, there was a 200% increase in the number of people on Youth Allowance (other) classified as 'non-jobseekers' and a 229% increase in the number of people in education and training on Youth Allowance.

With so much attention directed at budgetary black holes and boatloads of asylum seekers, it is important not to forget some of the smaller issues like the collapse in the youth participation rate, because at the end of the day we are talking about a generation of Australians who are simply not engaged in the workforce.


5 September, 2013

2013 Election Special Video - know whom you are voting for!

In this special episode of Global Warming Revisited the Galileo Movement takes a closer look at the Politicians and Scientists playing a role in the 2013 Australian Federal Election.

Tony Abbott, the all-rounder

As well as being a former Rhodes scholar with a degree in economics, he is super-fit and community-involved

HE already has a reputation as an action man but Tony Abbott's cycling routine has his police bodyguards struggling to keep up.
The Opposition Leader has barely been able to ride during the election campaign because the Federal Police assigned to him were unable to follow on two wheels.

Instead, Mr Abbott has substituted his gruelling regime on his bike, which is still being carted around the country with him, for running and gym workouts.

When he is in Canberra, Mr Abbott cycles up and down a hill near Parliament House four to six times around dawn and follows his morning routine with about 40 minutes in the gym after Question Time.

The workouts keep him fit for the annual MP's ride, the Pollie pedal, which has raised $2.5 million for charity and this year began in Adelaide and finished in Geelong.

Mr Abbott declared yesterday he would keep up his workout schedule and his commitments as a volunteer firefighter, declaring if ordinary Australians could donate their time for their community, a potential Prime Minister could.

He said volunteering and the Pollie Pedal "keeps you grounded and keeps you in touch with the people of your community in a way that driving from event to event in a government car just can't replicate."

"Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, I will still be a firefighter, I will still be a surf lifesaver, I will still do my annual Pollie Pedal and I will still spend time in remote Indigenous communities every year because I want to keep these important community connections," Mr Abbott said.

"Sure, if the Coalition is elected, my volunteer time will become a little more limited but I will still ensure I'm fulfilling my duties.

"If hard working mums and dads find time to volunteer as lifesavers, fire fighters and for charities then surely a potential prime minister can find the time too."

The Federal Police declined to comment on security arrangements for Mr Abbott or why the officers on his detail were unable to accompany the Opposition Leader on bike rides.

On the few occasions he has been able to ride during the campaign a back up car has followed.

"We don't comment on protection matters involving the Prime Minister or the Tony Abbott," an AFP spokesman said.

It is not the first time police have been unable to accompany Mr Abbott on his rides.

In Nauru two years ago two local officers failed to keep up with Mr Abbott's pace on the island nation's 17km ring road and held onto a follow-up car to be towed along.

The Federal Police said Opposition Leaders were provided close personal protection during election campaigns.


Tony Abbott turns climate sword back on Kevin Rudd

IN the last week of the campaign, Tony Abbott has deliberately returned to where he began five weeks ago - the carbon tax.

It is also where he started his first destruction of Kevin Rudd and where he achieved his final defeat of Julia Gillard.

And Labor is doing everything it can to assist the Opposition Leader make it dominate the final campaign days and sear into the national psyche that the election is a referendum on the carbon tax, which guarantees his mandate to repeal it in government.

What's more, Labor is shaping, in Abbott's words, to "commit political suicide twice" by pledging to use the Labor-Greens control of the Senate to keep the carbon tax and force voters back to the polls next year for a double-dissolution election on the tax.

After using a five-year campaign against "a great big new tax" to weaken two prime ministers and bring himself to the cusp of prime ministership, Abbott isn't missing the final opportunity to stick with his most successful strategy and present Labor in opposition with an insoluble dilemma.

Abbott's last pitch on the carbon tax is that it costs jobs, has cost Labor support and probably cost it government. For Labor in opposition, the carbon tax threatens to split its support and further antagonise workers who felt betrayed by Gillard's deal with the Greens and remain concerned for their jobs and living costs.

Yesterday Abbott was again telling blue-collar workers in a Labor stronghold not that he expected them "to break the habits of a lifetime and suddenly love the Coalition" but that repealing the tax was "one thing we will do which is real, which is concrete, which is easy to understand and which is going to make it easier for the manufacturing workers of our country". "A Labor Party which persists in support of the carbon tax is just setting itself up to lose not one election but two," he said.

"If we win the election which is a referendum on the carbon tax, the last thing that the Labor Party will do is set itself up to lose a second election by continuing to support a tax which has become electoral poison."

While refusing to entertain "hypothetical" questions about Labor's attitude in opposition to the carbon tax Rudd made it clear he thought Labor was on the "right side of history" and would remain so into the future.

Deputy Labor leader and potential opposition leader Anthony Albanese was even blunter about not changing, and Environment Minister Mark Butler entrenched Labor's refusal to repeal the carbon tax.

Rudd's claims he "terminated the tax" by bringing forward the move to a market system a year earlier are long gone as Labor digs in behind the carbon tax in government - and in opposition.


Zeitgeist shifts again, but this time nation turns to the right

The lithe figure of a runner approached along the banks of the Yarra, silhouetted against the rising sun. But this time, perhaps the third such morning, I was ready with a fellow jogger's wave for the uber-fit Julie Bishop.

It was November 2007, and given that we were in the latter stages of an election campaign, where leaders, and the travelling media pack, frenetically lace the continent in the hunt for votes, it was unusual that there was time for the establishment of any such pattern.

Yet here we were in Melbourne, again. John Howard was going down. He knew it and his Melbourne-based campaign brains trust knew it too. It was evident in their own research, from the published polls, and simply, from the atmosphere - the Zeitgeist if you will. Voters were calling time on the nearly 12-year-old government, and by extension, they had warmed to the idea of Kevin. Rudd had successfully given them permission to switch, convincing them of his "fundamental" economic and social conservatism.

Scroll forward six tumultuous years and that feeling is there again. This time, however, they have warmed to the idea of Tony, and that, in essence, is the story of the 2013 poll. When this election campaign started, nearly five weeks ago, a narrowly trailing Rudd wanted as many election debates as he could get and Abbott wanted as few as he could get away with.

They were both wrong. Abbott's team angled to minimise the risk. Rudd's team figured, on past performance, that he would easily defeat the aggressive Abbott in head-to-head encounters. Rudd's working assumption was that the more voters saw of the unpopular Abbott, the more they'd shy away.

In fact, the opposite has occurred through the course of this campaign. By the third debate, the two leaders had more or less switched roles and it was Abbott who appeared calm and reasonable defending foreign investment, and imparting a general sense of assuredness.

In short, the more voters have seen of Abbott during the hyper-exposure of the campaign, the more their historical objections have softened. Voters, it appears, have got used to the notion of Tony Abbott occupying the Lodge.

It was said of Howard's win in 1996 that the times eventually came to suit him - that in a sense, he was the rock, and voters moved to him. The parallel with Abbott is apparent. But politics is a binary business and Abbott's rise is corollary of Rudd's disastrous campaign. Indeed, history is likely to be very hard on Rudd given that his relentless siege of the Gillard leadership carried with it the singular responsibility to do better than she would have. Late into the final week of his frequently shambolic campaign and that is by no means clear. Labor's polling is as bad as it was under Gillard earlier this year. And the Gillard camp has given Rudd the clear air so obviously denied to her.

Rudd mark II's rapid fire "solutions" regarding faction reform, scrapping the fixed carbon price, and the asylum seeker deal with PNG, implied he had been thinking long and hard about a re-election strategy.

Yet it has failed to materialise beyond his fourth big announcement: calling the election itself. It turns out, he had a plan to beat Gillard, and not much beyond it.

On Wednesday morning, reporters on the Rudd campaign again found themselves in Melbourne, and again found themselves in the middle of a disorganised Labor campaign.

Warehoused for hours as Rudd (somewhere else) made unheralded appearances on TV and radio, there was an unmistakable sense in the travelling media pack that the time spent in Melbourne is more about sandbagging Labor seats rather than winning Coalition ones.


4 September, 2013

Rudd committed to climate change policy

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd says Labor will never "pull up the white flag" on climate change and it is the wrong time to change direction on the issue.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has vowed to repeal Labor's carbon tax, which is now transitioning to an emissions trading scheme, if the coalition wins Saturday's election.  But Labor says it won't back away from this policy.

The coalition has hinted it may resort to a double dissolution if Labor and the Greens thwart their mandate to axe the tax.

Mr Rudd says Labor remains committed to its course of action on climate change, including the emissions trading scheme. "If we in Australia turn our back on it, it licenses everyone around the world to do the same," he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.

"You can do the easy thing and pull up a white flag on climate change.  "We'll never do that for the simple reason that our actions are part of responsible global action to bring down the impact of global warming."

He says climate change and global warming aren't going away and voters who have doubts about the coalition's direct action plan shouldn't vote for them.

Mr Rudd later said voters unsure about action on climate change should think about the world they want for their grandchildren.

"Look in the eyes of your kids and through them see the eyes of your grandkids, ask yourself this question: which side of history do you want to be on when it comes to the future of climate change and global warming," he told Gold FM in Melbourne.

"If you don't act now, 50 years time it's too late."

Mr Rudd said some of Labor's measures had been controversial, but they had been working.

"To give your listeners a sense of encouragement, in the last five years we've actually brought down the level of carbon emissions from electricity generation in Australia by seven per cent, we've now got more than a million solar panels on roofs across Australia - when we started in office there were 7,500.

"So big changes are occurring but we've got to keep making them in order to have an effect in the future."


Tony Abbott willing to break emissions pledge over funding hole

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has branded the election a referendum on the carbon tax and said it would be “unimaginable” for a defeated Labor Party to stop him repealing the tax.

Mr Abbott also confirmed categorically – for the first time – that he would break the Coalition's pledge on greenhouse reduction targets if it cost more money than he had budgeted for.

The Opposition Leader spent about 15 minutes of a 20 minute address to the National Press Club hammering Labor on the carbon tax. If elected the Coalition would repeal the tax within its first year in government, Mr Abbott promised.

“A Coalition victory, should it happen, will be a warning from alienated Labor voters to their leaders,” Mr Abbott declared. “Never again sell Labor's soul to another party.”

But when asked how he could repeal the carbon tax without calling a double dissolution election – given Labor and the Greens would likely block his repeal – Mr Abbott said he thought Labor would accept his “mandate”.

“It's unimaginable that a defeated Labor Party would persist with a carbon tax,” Mr Abbott said.

“Having lost one election through support for a carbon tax, why on God's earth would you lose a second supporting the same failed policy?”

Mr Abbott confirmed he was prepared to break the Coalition's pledge to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 (on the levels recorded in 2000). Estimates by Treasury and independent modelling companies suggest that the Coalition's $3.2 billion Direct Action policy will fall several billion dollars short of reaching the targets.

“The bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and no less,” Mr Abbott said.

“We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction as we can for the spending that we've budgeted.”

During a wide-ranging question and answer session following his speech, Mr Abbott waded into the culture wars over the national curriculum; the privatisation of Medibank; commitment of troops in foreign wars; and whether he would encourage his daughters to pursue careers in public life.

Last week in launching his education policy, Mr Abbott's statement said the national curriculum had been “politicised”. Asked what he meant by that, the Opposition Leader said the Coalition was mostly referring to the history curriculum.

The national history curriculum lacked references to “our heritage, other than an indigenous heritage” and had too great a focus on “issues which are the predominant concern of one side of politics”.

“I think the unions are mentioned far more than business,” Mr Abbott added. “I think there are a couple of Labor prime ministers that get a mention, from memory not a single Coalition prime minister.”

But Mr Abbott assured educators he would not “directly dictate” his views to them, but would simply offer his advice.

Responding to other questions, the opposition leader said he thought any decision to send Australian troops into battle should be debated by Parliament, and he confirmed the Coalition would sell Medibank Private.

Given the prominent role of his daughters in his campaign, Mr Abbott was asked whether he would encourage them to pursue careers in public life, given the sexist taunts directed at Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard.

Mr Abbott said it was a “tough call”.  “If they showed an interest, obviously I would give them as much encouragement as I could.”  "[But] I would also want to warn them that it is a pretty tough field, and if you're going to go into it you're going to cop a lot of barbs," he said.

"That's why in this business you've got to have a thick skin as well as a strong ego."


Gay marriage may hurt Labor: Beattie

LABOR'S star candidate Peter Beattie admits the prime minister's support for gay marriage may hurt the party's vote in some key marginal seats including Forde, which he is trying to win from the LNP.

Mr Rudd is the first Australian prime minister to go into an election supporting marriage equality.  He has promised that if Labor is returned to power on Saturday, it will introduce within 100 days a bill to parliament to legalise same-sex marriage.

A number of conservative religious groups have been dismayed by his stance.

Mr Beattie says many people with strong religious beliefs oppose gay marriage, but many others respect Mr Rudd's decision to stand up for what he believes in.  "In politics you have to have the guts to stand for something and the PM has," he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.  "I've explained this to people, this is a difficult issue."

Mr Beattie says he's a Christian, but: "Why wouldn't we want two people who are in love to actually enjoy that relationship."

Mr Rudd in the same interview said he was "just concerned about doing what I believe to right, whether people think it's popular or not".

He said the churches would "forever" retain the right to conduct marriage ceremonies exclusively between a man and a woman, but the secular state was separate.

"A secular state should not be sensitive to questions of sexuality and they should be able to conduct secular ceremonies in the manner in which the state chooses, and that is not discriminating against same-sex couples."


Scripture is simply all Greek to Rudd

RELIGIOUS leaders have sharpened their attacks on Kevin Rudd, citing his hamfisted attempts to argue the biblical case for same-sex marriage in a spirited shellacking of a Christian pastor on Monday night.

Broad views abounded but one of the most prominent Anglicans in the country and Old Testament scholar, the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said the Prime Minister was "profoundly wrong" and alleged he had actually quoted Aristotle when he suggested that "slavery is a natural condition" was in the Bible.

"I was disappointed by Mr Rudd's comments last night in the same way that I was disappointed by the position he announced in May despite, as he said, much reflection," Dr Davies told The Australian.

"Unfortunately in my view, he has not been reflecting on the teaching of scripture. He misquoted the Bible and attributed to the Bible something that Aristotle said."

Dr Davies said the Bible was perfectly clear on both the subject of slavery -- on which it documents many observations -- and same-sex marriage.

"The Bible sees slavery as the result of fallen and broken relationships in society and it is crystal clear in its condemnation of the slave trade,"he said.

"The Bible views marriage as an institution that God has created. Jesus brings clarity to the nature of marriage by saying that it is an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman, for life.

"Although there are many kinds of relationships in our society, to describe the relationship between two persons of the same sex as marriage is contrary to the Bible's teaching."

In the Greek philosopher's book Politics, Aristotle wrote: "For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule."

Former prime minister John Howard yesterday backed a conscience vote for the Coalition on same-sex marriage, but added his own view that the matter was "nonsense".

"The present (law) doesn't discriminate against people, it just recognises not only a long-standing attitude and custom but also recognises that anything we can do to preserve current notions of marriage are more likely on balance to provide the best environment for raising children," he told reporters in Adelaide yesterday.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton said Mr Rudd's tone in responding to pastor Matt Prater was a portent of things to come.

"You need only look at his tone on (the ABC's) Q&A to realise he will really clamp down on freedom of speech and freedom of religion if he is elected again," he said. "What Mr Rudd is saying is there is no place for you in Australia if you hold these views."


3 September, 2013

Ruddy gestures

Kevvy is a prolific user of gestures in his many speeches.  And someone at the ABC was so amused that they created the gifs below to illustrate his repertoire  --together with mocking captions

Cut & Zip
  Cut and zip


Cat Paw Double Swipe
  Cat paw double swipe


AFL Goal
  AFL goal

Cut, Cut, Cut


Big Fish
  Big fish

Boom, Boom, Boom
  Boom Boom Boom


Casual Darts Throw
  Casual dart throw

Destroy The Evidence
  Destroy the evidence

Double Dead Spider
  Double dead spider

Jazz Hands
  Jazz hands


Prices Are Down
  Prices are down

People smugglers to defy  Kevin Rudd's stance on asylum seekers

KEVIN Rudd's Government says it has beaten the people smugglers, but it's not what this man and many like him think.

Smuggler Amir Shojaei took this selfie after collecting $35,000 to take eight members of the Sakhravi family, from Iran, to Christmas Island by boat.  Two days later, Shojaei's phone went dead and the Sakhravis lost every cent.

Immigration Minister Tony Burke yesterday claimed Labor had "broken the back of the people-smuggling trade", but Java's smugglers are now offering massive discounts to poor asylum-seekers or, for the wealthy, express speedboat rides to join bigger boats north of Christmas Island.

And whoever wins Saturday's election will have a new problem, with a wave of Syrians expected to start filtering, and then rushing, to Indonesia, any time now.

Amir Shojaei and his like will be ready.


Coalition government to review unions and ALP presence in history curriculum

TONY Abbott has rebooted the history wars with a warning too much emphasis on left wing politics in the national curriculum will be reviewed by a Coalition government.

The Opposition leader told the National Press Club the curriculum lacks focus on Australia's past, "other than indigenous heritage" and has "too great a focus on issues which are the predominant concern of one side of politics".

"I think the unions are mentioned far more than business," Mr Abbott said.  "I think there are a couple of Labor prime ministers who get a mention, from memory not a single Coalition prime minister. So I think it is possible to do better."

The only Prime Minister mentioned by name in the foundation to Year 10 curriculum is John Curtin, who led the Labor Party from 1935 to 1945.

Mr Abbott said any changes to the curriculum would be guided by "professional educators", but it is unclear how this will happen, given that the Coalition school's policy, unveiled last week, reveals plans to "refocus" the body that implements the curriculum.

"I think we're entitled to say (we) could do better. I think we're entitled to say maybe you ought to have a rethink about this, but what actually happens is ultimately a matter for them," he said.

The move comes after News Corp reported earlier this year the "black armband" view of how the Anzac legend is taught would also be changed by an incoming Abbot government.

Shadow education spokesman Christopher Pyne said in April one of the first education priorities of the Coalition would be restore Anzac Day to its "rightful" place of respect.

Critics of the curriculum say a trend towards political correctness means history classes are placing undue emphasis on indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability, with Anzac Day mentioned in the context of other national days such as Ramadan and Buddha Day.

Labor introduced a national curriculum in 2011 for English, Science, Maths and History, with the remainder of the syllabus scheduled to be implemented by 2016.

Australian Education Union Angelo Gavrielatos said the Coalition's claims of a left wing bias in the curriculum were incorrect.

"We certainly hope that this is not an indication of an intent to reinstate the culture wars of the past," Mr Gavrielatos said, referring to heated debate during the Howard government years over the emphasis of England's role in Australia's history.

The "history wars" were a feature of the Howard government, with the then Prime Minister in 2006 calling for changes in the way children were taught about Australia's past and an end to the "divisive, phony debate about national identity".

Mr Howard used his Australia Day address to the National Press Club on the 10th anniversary of his leadership to call for a "coalition of the willing" to promote changes to the teaching of history, which he said was neglected in schools, slanted towards apologising for the past and questioning national achievement.

"Too often, it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of 'themes' and 'issues'," Mr Howard said. "And too often, history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated.

"Part of preparing young Australians to be informed and active citizens is to teach them the central currents of our nation's development."

NSW Teacher's Federation president Maurie Mulheron said Mr Abbott was seeking to "politicise" the curriculum.

"It's a shame because of the extraordinary work of so many teachers involved in writing the syllabus, and now they are going to start questioning the professionalism of those teachers," he said.

Mr Pyne said the Coalition would take away ACARA's assessment role, which has been increasingly controversial in the wake of criticism of the NAPLAN regime - which an Abbott government would also review.

"We will refocus the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to ensure that it is focused on developing the highest standard curriculum documents," Mr Pyne said.

"It will become the Australian Curriculum Authority, but the agency will retain its existing responsibility for drafting the national curriculum documents on behalf of the Federal Government and the States and Territories."

Mr Pyne said the Coalition had been calling for the curriculum "to give appropriate weight to our western and Judeo-Christian heritage as a nation" since it was first drafted.

A spokesperson for ACARA said "ACARA, as an independent authority, would not comment on statements made in the lead up to the election. The F-10 history curriculum approved by the Council of Federal, State and Territory Education Ministers is available on the Australian Curriculum website."


Liberal candidate links asylum seekers to traffic jams and hospital queues

A Liberal candidate in western Sydney has said she believes asylum seekers are contributing to outer-suburban traffic jams.  "[Asylum seekers are] a hot topic here because our traffic is overcrowded," Fiona Scott, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Lindsay told the ABC's 4 Corners program.

When asked to explain her view she said: "Go sit on the M4, people see 50,000 people come in by boat - that's more than twice the population of [western Sydney suburb] Glenmore Park," she said.

Ms Scott also suggested asylum seekers were exacerbating hospital waiting queues.

Ms Scott is challenging Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury in the September election. She came to prominence last month when Tony Abbott controversially described her as having "sex appeal".

While visiting western Sydney earlier in the election campaign, Mr Abbott was asked what Ms Scott had in common with the former Coalition MP for Lindsay Jackie Kelly.

"They've young, they're feisty," Mr Abbott said. "I can probably say they have a bit of sex appeal. And are just very, very connected with the local area."

His comment resurrected debate about Mr Abbott's perceived "woman problem", however Ms Scott defended the Opposition Leader saying there was no need to apologise. She said his comment was "an absolute charming compliment between friends".

4 Corners also revealed that Kevin Rudd, though critical of Mr Abbott's remark, had apparently given Fiona McNamara, candidate for Brisbane, advice on how to wear her hair.  "I don't think I've ever said anything to Fiona about the way in which she presents," he told the program.

But this was contradicted when Ms McNamara, days earlier, had relayed a conversation with the Prime Minister.  "He likes me to have it pulled back a bit, so people can see my face," she said.  "There is a problem sometimes with women's hair in their face, and it's probably a bit neater."

But Ms McNamara said she had herself initiated the conversation about her hair, over a cup of tea.  "I said, 'Oh, I'm not sure about how I should be wearing my hair."'


2 September, 2013

Another so-called Aborigine

Aborigines are black.  Is this young woman black?  Hardly.  I'll happily call her an opportunist, though.  Why can't she simply be called "part-Aborigine"?

Some real Aborigines, including a gorgeous little boy

An Aboriginal girl who grew up in the Australian foothills says she wants to expose the 'mindblowing' racism in her home country, having become the first indigenous Australian to graduate from the University of Cambridge.  [Mindblowing racism sent her to Cambridge?]

Lilly Brown won a scholarship to the highly competitive Trinity College, where she completed an MPhil in Education.

The 27-year-old, from the Gumbaynggirr tribe of the mid-north coast of eastern Australia, was also offered a place at the University of Oxford - something she says she never expected.

She has now returned to teach at the University of Melbourne.
She says she hopes to increase awareness and change common perceptions of her ancestors.

Her success makes her the first in her extended family to complete an undergraduate degree.

Miss Brown said today: 'I would hope that my success would inspire young Indigenous Australians to chase their dreams, and all young Australians in general. 'I feel absolutely blessed by this opportunity as I did not expect that one day I may undertake study at one of the most prestigious learning environments in the world.

'It’s about telling my story, and the struggle I went through in getting to where I am and then making it that little bit easier for other to follow in my path.

Miss Brown, who grew up in Western Australia, said she was proud to have English and Scottish ancestry mixed with her Gumbaynggirr background.

As a child, she said, she learned about the history of her ancestors from her grandmother - and the discrimination they faced.  'My Nan was taken away from her mother, and like many Aboriginal people during this time, raised as a ward of the state,' she said.  'Government policies aimed at the assimilation and absorption of Aboriginal people into the mainstream Australian community sanctioned my Nan’s removal.  'They have since come to be known as the Stolen Generations.'

She was horrified to discover that, in Western Australia, just 15 Aboriginal students graduate high school each year who are eligible for university.

She has now researched her ancestors to help her build her indigenous studies course at Melbourne.

'One of the primary motivations behind my aspirations to attend Cambridge was so my perspective would be respected and my voice would be more readily listened to.

“I also felt that it would be useful to learn more about the theory and philosophy that underpin the education system within much of the Western world, and that perhaps this would also contribute to furthering my understanding of why the exclusion of Aboriginal people continues to occur within this space.”

Lilly was awarded the Charlie Perkins scholarship, named after Australia’s first Aboriginal university graduate who finished his degree in 1966.


Labor flags post-election ban on cosmetics testing on animals

Labor is pledging to conduct a national consultation to phase out the importation, manufacture, sale and advertising of cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients that are tested on animals.

The European Union has already issued a complete ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing.

That ban took effect earlier this year and applies to all new cosmetics and their ingredients sold in the EU, regardless of which country in the world the animal testing was carried out.

Although animal testing on cosmetics in Australia stopped some years ago, it is not illegal.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says most Australians would be surprised to learn that some companies test their cosmetics or their ingredients on animals overseas before selling them here.

"Some companies manufacture cosmetics in Australia using ingredients tested on animals overseas, even though the finished cosmetic products are not tested on animals domestically," Ms Plibersek said.

"Animals shouldn't suffer in the quest for better mascara or lipstick."

Ms Plibersek says the national consultation will go ahead if Labor is a re-elected.

"Continuing to import cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients tested on animals is out of step with current community expectations," she said.

"Over 10 years, the European Union phased out the importation and marketing of cosmetic products and their ingredients tested on animals.

"I believe Australia needs to play its part in the international movement against animal testing."


Australia on top of World Giving Index

DONATIONS to charities have risen 11 per cent since January 2010, despite the cost of living being the greatest cause of consumer anxiety.

Australia was ranked at the top of the 2012 World Giving Index ahead of Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Robert De Iure, senior economist with the National Australia Bank, is not surprised.  "Our studies of wellbeing show it is not all about money," he said.

According to NAB's Charitable Giving Index, published in April, Australians each donate $291 to charities each year.

And IBISWorld reports that along with corporate and government support, charities and not-for-profits are now a $112.2 billion industry.

IbisWorld predicts this will increase to $140.8 billion in 2017-18.

Social analyst David Chalke believes our charity has been growing over that past 20 to 30 years.  "It's at the absolute heart of being Australian," he said."It's all part of fair go, mateship and giving a helping hand."

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, more than two-thirds of us donate to a charity or help a stranger each month.

But Mr Chalke added that "we don't give willy-nilly." "Australians give to a cause with a purpose. Charities need to be showing they are doing something good."

Charity groups agree.  "We survey our donors every year to find out their reasons for supporting cancer research," said David Brettell, CEO of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.

"The priority for them is understanding where money is going and what the outcomes are."

With 45,000 charities and not-for-profit organisatioss operating in Australia, smaller charities are finding innovative ways of developing their profile.

Australia's army of 6.4 million volunteers is also critical in making charities successful.  "We couldn't do our work without volunteers," said Karen Hayes, CEO of Guide Dogs Victoria.  "It costs $30,000 to breed and train a guide dog and all of our services are free."  "Our volunteering spirit comes from our heritage of helping our mates," she said.  "It's part of our DNA."


West Australian builder of big cats triples profit

The second Austal-built Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), USNS Choctaw County (JHSV 2), was officially delivered to the United States Navy on June 6

SHIP building and maintenance company Austal has more than tripled its annual profit due partly to its growing work with the United States Navy.

Austal made a net profit of $35.9 million in the 2012/13 financial year, more than triple the previous year's $11 million.

It achieved record revenue in the year of $903 million due to growth in its construction of vessels for the US Navy.

Austal is targeting revenue of $1 billion in the 2013/14 financial year, chief executive Andrew Bellamy said.

Its shares rose by four cents to 84 cents.

The company is also building patrol boats for Australian Customs, and owns a shipyard in the Philippines.


1 September, 2013

Rudd will be the loneliest politician in Australia next Saturday night

THE mandarins of Australia's public service are naturally silent creatures, at least in public. The idea of taking sides in a political argument is anathema to them.  That is especially the case during an election campaign. They understand they have a duty to behave in a nonpartisan way and they are serious about it.

But sometimes senior bureaucrats can be pushed too far by politicians. That happened on Thursday.

Kevin Rudd and his two most senior economics ministers crossed the line by trying to use the reputation of Treasury, the Finance Department and the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in a bit of political trickery. Treasury head Martin Parkinson and Finance Department secretary David Tune cried "Enough!" .

The Government's aim was to damage the Coalition campaign. Instead, by provoking the bureaucrats, it knocked the stuffing out of its own remaining election hopes.

It was possibly the biggest blunder in a bloody awful Labor campaign. Small wonder talk in the ALP has already turned to who might lead the party in the coming wilderness years.

Frank Sinatra used to sing "Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week".  Next Saturday night Rudd is likely to be the loneliest politician Australia has seen for a long time.

Treasury undermines claims of $10bn black hole

The Government claims now that it did not suggest the three departments had costed Coalition policies. Readers can judge for themselves.

A day after the Coalition unveiled what it claimed were cuts and savings that would total $31.6 billion during the Budget forward estimates period, the Prime Minister strode into a news conference with Treasurer Chris Bowen and Finance Minister Penny Wong.

"There is an error of $10 billion in the claimed $30 billion of savings the Opposition released yesterday," the Treasurer said.

"This is based on advice from the departments of Treasury and Finance and the Parliamentary Budget Office, which we are releasing today."

Mr Rudd chimed in that the allegation of a $10 billion hole was "based on the most basic analysis driven by the advice of government agencies". The shortfall, he said, "is clearly identified in the table circulated to you now". The table, looking very official, was part of an ALP press statement.

It began: "Treasury, Department of Finance and PBO figures released this morning have exposed a $10 billion hole in the savings claimed by the Coalition yesterday."

Attached were a Treasury Executive Minute classified "Protected", a two-page Finance Department memorandum and several pages of costing advice from the PBO with the name of the person who had requested the information blacked out.

Sure, the departmental documents were dated prior to the calling of the election.

And Mr Bowen told the news conference: "This is advice given to the Government prior to the caretaker period."

But presumably we were supposed to believe the costings they contained were based on accurate information about the Coalition's proposals. Otherwise, what was the point?

There is no avoiding the conclusion that it was all calculated to create the impression that what Mr Rudd, Mr Bowen and Ms Wong alleged was backed by the authority of the top economic experts in the bureaucracy.

Mr Rudd's fatal mistake was to use what he claimed was Treasury, Finance and PBO advice to justify an accusation of fraud against the Coalition.

Liberal leader Tony Abbott, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and shadow finance minister Andrew Robb - likely to be the mandarins' new bosses after next Saturday - were furious.

Mr Parkinson and Mr Tune, presumably believing they and their departments had been compromised, decided not to cop it and put out a statement - brief, but more than enough to have a significant impact on the election.

At no stage, they said, had either department costed Opposition policies. In other words, the information and assumptions for any costings they had done came from the Government. In other words. In other words, he so-called costings of Coalition policies put out by Labor were so iffy they could not be taken seriously.

The mandarins' intervention was, as far as I can recall, unprecedented. And it was a body blow for Labor.

Back at the start of the campaign, Mr Rudd had cast the election as a test of who could be trusted by voters. The unravelling of Thursday's exercise played right into that central issue of trust - and not to Mr Rudd's advantage.

And it will be much easier for the Coalition to get away with keeping its planned cuts secret until the campaign's dying days.


The enemy within NSW child protection

Social workers ideologically opposed to adoption are the real problem

The NSW Minister for Community Services, Pru Goward, is under pressure to resign for allegedly misleading the parliament, the public and the media about the number of child protection caseworker in the state.

The Minister's office had said that 'more than 2000' caseworkers were employed by the Family and Community Services Department when in fact 300 less than budgeted (around 1800) were employed.

This followed reports that only a quarter of children reported to be at significant risk of harm were seen by a caseworker to check on their welfare.

Departmental workers took industrial action last week in protest and to demand that vacancies be filled. There is more to this than the standard public sector union attempt to boost membership numbers.

The strike – together with the confected outrage over staffing levels – is part of a political campaign designed to discredit a Minister determined to change the NSW child protection system.

The shortage of caseworkers (a perennial problem under both Labor and Liberal administrations) is superficially significant. Even 300 more staff is unlikely to significantly dent the number of children who caseworkers never see.

The opposition is calling for the minister's head even though the 2008 Wood Commission established that under the previous Labor government just 13% of reports that warranted further assessment received a detailed investigation involving a home visit and sighting of the child.

None of this stopped the ABC's Quentin Dempster from spending most of Friday night's Stateline interview focusing on the relative minutiae of caseworker numbers and 'transparency'. The bigger picture, involving departmental opposition to planned changes to child protection practice in the state, was only briefly mentioned in passing towards the end of segment.

Minister Goward will soon introduce a reform package designed to increase the number of abused and neglected children who are adopted.

There are many arguments in favor of increasing adoptions to better protect children (detailed here). One is that adoption will make it easier to ensure that risk reports are properly investigated.

The huffing and puffing about caseworkers shortages endangering children, which all sides of politics engage in, needs to be viewed in the proper context. The real and systemic problem with child protection in Australia concerns the large number of children who are re-reported because of unresolved safety concerns.

Approximately half of all reports of child harm in NSW concern a hard core of around seven or eight-thousand frequently-reported, highly dysfunctional families. Many of these children have a long history of risk of harm reports stretching over many years, and end up being damaged by prolonged exposure to parental abuse and neglect.

Too little is done to rescue these children because child protection authorities in NSW (as in all Australian jurisdictions) believe in 'family preservation' at nearly all costs.

Many of these children would be much better off if they were removed earlier and permanently, preferably by means of adoption. This would significantly reduce the number of reports and, by making the caseload more manageable and alleviating staff shortages, would ensure a higher percentage of reported children (ideally 100%) could be seen.

It would also significantly reduce the amount of often catastrophic abuse and neglect experienced by the most vulnerable Australian children.

Despite this, adoption is 'taboo' in child protection circles, and most caseworkers (due mainly to what social workers are taught during their university training) are ideological hostile to any moves to increase adoptions for child welfare purposes.

The institutionalised opposition to adoption inside the agencies responsible for child protection is the reason that in 2010–11, fewer than 200 children were adopted in Australia. This was despite more than 37,000 children being in government-funded out of home care placements, and more than 25,000 of these children having been in care continuously for more than two years.

Stopping Goward's push to turn these figures around is the real objective of the 'caseworker shortage strike'. It is a pre-emptive public relations hit job on a minister who it is hoped will have diminished credibility in arguing the case for adoption when the memory of her 'lies' and alleged failure to ensure there are sufficient staff to see abused children is fresh in the public's mind.

Doubling or even tripling the number of caseworkers won't keep more children safe if family preservation remains the orthodox practice . The tail should not be allowed to wag the dog and subvert the democratic process. Politicians are elected to make the policies that public servants are obliged to implement.

This episode will be instructive for the new Family and Community Services director-general, Michael Coutts-Trotter, who has taken charge of a rogue department. The enemy of better protecting the children of NSW lies within.


Tony Abbott stands by MP in burqa row

BURQAS are confronting and should never be widespread on the streets of Australia, Tony Abbott says.

The Opposition Leader was responding to comments reportedly made by McMahon Liberal candidate Ray King that burqas are a "sign of oppression" and can be linked to criminality.

Mr Abbott described Mr Ray as a decorated police officer and "outstanding" candidate.

He said he understood Mr King's comments to be more about identifying people in policing situations, given their attire.

"I've been asked about the burqa on lots of occasions and whenever I've been asked about the burqa I've said that I find it a very confronting form of attire," he said.

"Frankly it's not the sort of attire that I'd like to see widespread in our streets.  "But this is a free country.  "Everyone's entitled to make their choice and if people want to wear a burqa, it's ultimately their business."

Earlier, Mr Abbott said he expects Labor to ramp up a "smear campaign" against the Coalition in the next week.

And it comes as a Newspoll published today in The Weekend Australian predicts a wipe-out for Labor.

He said polls would tighten sharply in the final week as politics got ugly.  "Mr Rudd is a very clever politician and the Labor Party are ruthless politicians ... and we're going to see plenty of low politics in the last week," Mr Abbott said this morning.

Ray - former Liverpool police commander - is standing against Treasurer Chris Bowen who has called for him to answer questions, including explaining his links with disgraced detective Roger Rogerson, who reportedly attended the launch.

Mr Abbott said Mr King was an "outstanding" candidate.

"We've already seen a nasty smear campaign against all sorts of our members and candidates including that outstanding policeman Ray King in Sydney," he said.

"It's just contemptible the way the Treasurer of this country, who is constantly demanding honesty and integrity when it comes to budget figures, is making unsubstantiated smears against a great servant of the people of NSW."


Aussie students excelled as "all rounders" but still beaten by  East Asians

Australians helped by the fact that  40% of them go to private High Schools.  Asians helped by their higher IQs

HIGH school students in Australia have entered a rare category - they are among the world's best academic all-rounders.

OECD data shows that more students in Australia achieve high levels in maths, reading and science than their counterparts in most other countries.

On average across OECD countries, 16.3 per cent of students are top performers in at least one of the subject areas of science, mathematics and reading but only 4.1 per cent are top performers in all three.

In Australia however more than 8 per cent of students are high-achieving all-rounders.

The OECD analysis was based on international tests among 15 year-olds across 65 countries.

It showed that Shanghai-China had the highest numbers of academic all-rounders at 14.6 per cent, followed by Singapore with 12.3 per cent.

New Zealand is ahead of Australia with 9.9 per cent. In Hong Kong and in Japan 8.4 per cent of students are good all rounders.
In Australia 8.1 per cent of the students tested were top performers across all three subjects.

This puts Australia ahead of the UK where just 4.6 per cent of of students were considered all-rounders - just slightly higher than the OECD average.

A briefing note published by the OECD says that academic all-rounders are rare.  "To satisfy the growing demand for high-level skills in knowledge-based 21st-century economies, school systems need to increase the proportion of their students who are top performers," it said.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

Most academics are lockstep Leftists so readers do sometimes doubt that I have the qualifications mentioned above. Photocopies of my academic and military certificates are however all viewable here

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

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

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.

A delightful story about a great Australian conservative