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?


31 December, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has repeated his New Year cartoon from last year -- on the grounds that we still have all the same problems

Julia Gillard faces backlash on "clean" power

THE government's push to mandate clean power stations could backfire as electricity generators threaten to delay upgrades to dirty coal-fired plants.

In a submission to the government obtained by The Australian, the power generators say tough new carbon pollution standards could apply to expansions to old power stations.

This is despite Julia Gillard's vow during this year's federal election that the standards would not apply to existing projects and were aimed at ensuring a dirty power station was never again built in Australia.

The electricity generators have joined Australia's big miners and banks in warning that the government is raising sovereign risk concerns that could spook investors. "Owners could be deterred from improving the performance of existing plant if an expansion could trigger new and costly regulatory requirements," the National Generators Forum states in the submission.

The forum - whose members produce 95 per cent of Australia's electricity - warns that the plan for cleaner power stations repeats mistakes made in the US, where a crackdown on emissions from new power stations has deterred investors from building them and led to greater use of coal-fired plants that are, on average, 44 years old.

They also complain that the plan is based on technologies that are highly uncertain and say it is probably doomed to fail in Western Australia.

The backlash from the generators adds to the government's woes over its handling of climate change policy. The government wants to put a price on carbon next year and has maintained this is a crucial economic reform to encourage cuts to pollution and provide greater certainty for business investment.

A multi-party climate change committee is expected to make recommendations on a carbon price by the end of next year.

But the National Generators Forum warns that policies such as an emissions standard for coal generators are redundant when the government has promised to a carbon price.

The group says it is "alarmed by the proliferation of ad hoc policies, at all levels of government, which distort otherwise efficient electricity markets for what are often ill-defined or marginal environmental aims". "These policies are rarely complementary to a future carbon price and are usually token policies announced by governments in order to be seen as 'doing something' to address climate change," it says.

The Prime Minister promised the draft emissions standards for new power stations during the election in a bid to restore Labor's climate change credibility, which had been damaged after Kevin Rudd shelved his plans for an emissions trading scheme earlier in the year.

The plan also includes requirements to prepare new power stations to capture and store the pollution caused by burning coal. At the time, business warned that the plan could inflate power prices and would do little to address a lack of certainty that has delayed power generation investment.

Since then, a discussion paper on the plan for cleaner power stations has angered the energy sector as it contains options that appear not to have been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister. Specifically, the industry is upset by suggestions the standards could apply to future expansions and upgrades and wants a clear exemption to this.

Submissions on the discussion paper, produced by a high-level interdepartmental committee, closed on Christmas Eve.

Power generators will need to invest up to $120 billion in new electricity assets over the next 20 years to cope with increased demand and a carbon price, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator. Queensland is expected to be the first state to require new investment, and could need it in 2013-14.

The generators say the plans for cleaner power stations will need to take account of Western Australia's special power needs. While WA uses natural gas to produce two-thirds of its electricity, contracts between generators and gas suppliers start expiring in 2015. With gas producers pursuing lucrative exports, generators are finding it difficult to lock in long-term gas supply contracts. Compounding the situation in WA is the fact that new coal-fired technologies often require a minimum size of operation, which the WA market is too small to support.

The generators are also critical of the plan to require new coal-fired power stations to be "ready" for carbon capture and storage as this is still an unproven technology, saddling investors with a significant but unpredictable cost.


S. Aust. public hospital doctors 'too slow to operate' -- woman dies

A WOMAN who died on the operating table could have survived if potentially life-saving surgery had not been "pointlessly and undesirably" delayed, a coroner has found.

Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel today handed down his findings into the death of Antonia D'Agostino, 59. She died on the operating table at Western Hospital, Henley Beach, on Sunday, March 25, 2007, as doctors attempted to repair her bowel which had been perforated during earlier keyhole surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

She had been re-admitted on Saturday, March 24, nine days after the original operation, feeling bloated and in pain. During surgery the next morning to repair her bowel, Mrs Agostino suffered two heart attacks and died.

In his findings, Mr Schapel said doctors had "failed to appreciate fully and adequately take into account the risks that might be posed to Mrs D'Agostino as a result of delaying her surgery".

He said the need for further surgery could have been identified immediately after she returned to hospital about 6pm on Saturday, March 24. Instead, she waited 14 hours until 8am the following morning.

He said her "acute deterioration" about 6am on the Sunday "may have been avoided if Mrs D'Agostino had been operated on at a time prior to that". "The delay in conducting Mrs D'Agostino's surgery exposed Mrs D'Agostino to the risk of further deterioration to a point where surgery was not only immediately urgent but was very likely to jeopardise her life in and of itself.

"By the time Mrs D'Agostino underwent the further surgical procedure her condition had descended to a point where her life was being placed in jeopardy by that very procedure."

Mr Schapel said that delay was "pointless and undesirable" and she should have been operated on "before midnight on the Saturday night or in the early hours of the Sunday morning at the latest", before her condition had acutely deteriorated. "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that her chances of surviving the operation would have been significantly better if she had been operated upon in a much more favourable clinical state."

He said Mrs D'Agostino could have been operated on sooner and had better care at a hospital with an intensive care unit - which Western Hospital did not have.

In his findings, Mr Schapel made three recommendations, including advising members of the medical profession and Department of Health about the need to avoid or minimise delay in surgery.


Bosses attack populist agenda

LEADING company directors have called on big business to ramp up a public campaign in the new year. Their calls are against populist new laws that unnecessarily increase the regulatory burden on companies.

In the wake of Greens leader Bob Brown's push to toughen the government's proposed mining tax legislation and moves to give shareholders new powers to challenge executive pay and claw back bonuses, big business fears that worse is to come.

Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin said business no longer had a choice but to speak out on ill-conceived public policy because "the world has changed". "It is no good just indicating you have done a good job for shareholders and consumers because there are vested interests that will want to change the way businesses are working and they will want legislation," Mr Colvin said.

"We have a situation now with a hung parliament that could be dangerous for business if it is not handled properly. "Businesses have taken a view that governments in this country have traditionally been rather benign and positive. I don't think that assumption can be made going forward. There is a far more interventionist role by government and some of that is done either naively or without going through the proper consultation procedures."

Mr Colvin said many of his members believed that governments were now far more intrusive and interfering in the workings of businesses. A recent AICD survey found five of the eight states and territories failed its annual score card for business friendliness.

The annual report of the Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance also revealed that a growing number of regulations were avoiding the government's mandatory screening process, which was introduced to cut unnecessary red tape.

The Business Council of Australia wants the government to review the regulatory impact statement process to ensure that new laws are not pushed through without review.

"One of the issues facing us in Australia at the moment is that business cannot afford not to be part of the debate, and when you have such a low number of politicians coming from business, it is a big problem," Mr Colvin said. "That is an important issue for business and I think business is just going to have to get more involved. Business can no longer stay away and say they are apolitical and don't want to get involved in the political process."

Business leaders are also concerned that the Greens are due to take the balance of power in the Senate from July, making them critical to the passing of government legislation that is opposed by the Coalition.

But NAB and Woodside chairman Michael Chaney said the real challenge in the new year would be for the federal opposition to maintain its commitment to reform. "This should not be a difficult parliament to get reforms through, because if the opposition votes with the government they'll swamp any minorities," Mr Chaney said. "The question is whether the opposition will be prepared to do that, in the interest of the nation, or whether they'll take the easier, populist route. "This assumes, of course, that the government is genuine about effecting real reforms -- and the jury is out on that."

Over the past month, the government has released a raft of reforms relating to superannuation, executive remuneration, the National Broadband Network and the mining tax. However, Senator Brown has already vowed to oppose the mining tax reforms, reiterating his support for the original version of the tax, which was tougher on the miners than the government's latest compromise.

A new national consumer protection and product safety framework is also set to begin tomorrow.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ralph Norris has said the bank spent $100 million complying with the new laws and has warned about the impact on smaller players in the sector. The major banks have also warned that the government's banking reform package, designed to increase competition in the sector, will force banks to recover their costs by imposing higher establishment fees or charging customers higher interest rates.

Company directors are also concerned about the slow pace of reform of more than 700 state and territory laws that impose personal liability on individual directors for corporate misconduct. The planned harmonisation of workplace safety laws is designed to simplify a complex system in which companies operating across borders face time and expense in dealing with different systems in each state. But the NSW government is holding out on the reforms.

"There is nowhere the view among politicians and bureaucrats that companies, owned by their shareholders, just need to get on with the game of making profits with as few impediments as possible," Westfield director Judith Sloan said. "And all this stuff plays into the hands of private equity that doesn't need to worry about all this box-ticking and legal advice just to operate."

KPMG chairman Michael Andrew said a number of pending government decisions would affect the investment decisions of companies, including the resource tax and a potential carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. "With a hung parliament, it is going to be very difficult to get policy decisions and you are increasingly going to see people looking for populist issues that are not in the national interest." Mr Andrew said.

But he expected business would have a greater voice in the year ahead. "I think you will see something of a seachange, though," he said. "I think everybody is so disillusioned with the last federal election and the lack of policy debate that people are now firm that it won't happen again, and that you will have to dictate an agenda for issues going forward."

However, one director of a major bank said the group had a good behind-the-scenes working relationship with the government, highlighted by the move to introduce covered bonds to help stimulate a corporate bond market in Australia. "We have been pushing for that for a long time," the director said.

Pacific Brands and Mirvac chairman James MacKenzie said business should be involved in public policy debates and that the key to sound reform was good consultation. "It is clear business wasn't properly involved in the first round of the resources super profits tax, but it is easy to see that business is involved in the latest round of the resources tax discussions," Mr MacKenzie said. "Good public policy and therefore good government comes from good consultation."


Victoria: Revolt looms over health shake-up

THE Baillieu Government says it will fight Julia Gillard over her health reform plan if Victorians oppose it. And it is demanding the Prime Minister explain how the reforms are in the state's interests. Health Minister David Davis said the public had so far been ignored, and the State Government would open the issue for debate.

Maps of the 46 primary care networks - down from former PM Kevin Rudd's original 150 - would be released, and Mr Davis said Victorians should examine them. "They look far too big to me," Mr Davis said.

Gisborne is classed in the same region as Deniliquin; Nhill is bundled with Bacchus Marsh; and Wonthaggi and Mallacoota are grouped despite being 455km apart.

"The Commonwealth needs to explain to Victorians exactly what these Medicare Locals will do," Mr Davis said. "It is hard to see any genuine community of interest between Gisborne and Deniliquin. "Valuable Victorian health services need to be protected in any change, and my job is to stand up to make sure that happens."

Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks are central to the nationalised plan. They would allow providers of primary, GP and community healthcare to be administered locally and paid directly from Canberra for services. All other states, except Western Australia, have agreed to the boundaries.

Former premier John Brumby signed a deal for the Commonwealth to provide 60 per cent of financing for the state's health system, in return for 30 per cent of Victoria's GST revenue.

But Victoria's deadline was extended until the end of January after the Coalition's election victory. The State Government is organising community forums from January 4-21 to gather feedback, before giving Canberra its answer.

Mr Davis said he was "very willing" to work with Canberra on health reform, but he was determined to stand up to Canberra if the community believed the deal was not in Victoria's interests. "There is a risk that Victorians will lose many of our unique health and social services, built up over many decades, through the wholesale reorganisation of primary care by the Commonwealth," he said. "Local communities should look at these maps and see if they meet their aspirations. "Will services improve when administered at such a distance and over such massive populations?"


30 December, 2010

Christianity not mentioned in proposed national history curriculum

The draft national curriculum for history opened an exciting prospect. Here was a chance, I thought, to defend the honour of Christianity amid the cut and thrust of educational theory, pitting myself against the intricate arguments of those who would deny, or at least downplay, the greatness of the influence of Christianity in the unravelling of the great events of the ages.

Yet the compilers of the draft curriculum have chosen the simplest strategy of all: deliberate, pointed, tendentious and outrageous silence. In its 20 pages, the draft ancient history curriculum mentions religion twice. There is no reference to Christianity anywhere in the document.

The draft modern history curriculum is 30 pages long. Christianity is simply never mentioned, at least not explicitly. The word religion appears twice, the first occurrence in the context of Indian history, the second in the context of Asian and African decolonisation. However the precise phrase in which it is found discloses the agenda of the compilers: "The effect of racism, religion and European cultures." This, surely, is an oblique mention of Christianity and a judgment upon it at the same time.

The English philosopher Roger Scruton took the word oikophobia and gave it a new meaning. Oikophobia literally means fear of one's own home, but Scruton nicely adapted it to mean "the repudiation of inheritance and home", the contemptuous rejection of everything that one's parents and grandparents respected, fed by the vanity of a new and supposedly enlightened way of looking at the world.

The name of Christianity is particularly odious to those oikophobes for whom the hope of a multinational and God-free world stands in the place of the dream of a promised land. For such people Christianity has brought more misery than relief, more gloom than joy, more war than peace, more hatred than love.

And - let us be honest - they can produce evidence to support all those opinions. They can point to the massacres of the Crusades, the use of torture and connivance at capital punishment by the Inquisition, the ruthless eradication of the Albigensians, the Thirty Years War, apparent indifference (in some places) to slavery, the treatment of the Jews throughout European history, the fighting in Northern Ireland, the brutish behaviour of certain clergy towards children.

But against that - if they are honest - they will have to acknowledge that all the evil deeds done by men professing themselves Christian have been counterbalanced by all the good things that have been done in the name of Christ.

The systematic care of the poor, the relief of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals, schools and universities, the self-sacrificing saintliness of many clergy, active resistance to the bullying of civil authorities, the amelioration and ultimately the prohibition of slavery, and the improvement of the lot of women (yes, that too) . . . all these things have emerged within a society that has been predominantly Christian.

Even today, in the shadow land of the post-Christian era, there are many who insist on calling themselves Christians still who have abandoned the faith but maintain a firm commitment to what they rightly regard as the "Christian ethic".

Yet the draft curriculum in history avoids all of this. It is almost completely silent on the whole matter of Christianity. It chooses to ignore a worldwide religious movement that has marched with civilisation for 2000 years, infusing it with a morality that has shaped the thinking of the whole of society, including the minds of those who lost the faith but clung to the moral view. This omission is not just careless, it is staggeringly inept and profoundly dishonest.

What would an honest and inclusive curriculum look like? It would recognise the enormous influence of religion in the world since late antiquity.

Moreover, being an Australian curriculum, intended for students in Australian schools, it would not pretend to the possibly laudable but utterly impossible task of giving all the world's cultures and religions equal coverage, but will acknowledge that, like it or loathe it, Christianity has been the dominant faith and moral mentor for our nation since white settlement began, that many indigenous people have embraced it too, and that the more recent waves of settlers - including Muslims and Hindus - have scarcely been unaffected by it. It would be good to see our society honestly facing up to the implications of its own heritage, and mature enough to recognise the good alongside the bad, and wise enough to see that amid the imperfections of any human organisation there is much to take pride in.

For believers, though, the reality is that the incarnation of Christ was and is the greatest event in human history, and that this greatness is not simply a matter of degree, but it is a kind of an absolute and ultimate truth by which alone the significance of all other events must be judged.

Many unbelievers cannot but be angered by such assurance, and we should not be surprised or disappointed by a savage response to such claims.

Many of those most bitterly opposed to Christianity have perhaps sensed that we are on the ropes, utterly nonplussed by this apathy, and are determined to continue to wage that kind of war of attrition in the hope that we shall simply and finally melt away. My suspicion is that some of the framers of the curriculum are driven by such a plan, perhaps consciously, perhaps by instinct.

Many other people of goodwill, non or anti-Christian in their orientation, are willing enough to face us on the field of debate and controversy. Such people may indeed admire and respect aspects of Christianity, while rejecting all or most of its metaphysical tenets.

In many such men and women I think I can see - excuse the presumption - the characteristics of the unconverted St Augustine: all too often they bark against a faith they have not troubled (or have not been able, through the scandal of our failings and our own poor example) to understand.

Clearly it is the best interest of the Christian religion boldly and confidently to face the challenge of those who would with equal confidence contest the veracity and integrity of our claims.

To take the battle vigorously to the critic's gates, to emerge thus from the slough of indifference that now threatens to swallow us, is our best hope.


Federal government plan to liberate schools

Any decentralization of power should be good. A bit surprising from a Leftist government, though

SCHOOLS will become self-governing under a Labor plan that hands responsibility for budgets and hiring teachers to principals and school councils. The plan would also hold them accountable for student performance.

In a move that would comprehensively reshape the nation's education system, the federal government is proposing a model of school governance based on the way independent schools operate, turning government and Catholic schools into "autonomous" institutions.

In a briefing paper submitted to a meeting of state education ministers at the beginning of the month, the federal government outlined a plan for autonomous schools to become the standard by 2018 in the government and non-government sectors. "The aim of the initiative is to facilitate systemic national reform to establish autonomous school operation as the norm across all Australian education sectors, with schools predominantly being self-governing," it says.

The paper says increasing school autonomy will "improve student performance by providing principals, parents and school communities a greater input into the management of their local school".

The plan goes further than the model outlined by Julia Gillard in the election campaign that proposed "empowering local schools" by giving principals and parents a greater say over selecting and employing teachers, and identifying funding priorities.

The idea of self-governing schools resembles the charter school movement in the US of publicly funded, but privately run, schools open to all students.

The plan is yet to be considered by education ministers. A spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who is on leave, said the briefing paper was noted at the ministerial council meeting and a working group would be established in the new year, with members from states and territories, which would consult widely. "The government remains committed to delivering greater autonomy to school communities and won't pre-empt the work to be completed by the working party," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing public schools, yesterday accused the government of privatising the public education system.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said school autonomy was just a slogan and there was no evidence that increasing the control of principals and school boards improved student achievement. "Why is the government hell bent on taking the word public out of education?" he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a privatisation agenda. "When I hear the words 'local autonomy' uttered by governments, I can't help but think that what they are granting principals and teachers is nothing more than the freedom to obey. "They want to give us the autonomy to do the plumbing and fix faulty powerpoints while dictating that when reporting on student achievement, we can only use five letters of the alphabet, A to E."

The brief provided to the ministers outlines a two-phase implementation process, with 1000 schools to participate in an initial rollout in 2012 and 2013, with the selected schools to come from every state and territory and a third from regional areas.

In the second phase of the proposal, the rest of the nation's schools will be "offered the opportunity to increase their level of local independence" as part of a national rollout by 2018.

The proposal envisages a nationally agreed statement of criteria defining the "essential elements of autonomous school operation" and an assessment process by which schools are selected to participate.

A similar approach has been adopted by the West Australian government, which introduced independent public schools, with 34 starting this year and a further 64 to start next year. Boards are established to govern the schools, with principals having control over the hiring of staff and a one-line budget, allowing them to decide how to spend their money. The ACT is moving to a similar system and Victoria has operated a system of self-managed schools since the late 1990s.

Victoria's reforms, introduced by the Kennett Liberal government, were intended to go further and allow self-governing schools, which would have made them the employer - not just the selector - of teachers and responsible for industrial negotiations. But only 50 of about 1600 schools agreed to the proposal and it was dropped by the Bracks Labor government. Former premier Jeff Kennett said yesterday "the unions got to Bracks" and stopped the rollout of his original scheme.

Mr Kennett said he still believed it was the best way to run schools in the public system, by giving principals and school councils full control.


NSW Premier's shocking abuse of power

The face of a Leftist crook

Public servants have been gagged from giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into Labor's power privatisation in Premier Kristina Keneally's latest desperate bid to stymie scrutiny of the sale. The move follows her attempts last week to scuttle the hearings by closing Parliament two months early.

Committee chairman Fred Nile accused Ms Keneally of using "brutal force" to shut the inquiry but vowed he would not be stopped from finding the truth about the $5.3 billion sale.

Ms Keneally said yesterday the Auditor-General had started his investigation into the midnight electricity sell-off. But voters won't see that report until after the March election because the Auditor-General's reports must be tabled in Parliament, which Ms Keneally closed early.

And that is where Mr Nile's inquiry could embarrass the Government - it reports back on January 31, possibly giving the Opposition and Greens ammunition leading into the state election.

Ms Keneally yesterday referred to Crown Solicitor's advice - given in 1994 - that witnesses would not be offered parliamentary privilege if they appeared at Mr Nile's inquiry because it had no legal standing. "That would not be a situation in which we would have public servants attending an inquiry," she said.

But despite relying all week on that legal advice, Ms Keneally has now gone back to the Crown Solicitor's office to ask if it was still relevant and correct. Depending on the response, which won't come until after January 10, the inquiry could be ruled legal.

In the meantime, Ms Keneally said the Auditor-General had broad powers to consider whether the "activities of government are being carried out effectively, economically, efficiently and in compliance with all relevant laws. I am quite confident this transaction stands up to that scrutiny," she said.

Mr Nile, who is determined his committee will meet on January 17, asked what Ms Keneally was "afraid of". "If she has nothing to hide or nothing to fear, then why did she prorogue Parliament early and why is she gagging public servants from giving evidence?" he said. "It's like she is using brutal force to try to stop the inquiry."

Mr Nile said he was aware that the eight directors who quit the boards of Delta and Eraring over the sale were "ready and willing" to speak.

Public Servants Association assistant secretary Steve Turner said he was not happy with the sale. "We would welcome an inquiry to look into it and if a proper inquiry occurs then public servants should legally be able to give evidence," he said.


More proof of global cooling

"Unprecedented" floods in Queensland. Warmists say that warming causes drought so ....

The "unprecedented" floods inundating cities and towns in Queensland may not recede for up to 10 days, evacuated residents have been warned. And with hundreds more evacuations to come today, the focus of concern is turning to the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, where a peaking Fitzroy River could threaten 500 homes.

The flooding has also claimed its first victim, with the body of a 50-year-old man found in a swollen creek at Mareeba in north Queensland. Police say he may have drowned on Christmas Day.

Premier Anna Bligh said today 12 communities were currently isolated by flooding and more water is on the way.

Mass evacuations will be carried out today in Emerald, with 80 per cent of the town affected, while floodwaters have split the coastal city of Bundaberg in two, inundating 120 properties and forcing about 400 evacuations.

Ms Bligh said the damage would cost governments and insurance companies billions of dollars, and appealed to Australians to “dig deep” and donate to an emergency relief fund. “It's an enormous disaster,” Ms Bligh told ABC television, noting that the early forecasts had not predicted the scale of the disaster.

“What we've never seen is so many towns, so many communities, so many regions all affected at once. It is a miserable and heart-breaking event.”

Ms Bligh said the disaster was unprecedented. “It's not isolated to one part of the state. We've got communities, both large cities and very small towns, that are now affected,” she told the Seven Network.

Vast amounts of rain have fallen in catchments that feed into the Fitzroy River, which is expected to reach major flood levels above 8.5 metres in coming days. Levels could remain at about eight metres for up to 10 days, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

In Emerald, flood levels in the Nogoa River today exceeded all previous records, rising beyond the 2008 level of 15.36 metres when almost 3000 people were forced from their homes. It's expected to peak beyond all earlier expectations at 16.2 metres tomorrow, and Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire said a dire scenario awaited the town. About 200 people spent the night in evacuation centres in Emerald, with hundreds, possibly thousands, more expected to head to the safe havens today, ahead of the flood peak.

In Bundaberg, the Burnett River peaked at 7.9 metres overnight, it's highest level since 1942 when it reached 8.4 metres. “Bundaberg is now split in two,” acting Mayor Tony Ricciardi said. “This is a one-in-100 year event. We won't see this again in our lifetime. Well, I hope.”


29 December, 2010

Children can't get enough science lessons

ALMOST half of 12-year-olds have a science lesson less than once a week, even though most think the subject is interesting and would like to learn more.

A survey of Year 6 students conducted for the first time last year as part of the National Science Tests reveals 21 per cent of students reported having a science lesson "hardly ever" while 19 per cent said they were taught the subject less than once a week. Yet three-quarters said they would like to learn more science.

The survey of students' interests and experiences revealed generally positive attitudes towards science.

More than 80 per cent of students agreed science was "important for lots of jobs" and that learning science would be more important in high school.

About 67 per cent agreed it would be interesting to be a scientist and only 40 per cent agreed that "science is too difficult for most people to understand".

But when asked how often they had science lessons at school, only 6 per cent said every day and 54 per cent said once a week, while 48 per cent said lessons were mostly held in the afternoon, when students are typically less alert.

At the same time, the national test results show students' scientific understanding is falling, with the average score dropping during the past decade, primarily among the top students.

The tests, comprising a written exam and a practical task, have been conducted every three years since 2003 among a representative sample of Year 6 students, with about 5 per cent - or more than 13,000 - sitting the most recent tests last year. The results show the average score has dropped eight points since 2006 and while not statistically significant, it continues a trend of declining marks. Changes in the tests between 2003 and 2006 make the results not strictly comparable, but the trend is a drop in the national average of 17 points between 2003 and last year.

The average score of Year 6 students in Tasmania did fall significantly over the past three years, by 20 points.

Lower scores were recorded around the nation, except in Western Australia, where the average score rose 12 points, which is not statistically significant, and in the Northern Territory, where the average rose one point.

ACT students achieved the highest scores, followed by Victoria, which overtook NSW, and Western Australia, which rose from seventh to fourth over the past three years.

Students are also marked against five levels of proficiency, with almost 52 per cent deemed to have met the standard last year compared with 54.3 per cent in 2006. But while about 10 per cent of students scored in the top two levels in 2006, this proportion had dropped to 7.3 per cent last year. The proportion of students in the bottom level had increased from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

The difference between the scores achieved by girls and boys was negligible, but indigenous students scored about 100 points lower on average, and about two-thirds of students in remote and very remote areas did not meet the proficiency standard. The difference between metropolitan and provincial areas was small.


Business revolt on parental leave red tape

JULIA Gillard faces mounting pressure from business groups ramping up their campaign over parental leave payments. Business groups want the government to administer parental leave payments beyond July 1 next year.

As Families Minister Jenny Macklin yesterday promoted the rollout of the government's paid parental leave from January 1, the head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry warned that small business would be drowned in red tape. ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said he planned to "mount parliamentary pressure" to make sure small and medium businesses do not come under undue pressure from administering the payments. "The government is running the risk here of spoiling a good idea and a good policy with implementation mistakes," he said.

Parental leave payments will be administered by the federal government for the first six months of the year, but after July 1 businesses will be responsible for making the government-funded payments directly to employees.

"This is a government payment scheme, and businesses should not be asked by the government to administer the payments," Mr Anderson said. If the government did not continue to assume responsibility for making the payments after July 1, the ACCI would take the issue to parliament and lobby the independents to support a private member's bill to force the matter, he said.

Ms Macklin yesterday disputed claims that administering the national scheme would place an unfair load on employers. "We understand that it's important to support small business, in particular, so we'll make sure that the money is in their bank account before they have to start payments, and they can use their regular pay cycle," she said in Melbourne yesterday. "We'll continue to work with small business to make sure that the scheme works for them."

Ms Macklin said by administering the government-funded leave, employers would maintain strong links with their employees' caring for newborns. She brushed off concerns companies would scale back their paid parental leave schemes as the government-funded benefits came in. "We'll be very closely monitoring this," she said. "I'll be very disappointed if we have any employers dropping their own schemes."

The new national scheme is expected to cost about $260 million annually for 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage of $570 a week.

"What we've seen is many employers saying they're going to keep their paid parental or maternity leave scheme and allow their employees to take this scheme on top," Ms Macklin said. "They know paid parental leave is good for their employees, good to be able to keep their employees who they've spent money and time training."

Ms Macklin reiterated the government had no plans to scrap the baby bonus, and said she had received no reports of full-term pregnant women deliberately delaying birth until New Year's Day in order to qualify.


Pressure on Australia as Japan stalls plans for Warmist laws

JAPAN'S decision to postpone its plans for an ETS by 2013 has increased pressure on Julia Gillard over her goal of pricing carbon next year. The postponement has also set back efforts for a global market to cut global carbon pollution.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt called on the Prime Minister to rule out an emissions trading scheme by New Year's Day in the wake of the Japanese move.

The decision by the world's fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter and Australia's second-largest trading partner to postpone the scheme for a year comes after the US also stepped back from a national emissions trading scheme and as international firms remain concerned about lax pollution controls in China, which has no obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Labor and Greens-backed climate change committee is looking at ways to cut carbon emissions and the Productivity Commission is examining carbon reduction regimes around the world.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has repeatedly argued that Australia is "locking our economy into failure" without a carbon price. Two weeks ago, he defended the Rudd government's carbon pollution reduction scheme, dumped by the former prime minister. He said it had included an emissions trading scheme that would have "provided the greatest certainty that Australia would meet its emissions reductions targets".

But, Mr Hunt said, the government's plans were "now in tatters". "First Canada, second the US and now Japan have all determined that there is a better way to cut emissions than a massive electricity tax. "The Prime Minister should drop this electricity tax before New Year's Day."

The government should look at the Coalition's approach of market-based incentives for emissions abatement, he said. "The choice for Australia is now a massive new tax or emissions reductions by focusing on our strengths."

Mr Combet has repeatedly argued that a price on carbon is an essential economic reform that will create an incentive to reduce pollution, stimulate investment in low-emission technology and provide greater certainty for business investment.

"It will also enhance our ability to influence the direction of the international climate change negotiations and provide encouragement for a binding agreement including all major emitters," Mr Combet told the Investor Group on Climate Change this month.

"We either grasp this opportunity for an orderly, planned and gradual transition, or face the later prospect of economic adjustment at greater cost and dislocation - in circumstances where other countries have taken the lead and the competitive advantage."

The Japanese government move came after pressure from business, which was concerned an ETS would add to costs and limit their ability to compete against rivals in China and India who would not face the same restrictions.

The Japanese government remains committed to levying a tax on CO2 emissions from fuel in October next year and to the expansion of a pilot plan for renewable sources of electricity.

At the global climate change meetings in Cancun, Mexico, Japan opposed extension of the Kyoto Protocol, calling it unfair because it did not include 70 per cent of the world's emissions, with top polluters China and the US absent.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government had planned to launch an ETS, under which companies would essentially buy and sell licences to pollute, in the fiscal year beginning April 2013 but had postponed it until at least 2014. The environment and other ministers decided to postpone the plan, saying the country would first "carefully consider it".

A carbon-trading system sets a cap on the pollutants companies can emit and then requires heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less, creating financial incentives to cut emissions


SAS burdened with $50m dud

As they say in the army: SNAFU (I won't translate)

NEW fighting vehicles for Australia's elite soldiers have been condemned as white elephants that are plagued by dodgy electronics and are too heavy for army helicopters. And they are still not used in Afghanistan, despite being bought more than two years ago for nearly $50 million.

Thirty-one Nary patrol vehicles were bought in August 2008 under the watch of the then defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon. The purchase was made without a tender for "reasons of operational urgency". But despite the rush to have them by the start of last year, none has been sent to Afghanistan and none has been earmarked for deployment.

The next-generation vehicles were bought for the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan as replacements for the ageing Land Rovers. In November 2007 the British Ministry of Defence bought the same vehicles from the manufacturer Supacat and had them in Afghanistan within months.

Australia's Defence Department has said the deployment of the first batch of Narys is on track and that some will be in use in the second half of next year. But a defence industry source close to the project said: "One would like to think that this is a capability that should have been [in Afghanistan] by now."

Industry insiders have criticised army engineers and Defence's procurement arm, the Defence Materiel Organisation, because they struggled to merge two "off-the-shelf" purchases - the British vehicles and their US-designed electronics and communications systems.

One problem for the vehicles has been interference between transmissions from different pieces of equipment. One industry source said: "If you have one system operating on a particular radio frequency, it might interfere with your satellite communications equipment, which is operating on different frequencies."

It is understood these problems extended to secret systems used to stop eavesdroppers obtaining classified information.

Next year the government will ask manufacturers to bid to supply 50 new patrol vehicles. But it is understood that the tender has been delayed by a logjam of requests before the top-secret National Security Committee.

Manufacturers are so dismayed they are pushing the government to issue an extra tender, a separate contract to integrate the onboard electronics with the next batch of vehicles. One source condemned the Defence Materiel Organisation, saying: "What they love to do is interfere, and do this Australianisation of stuff."

The department did not respond to questions about the delayed tender, and about whether there had been electrical problems. A statement from Defence says the Narys' onboard systems are now "functional and the electrical system provides adequate power".

Many elite soldiers have completed their driver training on Narys but the vehicles still have not received their initial operational certificates because of what one source said was "limited functionality" of the onboard electronics.

The vehicles' computers are designed to show an array of information from remote bases and drone aircraft. But army technicians have been unable to transmit information consistently.

To protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices, Defence has given the Narys nearly 1000 kilograms of extra armour. But at more than 10,000 kilograms, some of the vehicles exceed weight limits on the rear doors of the army's ageing Chinook 47D transport helicopters, so cannot be driven into them.

The British Army relaxed the weight limit on its Chinooks so the vehicles could enter. The Australian Army can make do by suspending the large vehicles beneath the helicopters, but this is considered more difficult and dangerous and uses more fuel.

Defence says there was no requirement to carry Narys inside cargo helicopters and they can be transported on cargo planes.

The Narys carry heavy-calibre machine guns and grenade launchers but are heavier and have more complex technology than Land Rovers and Bushmasters, used for everything from reconnaissance to "capture-or-kill" missions.

The vehicles' new system promises to integrate satellite communications, video surveillance and radio communications with electronic warfare counter-measures designed to set off improvised roadside bombs before the vehicle is on top of the explosive charge.

A special forces source said not everyone would be unhappy with the delay in using the Narys. "In some ways, command is happy not to deploy them because they cost too much. If you lose one of them it's worth two or three Bushmasters."


28 December, 2010

Cruel results of Labor party "compassion"

AS the nation was shocked by news of the Christmas Island tragedy, Sarah Hanson-Young issued a statement via Twitter. The Australian Greens' immigration spokeswoman expressed horror at the "terrible tragedy" and said this day was "for expressing sorrow for what has happened, and for providing support and compassion for everyone involved".

A few hours later, while rescue teams would still have been scouring huge seas for survivors, the senator tweeted again: "Sharon Jones at the Gov. [Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide] Brilliant!"

That moment crystallised for me the core of the problem with those who argue about border protection from a standpoint of moral superiority and self-declared compassion. It is all care, no responsibility.

The border-protection issue highlights the difference between the emotional self-aggrandisement of the progressives and the hard-headed pragmatism of the conservatives. It's the difference between displaying empathy and attempting to solve a problem.

The Howard government took hard decisions and deliberately designed them to appear even tougher than they were. This sent an unambiguous message to places where the prospective customers of people-smugglers were gathering: if you attempt an unauthorised arrival you may never get to Australia, and if you do make it into the country you may not receive permanent residency.

Cruel, claimed many. But to the extent that it was cruel, it was cruel to be kind. We will never know how many lives it saved by removing the incentive for dangerous voyages.

And here's the rub: while it stopped the people-smuggling trade, it did not reduce the number of refugees who received sanctuary in Australia. We still filled our humanitarian quota; only the refugees were chosen through orderly process, not self-selected by access to a people-smuggler's fare or a willingness to take terrible risks.

When it came to power, Labor set about unravelling this tough regime. It was a way to be popular, to appease the emotive pleadings of people such as Hanson-Young and other potential Greens voters. Labor was warned as it did this that it would restart the people-smuggling business. Then opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison said: "The weakening of Australia's strong immigration detention policy will send a clear message to the region that we are relaxing border control. The intelligence we have demonstrates there are still people-smugglers in the region."

Proclaiming the end of the so-called Pacific Solution, Labor shouted to the world that most of the asylum-seekers the previous government had sent to Nauru were resettled in Australia anyway. This, they said, betrayed the futility of the Pacific Solution.

On the contrary, it demonstrated the genius of that arrangement. Refugees eventually and quietly were provided with the new life they sought. But the hardline perception was maintained to dissuade more asylum-seekers.

Since the policy softening in 2008, boat arrivals have accelerated, detention centres have filled and two fatal tragedies have taken more than 50 lives.

Throughout this period, conservative politicians have argued for the reinstatement of a tough regime and warned of lives at risk. For their trouble they have endured constant accusations from Labor, the Greens, activists and the media of being heartless, racist and opportunistic.

Even in the wake of the Christmas Island horror, the abuse continued with claims of "dog whistling" and "demonising" asylum-seekers. Yet the opposition's focus on saving the lives of asylum-seekers is largely ignored by the media.

In November last year, then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull called a press conference to explain how Labor's softening of the border-protection regime would have to be reversed: "We are determined to keep our borders secure, to prevent and discourage asylum-seekers from risking their lives in perilous journeys and to protect the integrity of our generous immigration program."

Almost six months earlier then opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone told Radio National: "What we're worried about, though, is that you actually put your life in the hands of criminals who have no interest in your safety, who are of course interested in getting you in the cheapest boat, one-way route possible."

In October last year, frontbencher Scott Morrison, who has since assumed the immigration role, was asked on Canberra's Radio 2CC why he was creating "hysteria" about small numbers of asylum-seekers.

"Because people can die, literally, by coming by boat," he replied. "It is the most risky and dangerous way to come here. So I have a real serious concern about the wellbeing of these people who are being encouraged to take this massive risk and risk their lives and those of their families in this way."

Even before he became opposition leader, Tony Abbott warned on ABC1's Lateline in October last year that "once the flow starts, who knows how many of them might end up perishing at sea".

A few months later, as leader, he told a news conference: "What endangers lives is contracting out Australia's immigration program to people-smugglers. What endangers lives is doing anything that encourages people to take to the sea in leaky boats." This is just a small sample, but you get the picture.

With stunning audacity, Julia Gillard has now effectively called for a bipartisan truce on this issue. Such calls for calm were not made in 2001 after the tragic loss of 353 lives in the sinking of the SIEV X. Back then, distasteful conspiracy theories accused the Australian defence forces of complicity in the deaths. Labor luminaries, such as senator John Faulkner and even Gillard, fuelled the SIEV X fury, pushing for inquiries and hinting at government cover-ups.

And so, within hours of the Christmas Island disaster, the same conspiracy theorists were at it again, with David Marr and Tony Kevin suggesting Australia could have done more to save these lives. Gillard and Labor were on the receiving end of the madness they once cultivated.

They couldn't stop even the dangerous stupidity of one of the independents who keeps them in power. Rob Oakeshott went into print and on the airwaves repeating malicious rumours about Australian complicity while demanding they be refuted. Such incendiary nonsense from our politicians should not be tolerated.

Apart from anything else, it grossly impugns the quality of our defence force personnel and wildly misjudges our national character. No matter how baseless, such claims trigger distress, resentment and even violence in detention centres and suburbs.

Much vitriol was directed at commentator Andrew Bolt for saying Gillard had "blood on her hands". But his strident language was backed by a clear, important and rational argument: that is, the government was repeatedly warned that softening the border-protection regime would put lives at risk.

Gillard, Marr, Hanson-Young, the ABC, some church leaders and others who trumpet the so-called compassionate approach must recognise that cessation of third-country processing, coupled with limited detention periods and near-guaranteed permanent residency, gave the people-smugglers a plausible product to sell. This product, the promise of a relatively trouble-free passage into Australian suburban life, is what tragically lured the men, women and children into entrusting their lives to people-smugglers on that doomed Christmas Island voyage.

The day after the tragedy Hanson-Young tweeted again: "Compassion, nothing more to say really." In fact, while Morrison, Abbott and Turnbull share the same feelings of compassion and trauma about the deaths, they did have more to say. Despite the vile abuse it often attracts, they continued to argue for a plan to prevent future disasters.


Labor should just stop meddling with markets

They don't understand them

Gavin Atkins

EVERYBODY has their favourite theory as to why the Rudd-Gillard government has been so dreadful. Kevin Rudd's favourite theory is that there are too many factional bullies in the schoolyard. Julia Gillard's theory is that it's a government that lost its way. In other words, it is the innocent victim of unfortunate circumstances.

Another theory that is gaining popularity is that the government has been hanging around with a bad crowd: the Australian Greens.

I'm not buying this argument. Of the various debacles we have seen such as the on-again, off-again emissions trading scheme, the mining tax, the get-here-and-stay border protection scheme, pink batts, schools stimulus waste, the failure to deliver laptops or build childcare centres, how many were orchestrated by the Greens?

I have another theory. Most of the mistakes made by the government can be put down to a failure to pay attention to some Year 9 economics. The back yard, the concept of supply and demand, seems to scare and titillate the federal ALP in equal measure. Unfortunately for the government, when it comes to interacting with markets, there is a certain inevitability about it eventually running away from the scene yelping.

Just before Rudd was elected, you may recall, he boasted that being an economic conservative was "a badge I wear with pride".

In fact, Kevin proved to be such a deregulation fiend that one of the first things he did was abolish temporary protection visas and a range of other deterrence measures, making it easier for asylum-seekers to stay in Australia.

In response, 5600 asylum-seekers made it to Australia by boat in the last financial year, compared with none in 2004-05.

As asylum-seekers are known to pay about $10,000 to people-smugglers, it is safe to say Rudd created a $50 million a year industry just by deregulating the market.

Confusingly, not long after pulling off one of the most daring acts of deregulation in this country, Rudd put together a near unreadable essay over Christmas in 2008, calling for government intervention in world markets.

Although the global financial crisis was triggered by bad loans held by US government-sponsored financial institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Rudd attributed the global recession to "extreme capitalism".

It's hardly surprising, then, that so much of Rudd's response to the GFC - always involving more government meddling in markets - proved to be so disastrous.

When billions of dollars were made available for insulation schemes and school halls, the sudden imbalance of demand led to rorts and disasters that are still being picked through today.

In its own way, government meddling in Australian markets as a response to the GFC was just as disastrous as government meddling in the US housing market that started it all in the first place.

Wherever you find money, you will also find scammers. This is understood by every shopkeeper, but seems to have eluded the apparatchiks in the Rudd and Gillard governments every time.

Gillard, God bless her, is less inclined to write a treatise on economics during her holidays, but it would be hard to find someone less qualified to understand markets than a union lawyer who was a member of the Socialist Forum for the best part of her adult life.

With Australia's economic growth figures for the September quarter on a precipice at 0.2 per cent, Gillard wants to introduce a tax on mining, the one thing that kept Australia out of recession these past few years, and then get to work on a carbon price.

Now we hear that the government wants to legislate against exit fees in home loans, a measure that non-banks assure us will make them less competitive.

The truth is that the Gillard government has the same chronic problem that crippled the Rudd government: neither incarnation seems to have the faintest clue about markets.

Watching them blunder through each fresh initiative leaves you with a feeling of helplessness reminiscent of being an audience member at a kids' puppet show.

The idea that meddling in markets has a range of adverse consequences seems to be a source of constant surprise for this government. When this eventually affects our gross domestic product and our power bills, it will undoubtedly see it expelled.


Runaway growth of government must be stopped

This has been a terrible year for Canberra, as expressed in the reputation of the federal public service and the very idea that Canberra should be an imperial power within Australia, constantly expanding its reach into the rest of the nation.

Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, separated by a knife-edge in Parliament, need to think about the growth of federal power, the growth and cost of the federal bureaucracy, and the growth and cost of the national capital itself. It needs to stop.

This should be a point of difference between the Coalition and the big-spending Labor-Greens alliance, which is now trying to take 30 per cent of the GST revenue from the states and limit the rights of the states to impose their own taxes. The public approval of the federal government has shrunk to a dire bedrock of 34 per cent, expressed in recent opinion polls. This must reflect the government's dreadful combination of basic mediocrity and soaring ambition.

On average, every week brings a new debacle. In the past seven days we have seen the demise of three different federal interventions. First to go down was the $200 million Green Start energy loans program, which was a replacement for the disastrous Green Loans scheme. The government is stuck with a $30 million compensation bill for unwinding the thousands of jobs eliminated by ending the scheme.

Next to go down the policy chute was the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land scheme, which collapsed under the weight of its own inertia. The only measurable outcome was spending $10 million on public servants, who managed to provide 15 loans under the program, for a cluster of homes in the Tiwi Islands.

The week's third debacle was another backdown on the government's proposed new tax on the mining sector, with Gillard's minerals resource rent tax being dropped. This putative tax was itself a replacement for Kevin Rudd's proposed resource super profits tax, which was abandoned after it turned into an electoral disaster. And that tax was, in turn, part of the completely botched response to the comprehensive Henry tax reforms formulated by the head of the Treasury department, Ken Henry, who last week pulled the pin and announced his retirement.

The infamous pink batts blunder kept rolling along, with the South Australian government revealing that a third of the roof insulation jobs in the state were done illegally by unregistered operators.

That was last week. In the previous week the government's abject handling of the asylum seekers issue imploded in the waters off Christmas Island, while chronic backlogs in processing new arrivals spilled into new detention camps opening around the country.

The Labor-Greens alliance seems impervious to the reality that Canberra's track record of delivering services is not intrinsically better than that of the states, which have done the hard work of delivering health, transport, energy and education for more than 100 years. The federal government still wants to take 30 per cent of GST revenue in exchange for taking control of the hospital system, but has already alienated the states with high-handed demands, unrealistic deadlines and rigid processes. This is exactly the opposite direction – more centralisation and bureaucratisation – to what the hospital system needs.

The incorrigible imperialists of federal Labor have also picked a brawl with the states – specifically the engine room of Australia's exports, Western Australia and Queensland – by proposing to cap their ability to impose higher royalties on mining companies. Canberra wants to control all the extra revenue that can be extracted from the resource boom.

This leads into an unfolding blunder of potentially historic proportions, as great as the combined cost of the gold-plated Building the Education Revolution, the ill-fated home insulation scheme, the multibillion-dollar spending and debt binge of last year, the spiralling costs of the detention centres, the useless green and indigenous loan schemes and the financial black hole known as the national broadband network.

This is Labor's handling of the once-in-a-century resource boom, its suctioning away of revenue to pay for political debts in south-eastern Australia. Western Australia is crying out for revenue to invest in the infrastructure needed to expand and sustain its boom.

Rudd was the architect of this period of imperial overstretch by Canberra. He thought he could transform the federal bureaucracy, within months, into a major service provider. It was not and is not.

Rudd failed spectacularly and was sacked by his colleagues. His successor government was sacked by the public. The only reason it remains in power, as dysfunctional now as it was before the election, is that Labor was bailed out by the poseur from Port Macquarie, Rob Oakeshott, even as his electorate, in both the House and Senate votes, provided the second-largest anti-Labor vote in the nation. Oakeshott can take credit for every stuff-up by this government because he, more than any other, manufactured its now non-existent mandate for Canberra's expanding imperialism.


Coalition tips more problems for syllabus, warning it may be delayed beyond 2013

THE national school curriculum may not be ready for implementation even by 2013 because of fundamental problems and glaring omissions, the Coalition has warned.

Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has also copped more criticism over his delivery of government initiatives, with opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne pointing to his management of the bungled home insulation scheme, green loans and solar panel programs.

The Australian reported today that Victoria was joining NSW and Western Australia in opting to delay implementation of the curriculum until 2013, despite the government's preferred timetable for the courses to be introduced next year.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority said in a memo that it would spend the next two tears trialling and training teachers and refining the curriculum before starting to implement it.

Mr Pyne seized on the development, telling The Australian Online the curriculum still had key flaws and was not ready for implementation. “We have been warning for 18 months that the national curriculum would not be ready in January 2011,” he said.

It is cumbersome, overly prescriptive and lacks the resources necessary for the training of teachers and as a consequence it could never begin in January 2011,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Pyne poured scorn on Mr Garrett who, following a meeting of the nation's education ministers earlier this month, claimed an historic victory after they endorsed the content of the first four subjects - English, mathematics, science and history - to be taught in classrooms. “I can only assume that Peter Garrett, in wanting to cover the back of his Prime Minister, pretended something had been achieved at the ministerial council that hadn't. “Because the real villain in the piece of the national curriculum is Julia Gillard, who of course was the minister responsible for its implementation.”

To ensure a smooth implementation of the curriculum, Mr Pyne said the government needed to listen to the “teaching profession and to the experts about what the curriculum should contain”. He warned its “fundamental basics” had not been bedded down and pointed out the history section didn't “acknowledge that the Vietnam War needs to be taught”. Mr Pyne said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2013 timeline “gets pushed out even further”.

Changes to the curriculum can be made until the deadline of October next year and this has the potential to affect teachers introducing courses in their classrooms next year.

Only the Australian Capital Territory will start teaching the new courses next year, with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory spending the year familiarising teachers with the new courses and running trials.


27 December, 2010

Church free to ban homosexual foster parents

This is a big improvement on Britain, where the verdict went the other way. The picture below is of Cardinal Pell outside St. Mary's cathedral. It appeared with the story below but the court case actually involved a Protestant organization. Apparently His Eminence makes a better demon

CHURCH groups are free to discriminate against homosexuals after a landmark judgment in which a tribunal ruled religious charities are allowed to ban gay foster parents.

The ruling, made in the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, has been hailed by the Catholic Church but has outraged civil libertarians, who are demanding religions no longer be exempt from anti-discrimination laws if they receive public money, reported The Daily Telegraph.

The Council of Civil Liberties suggested more children might end up in orphanages because church-based service providers could now knock back couples who did not conform to their beliefs.

Even the tribunal itself, whose judgment came down in favour of the ban, said it was effectively bound to reach the decision because of the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups. And, it went as far as suggesting that Parliament may wish to revise those laws.

The decision marks the end of a seven-year legal battle for a gay couple who attempted to become foster carers through Wesley Mission Australia but were knocked back because their lifestyle was not in keeping with the beliefs and values of Wesleyanism, a Methodist order of the Uniting Church.

The ADT initially awarded the couple $10,000 and ordered the charity to change its practices so it did not discriminate but an appeals panel set aside that decision and ordered the tribunal to reconsider the matter.

The tribunal then said it had little choice but to find that the discrimination was "in conformity" with the church's doctrine because the test in the law "is singularly undemanding".

Council of Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said churches who received taxpayers money to provide services for the state -as was increasingly the case -should no longer be exempt from discrimination laws. "It's outrageous," he said. "If a non-religious organisation tried to do this they would be in breach of the law.

"If they want to run a foster care agency they ought to be looking after the best interests of the child, not trying to push their religion on the community.

Cardinal George Pell welcomed the decision and said churches must be able to choose who they wanted to use in the provision of services.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said it was high time groups were no longer able to discriminate for religious reasons.

A spokesman for Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said if the matter came before Parliament the Liberal Party would allow a conscience vote.


Christmas Day "asylum" boat will take island's detainee population close to 3000

THE Christmas Island Detention Centre will be one boatload shy of housing 3000 people in coming days after another vessel was intercepted.

A suspected asylum-seeker boat carrying almost 60 passengers is en route to the island after being picked up off Ashmore Island yesterday.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said initial indications suggested there were 57 passengers and three crew on board the boat.

Acting opposition immigration spokesman Michael Keenan said the boat arrival was a poignant reminder that people-smugglers don't take holidays.

"Nothing will stop the people-smugglers; not Christmas Day, not the monsoon season, not life-taking tragedies," Mr Keenan said in a statement.

"It's well past time that the Labor government understood that the only thing that will stop the boats coming and prevent more lives being lost is an urgent change of policy."

The latest arrivals will be transferred to Christmas Island by HMAS Maitland where they will undergo security, identity and health checks.

They will take the number of people being housed at the centre to 2970, despite an official capacity of 2600.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded to calls from Christmas Island resident Kane Martin to cap the number of detainees on Christmas Island by acknowledging the system was under strain.

Ten days ago 50 asylum-seekers died when their boat broke up in rough seas on approach to Christmas Island.

The Chief of Navy Russ Crane asserted on Friday that HMAS Pirie mobilised as soon as it received the call for help from the stricken vessel off Christmas Island.

THE Coalition has rejected a push by the Greens to boost the country's refugee intake to 20,000 people a year, arguing it could encourage more asylum-seekers to attempt the dangerous journey to Australia.


'No-fault' model for firings

SENIOR Liberals are ramping up a push for another industrial relations overhaul - including considering a "no-fault" dismissal system that would eliminate the need for arbitration to decide if sackings are fair or not.

Even though the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has declared that Work Choices is "dead, buried and cremated", a Coalition's post-election review is working on a policy to take to the next election to replace Labor's Fair Work system.

One plan being considered is to replace unfair dismissal laws, blamed for discouraging employment by small businesses, with a radical system modelled on the concept of no-fault divorce introduced in 1975.

The idea has been floated by the industrial relations consultant Grace Collier in a paper to be published next month in IPA Review, the journal of the free-market leaning Institute of Public Affairs.

"Our current unfair dismissal system encourages Australians to behave like greedy whingers," Ms Collier writes. "A no-fault dismissal system would set our heads right on the issue and provide for dignity of exit; allowing people to focus not on legal conflict but on managing departure in the chosen way whilst being encouraged to embrace the future opportunities that are always just around the corner."

Under the proposal, which is being cautiously supported by influential Liberals, employers would be able to sack workers with impunity, provided they offer a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition services.

Labor's Fair Work system, which broadened unfair dismissal laws, triggered a 63 per cent increase in unfair dismissal applications in its first year, Ms Collier writes.

"Every working day, regardless of fairness, truth or the merits, of their case, Australian employers collectively pay somewhere between $80,598.50 and $127,804.77 in 'go-away money' simply to avoid government arbitration."

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Eric Abetz said that although he did not want to comment on the merits of the proposal, "it is a concept I would be willing to look at".


All pervasive cronyism in the NSW Labor party

"Jobs for the boys"

WHEN Karryn Paluzzano, the former Penrith MP, rolled over to the Independent Commission Against Corruption back in May, admitting she had fiddled parliamentary expenses, Labor was in trouble and it knew it.

Internal party polling ahead of the Penrith byelection showed voters would abandon the ALP, fed up with the political circus in Macquarie Street while infrastructure and services worsened.

With its back to the wall, Labor needed just the right candidate in Penrith. The right candidate in those circumstances being someone who was under no illusion they could win and who would go to their slaughter with the minimum of fuss. Someone willing to be the face of humiliation.

Up stepped Penrith Labor councillor John Thain, looking like the most optimistic man in Sydney. He did all that could be expected of him, having been abandoned by the Premier who refused to set foot in Penrith during the entire campaign to protect her image from being associated with the defeat. Thain was left alone to wear the biggest swing against a government in the state's history.

It would be tempting to feel sorry for Thain but don't, he's fine. After all, this is NSW. This is Labor. Thain is now an adviser to Housing Minister Frank Terenzini. The job, which was not advertised publicly, comes with a six-figure salary.

He should not be singled out. A glance around his colleagues on the Penrith council reveals that virtually every Labor councillor either has or has had a paying job with a Labor state MP or the party.

Councillor Greg Davies was a staffer for retiring Mulgoa MP Di Beamer, councillor Karen McKeown worked for MLC Helen Westwood.

Councillor Prue Guillaume was employed directly by Sussex Street as training and campaigns co-ordinator until last year. In announcing Guillaume as Beamer's replacement to contest Mulgoa, the ALP preferred to dwell on her current job with the charity MS Australia.

The ALP has been at pains to present the clean-out of Labor's ranks - executed with aplomb by general secretary Sam Dastyari - as a renewal and an injection of fresh faces. Actually some familiar faces will benefit most. With the polls suggesting disaster, Labor can only expect to win seats in March with more than a 15 per cent margin.

The seats in that category include David Campbell's seat of Keira where Ryan Park, a former chief of staff to Campbell will contest. In the safe seat of Shellharbour, union organiser Anna Watson takes over from Lylea McMahon.

Swimming against the tide is Joe Tripodi's replacement in Fairfield: Guy Zangari, a teacher from Bonnyrigg. It's surely only a coincidence that Zangari's brother Peter worked as an adviser to Tripodi when he was minister for housing.

The stench of cronyism in NSW lingers. It's going to take an electoral thumping to bring about any genuine renewal in NSW Labor. Fear not, it's coming.


26 December, 2010

More secrecy from a Leftist government

The facts are poison to Leftism

THE Baillieu government says it has found proof the former Labor government politicised and interfered with the Freedom of Information process.

Adviser notes and briefings found in desk drawers in the premier's office reveal that John Brumby blocked the appointment of an FOI officer because he was advised "she has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment". The notes are the second instalment of damaging material apparently overlooked and left behind in desks by former advisers to Mr Brumby.

The first, revealed last week, was an adviser's black notebook that detailed dirt unit activities and referred to the emails of then shadow frontbencher David Davis. The Sunday Age understands more damaging material has been found and will eventually be released.

In a 2008 memo to the premier, an adviser named Alison recommended to Mr Brumby that he block two officers from receiving special powers to process FOI requests to his private office. One of Mr Brumby's key advisers was Alison Crosweller, but it is not certain the memo is from this Alison. The two new officers, from the legal branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, were suggested to the premier for his approval.

But in the memo to the premier, Alison says: "I am very nervous about delegating authority to one of the suggested officers. She has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment. Rather than approve one and not the other, suggest DO NOT APPROVE on the basis the [premier's private office] does not receive many requests and we'd prefer to work with current authorised officers."

Alison then recommends a form of words for Mr Brumby to reject the request for approval. Mr Brumby writes almost an exact copy of these words on the bottom of the brief requesting his approval.

The brief, seen by The Sunday Age, was written by the director of his legal department.

The former opposition and media have long suspected FOI was heavily monitored and influenced by the former government, but this appears to be the first proof of this interference.

The Baillieu government told The Sunday Age the former premier's actions showed he was prepared to disadvantage two public servants because one of them had performed her duties in compliance with the act.

The Minister for Corrections and Crime Prevention, Andrew McIntosh, says the Baillieu government will establish an FOI commissioner, who will be independent from government and political interference.

The commissioner will review FOI requests, develop and enforce professional standards and be an independent officer of the Parliament in the same way as the Ombudsman and Auditor-General, he said. Mr McIntosh said the commissioner would monitor all FOI requests, receive and investigate complaints and could inquire into the decision-making of all government FOI officers.

Opposition spokeswoman EmmaTyner declined to answer specific questions about the 2008 blocking of FOI officers by Mr Brumby. But she said: "Quite clearly, Ted Baillieu thinks it's more useful to spend his time searching through drawers for old documents rather than getting on with the job of fixing the problems, which he promised to do."

The first instalment of revealing information left behind by the former government was a black notebook belonging to Mr Brumby's strategic adviser, Simon Hammersley. It appeared to refer to emails "to and from" Mr Davis and could be the subject of an Ombudsman's inquiry.

The Baillieu government has written to Ombudsman George Brouwer asking him to investigate whether the former government inappropriately accessed the then opposition's emails.


Bullying and incompetence in a Left-run government railway system

Bureaucrats very commonly use bullying of employees to cover up their bungles. Now they are spending big to silence their outside critics as well

A website created by a disgruntled retired train conductor contains lurid allegations of extramarital affairs, sexual harassment, cronyism, safety breaches and workplace bullying - all aimed at the management of NSW's rural passenger train network.

CountryLink and RailCorp have spent close to $1 million in a seven-month effort to shut it down.

Since it appeared in May, the "CountryStink" website has become a lightning rod for disaffected and frustrated current and former staff wanting to vent their anger at top brass. It has had more than 500,000 hits.

The RailCorp Investigation Unit has questioned dozens of staff and seized computers from CountryLink depots in an effort to shut the site down. It also sent investigators overseas to track down the website's server. RailCorp has stopped its employees having access to the site.

The CountryStink creator, "Max", told The Sun-Herald he wanted to stop management's "rampant use of power". Max said people's careers had been ruined, families torn apart and passengers' safety compromised by managers who bullied and threatened workers. He said people who complained were transferred or forced to resign.

The website alleges that drivers of high-speed XPT trains were threatened with the sack if they slowed trains down on potentially unsafe parts of the track.

It alleges young female workers have been sexually harassed and that women have complained about having to sleep with bosses to get a promotion. The site alleges that managers were having extramarital affairs with more junior staff.

Max alleges that senior management has been ordering drivers to keep to the posted speed limits on tracks even though the ballast and soil under the rails had been undermined by heavy rain or flooding. Slowing down would affect on-time running statistics, Max said. "[They] put the safety of passengers at risk," Max said. "As a result some drivers were victimised to such an extent that some resigned, went back to CityRail or took stress leave."

Max also details a management crackdown on train hospitality staff toasting leftover bread from the buffet cars for their own consumption, managers promoting mates into senior positions and a cutback in the number of staff on night services, putting employees at risk of drunken assaults.

Max estimated that CountryLink had spent close to $1 million in trying to shut his website down. RailCorp would not confirm how much it had spent on hunting down Max.

RailCorp said it was investigating the matter and that under no circumstances was harassment of any kind acceptable at the organisation.


Hormone-treated beef off the shelves at Coles supermarkets in 2011

This will undoubtedly segment the market -- with food freaks buying their meat at Coles and others buying cheaper meat elsewhere. Are there enough food freaks to make it worthwhile for Coles? We will see, I guess. Richard Goyder is a very smart man, however, so he has probably guessed right

BEEF pumped with growth hormones will be banned by supermarket giant Coles from New Year's Day in an Australian first, sending shock waves through the meat industry. Industry experts predict higher beef prices as more customers demand hormone-free meat, which makes up about half of all beef sold in Australia.

Farmers have used hormone growth promotants (HGPs) to speed up muscle growth in cattle for more than 30 years, backed by rigorous safety approval from health authorities.

But in a survey of 1000 people by Meat and Livestock Australia, leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, almost half said they would consume less meat if it had added hormones, while 16 per cent would "never touch it again" and 15 per cent would "actively warn others".

Industry experts now fear a "knock-on effect" from the Coles ban if other retailers were forced to fall into line.

Coles has vowed to continue spending tens of millions of dollars a year absorbing the extra costs incurred by farmers so that consumers would not pay more. HGPs for cattle have been approved in Australia since 1979, but were banned by the European Union in 1988.

Without the HGPs, industry experts said another two million head of cattle would be needed to make up a shortfall in meat, creating environmental problems. "This has the potential to be very damaging to the beef industry and its reputation," Sydney University Prof Ian Lean said.

But Coles ambassador Curtis Stone said the industry needed to listen to consumer concerns. "The goal of the food industry should be to produce food as Mother Nature intended with as little additives as possible," Stone said. "As consumers, we have the power to make sure this happen."

Australian Cattle Council chief David Inall accused Coles of needlessly frightening customers. And CSIRO livestock industry chief Alan Bell said HGPs were "very safe and backed by science". "The problem is that the word 'hormone' is an emotive one," Prof Bell said.


A Labor party bully

This is just normal form for Schwarto. He is actually rather comical in his aggressiveness but those he attacks would be unlikely to see it that way

BLIGH Government bad boy Robert Schwarten is in strife again after publicly humiliating a top bureaucrat in an expletive-laden tirade at Premier Anna Bligh's Christmas drinks.

The Sunday Mail understands the Information Technology Minister verbally abused Community Safety director-general Jim McGowan because of the public servant's widely-known concerns that his department was next to receive Mr Schwarten's bungled payroll system.

The altercation at the Premier's annual Cabinet Christmas reception earlier this month came as Mr Schwarten's department was negotiating with Mr McGowan's agency about rolling out the payroll system for thousands of staff in corrective and emergency services in the next few years.

It is believed Mr Schwarten physically pulled Mr McGowan aside at the drinks and swore in full view of some of the hundreds of guests while the public servant remained silent.

Government sources say Mr McGowan has been adamant he will not impose the new payroll software on his 10,000 staff unless it is working properly, after thousands of Queensland Health staff went unpaid this year.

Asked on Friday whether there was physical contact with Mr McGowan at the Queensland Art Gallery event, Mr Schwarten refused interviews. In a statement he did not rule out touching the public servant but insisted there was "no physical aggression whatsoever".

"Jim McGowan and I have been mates for over 30 years," Mr Schwarten said. "We have had many robust exchanges during that time." He also claimed his comments to Mr McGowan did not relate to the payroll issue – but a witness said that was "absolute rubbish" and described Mr Schwarten's behaviour as "appalling".

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek demanded Mr Schwarten be brought to account for his actions. "There is no excuse for physical contact," he said. "The Premier should be getting her minister to explain in full what happened."

Mr McGowan declined to comment. Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Ken Smith said no formal complaint had been made.

The incident is not the first time Mr Schwarten has embarrassed the Government with his bad behaviour, with the Opposition recently dubbing him "The Aussie Joe Bugner" of State Parliament. In 2000, he was involved in a punch-up at a Labor Day barbecue with the husband of a federal MP.


Christmas message from Julia Gillard

Quite a good speech below. It could have been made by a conservative

In the Gillard family, Christmas is a time for tradition. Everyone has the same job on Christmas Day. I always get to peel the potatoes and carrots. We eat the same food in the same order. Dad tells the same jokes!

We get a little older each year, and the presents for my niece and nephew have changed as the years go by, but not too much else does.

I hope this Christmas you are able to share your own special traditions with people who you love and who love you in return. Whether that’s time in church, or with your family, or at the cricket or on the beach, or helping others, I hope this Christmas is a special one.

Christmas is also a time when we reflect on what’s been. After lunch on Christmas Day, I think many of us have that quiet moment where we look around and think, "all in all, we’re lucky to have each other". Certainly, that’s how I feel about our country this Christmas.

We are all Australians, all people of this place, and as a people, as a nation, we have got so much to be grateful for. Through it all, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. We are still lucky.

For some I know Christmas this year is a sad time. We lost a lot of brave Australians this year: from the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, from the 2nd Commando Regiment, from the Special Air Service Regiment, from 6 RAR.

They died for us and I know every Australian has a special thought for their partners and children, their families, and their mates, this Christmas. We don’t forget.

Just as Christmas reminds us of the good things we have, it can be a tough time for some among us. So if your Christmas is a sadder one this year because of family problems, or illness, or the loss of a loved one, I hope you know that you’re never alone.

2010 has been an eventful year in our country’s life, but above all else, we shouldn’t forget the most wonderful thing that happened this year. The drought broke in the eastern states at last.

Of course, it’s never easy on the land, and I know that now it’s flooding which is making life hard in many places even today, but we’re grateful for some of the rain at least. We think of the farmers still in drought. We wish some of the rain would come your way now too.

I want to say something to Australians who have to work at Christmas to serve and protect us - our police and fire fighters, our ambulance officers and nurses, emergency personnel and of course our troops abroad. So many people sacrifice their Christmas Day to make life better for others. It’s hard to think of a more generous Christmas present than that. Thank you.

Finally, whether you’re going around the corner or across the country please drive safely. Don’t make next Christmas a sad anniversary.

For all Australians, my wish is that this Christmas, wherever you are in our country or overseas, you have the chance to do those special things that mean Christmas for you, with people who are special to you. I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years.


25 December, 2010

A desperate Leftist government clings to secrecy

KRISTINA KENEALLY has made a fresh bid to derail an inquiry into the government's power sale by declaring it illegal, prompting the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, to accuse her of trying to intimidate potential witnesses.

A day after the Premier was accused of shutting down Parliament to avoid an inquiry into the $5.3 billion sale of NSW electricity assets, a parliamentary committee defied her by resolving to continue its investigation.

The inquiry, which is planned for January 17 and 18, will ask for evidence from the eight directors of Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy who resigned in protest over the sale, as well as serving board members and public servants.

The committee plans to deliver its findings on January 31, less than two months before the state election. But the government has left open the possibility of a legal challenge, based on advice from the Crown Solicitor in 1994, which suggests committees cannot function when Parliament has been prorogued, or shut down.

At a news conference, Ms Keneally said the advice meant "such committees have no legal standing and they cannot afford parliamentary privilege or parliamentary protection [and] they cannot summon witnesses". Asked if she believed the inquiry would be illegal, Ms Keneally responded: "The advice we have from the Crown Solicitor is, yes."

However, the clerk of the Legislative Council, Lynn Lovelock, has argued that the Crown Solicitor's view is "restrictive".

The uncertain legal status raises questions about whether witnesses, particularly company directors, would appear voluntarily to discuss sensitive commercial matters if they are not covered by parliamentary privilege.

Mr O'Farrell said he believed the government was trying to discourage witnesses from attending the inquiry by leaving open the option of a legal challenge. "What we've seen today is both the Attorney-General and the Premier leave open the option of challenging this inquiry and therefore challenging the privilege which might apply to the evidence of people who might front up," he said. "That's a clear attempt in my view to try to silence witnesses. It's a clear attempt in my view to try to discourage people from attending this inquiry."

Mr O'Farrell rejected Ms Keneally's argument that an upper house inquiry was unnecessary because the Auditor-General would report on the sale process. He said the Auditor-General was unlikely to report before September, well after the election.

The chairman of the committee, the Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile, said the inquiry aimed "to find the truth - facts, information - that will benefit the public and in the long term be of benefit to the taxpayers of this state".

Mr Nile released a letter sent to him by Mr Roozendaal's acting chief of staff, Michael Galderisi, the day before Parliament was prorogued, warning the "uncertainty" created by an inquiry could jeopardise the sale of electricity assets.

Mr Nile described the concerns as "valid" but said the committee decided to proceed because of Ms Lovelock's advice.


Struggling Labor faces hot summer

THE Labor Party has ended the year at a remarkable low for a party that won an election and finished up with positive polling numbers, if only just.

One of the key conspirators in the ousting of Kevin Rudd, the Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes, told me recently he believed Labor was at its lowest ebb since 1996.

That should be a worrying admission for the party faithful; 1996 was the year Labor fell to a record defeat after 13 years in office, losing to Paul Keating's nemesis John Howard and starting an 11 1/2-year stretch in the political wilderness.

Healing the party is the mantra Labor operatives are shopping around for the summer months. Julia Gillard recognises how divided the party is, so she intends to use the summer to forge unity before returning for the new parliamentary year in February on a strong footing to develop policy and attack the opposition.

It's a nice sounding theory, but if Gillard can't get enough clean political air to focus her energies on that task, she won't complete it. From the asylum-seekers' tragedy to the mining tax debate and the fallout from the WikiLeaks revelations, Gillard's summer so far has been no break. And the distractions (if you can call these incidents that) carry the added downside of throwing up more questions than answers about the government's core competency.

Traditionally, the summer months are a period of calm for a government - especially immediately after an election victory - and a period of destabilisation for an opposition. Opposition frontbenchers and backbenchers usually get edgy thinking about the long powerless haul ahead.

But this summer is different because the Coalition came closer to victory than it could have imagined 12 months ago. And the ongoing problems of the minority Labor government hold out opposition hope that a return to power might not have to wait until the end of the electoral cycle, which ensures discipline in the interim.

One senior MP went so far as to tell me he believed the next election was now the Coalition's to lose. As long as the opposition doesn't make any blunders, the government won't be able to pull itself out of the quagmire it is in.

The argument has merit when you look at the electoral map. Labor has 72 seats, as does the Coalition. Labor only gets to 76 with the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie and the rural independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. The Coalition's numbers swell to 74 with the support of the West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook and the independent Bob Katter: conservatives in conservative electorates.

When voters next go to the polls, the ageing Windsor is unlikely to contest (although he hasn't as yet announced plans to retire) and the much younger Oakeshott will have a serious credibility problem because of the way he has handled himself lately. You could almost consider the Coalition the favourite to win both seats (they were previously held by the Nationals), which effectively means it enters the electoral contest with a seats advantage.

A status quo result certainly won't do for the government. It needs to find a way to build on its present configuration of seats, which isn't unheard of, with governments having done so in 1993, 2001 and 2004. But this time it is going to be hard, especially if the government can't get clean air to sell its credentials.

The recent election loss for Labor in Victoria may make holding the large number of seats it has in the south hard for Gillard, although federal Labor will be hoping that because voters likely will have seen the back of state Labor in NSW and Queensland before the feds go to the polls, it will make winning seats in both states more likely.

The political divide to be watched next year will be the approach the two main parties take to issues affecting the two types of states across the nation: the mining states and the old manufacturing centres. Queensland and Western Australia voted in droves for the Coalition this year, just as Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria did for Labor. NSW is up for grabs, finely balanced courtesy of strong campaigning by Labor at the last election.

Labor plans to press ahead with its new mining tax, notwithstanding the debate that will hot up in the months ahead as to how it treats state royalties. Doing so is an appealing approach in non-mining centres, but entrenches the Coalition's advantage in the mining states.

The pivotal question for the electoral viability of the government is what happens in NSW: do the Labor Party's stocks rise with the death of NSW Labor at state level and courtesy of extra funding provided by the redistributive benefits of the mining tax? Or is Labor's reputation so tarnished that it can't recover so soon after a state drubbing?

And focusing on the important role of NSW in the coming year highlights that the state can't be viewed as a homogeneous entity. The western Sydney marginal seats vote very differently from those seats located in the state's coastal southern and northern corridors. Then there are the inner-city seats dominated by Labor but under constant threat from the presence of the Greens. If Labor does try to appeal to voters in the mortgage belt parts of the state, how the Liberals choose to award their preferences in inner-city areas could decide the fate of high-profile Labor frontbenchers such as Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek.

A fracturing of Australian society, whether it occurs between states or within them, naturally favours oppositions because they aren't the ones taking the daily decisions that upset people. That only becomes the opposition's concern once it wins power.

The conclusion, therefore, is that unless the Coalition turns on itself, it is the government that will have the tougher time next year. Whether it's policy, personal animosities flowing from the events of late last year, or the divisions in Australian society, Labor is the party likely to be hardest hit by these difficulties. And in a 24-hour news cycle you can learn about their problems every step of the way, making it a hard hurdle for Gillard to overcome.


Immigration starts deporting Papua New Guineans claiming Australian citizenship

IMMIGRATION officials will tonight begin deporting the group of 119 Papua New Guinean protesters who came to Australia by boat on Wednesday, just as another boatload is due to arrive.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman Sandi Logan said the protesters would begin to be deported by charter plane tonight, with the rest to follow. "We've got a plane going out shortly with the first load and then further flights in the morning and we'll have it all completed on Christmas Day," he said.

The group spent last night on Horn Island in a Customs detention centre and tents which had to be set up after facility was unable cope with the large number of people.

He said Customs intercepted the latest boat, believed to contain about 10 PNG nationals, late yesterday and they would spend the night on Horn Island before being returned alongside the other protesters tomorrow. "This group is all being returned and it's taken an enormous effort by the department to secure at very short notice charter aircraft, obviously at expense to the Australian taxpayer," he said.

The protesters are part of an organisation called Papua Australia Plaintiff United Affiliates, and believe they should be recognised as Australian citizens after losing their citizenship in 1975 when Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia.

But Mr Logan said a 2005 High Court decision had upheld the Australian law regarding the claims of the group and anyone seeking citizenship needed to follow official channels. "If they believe they have a right to Australian citizenship, as they have been told repeatedly, they must lodge an application at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby," he said.


Illegality pays

The story of a seeker after asylum in Australia

Hussein knows about 100 people who have taken their chances on smugglers' fishing boats in the past two years. In that time he has relocated to Puncak from another refugee program in Lombok.

All made it safely, as far as he knows. None was caught in the SIEV 221 horror last week. Hardly anyone he knows would be discouraged if they had already decided to go. One of those who went is Hussein's cousin, Ahmad, some are friends, most were just recent acquaintances: "I meet them in the market, it's good to talk to other Arabs, and they say in two days they will go to the boats; it's like hello-goodbye."

Hussein (whose real name has been withheld so not to further diminish his visa prospects) came from Baghdad where he worked as a video news cameraman.

He said he was threatened too often in the course of his work and, apparently, there was also a blood feud between his family and another. He arrived in Jakarta in early 2007 with a proper passport, about $US1000 and the intention of getting to Australia, but through the front door. "We have a saying that if one man knocks on the door and the other answers, both should be happy. I didn't want to sneak in like a thief.

But after almost four years in the UN High Commissioner for Refugee system, Hussein has moved no further than from Lombok to Puncak, a traffic-choked straggle of markets, shabby hotels, high-end resorts and mosques along 25km of the main road from Jakarta into the rain-drenched mountains.

However, the odds were dramatically more favourable, seven chances in 10, when cousin Ahmad arrived on Christmas Island late last year, though without refugee status and very much unwelcomed by the Australian government. Roughly 70 per cent of boat arrivals in the past decade have been granted refugee status and allowed Australian residency.

Hussein says when Ahmad phoned him recently he was already out of detention, living in Sydney and working as a men's hairdresser.

As the odds predicted, Ahmad jumped the queue and was rewarded by the system. Hussein stayed in his place and fell further behind. There couldn't be a better advertisement for the traffickers' service.

Or the mess that Australian refugee policy has now got itself into, with the niggardly distribution of visas in Indonesia - 550 between 2001 and last year - overwhelmed by this year's surge of more than 6230 boatpeople. For the first time this year, boat-borne asylum-seekers in Australia will outnumber those coming by aircraft.

But whereas only about 20 per cent of aircraft arrivals are accepted as refugees, the success rate for boatpeople is 70 per cent or greater.

And when they succeed, asylum-seekers occupy places in the overall humanitarian intake - currently 13,750 annually - that might have been taken by other displaced and victimised people, usually poorer and often more downtrodden.

When Julia Gillard and her ministers talk about "smashing the people-smugglers' business model", they neglect to acknowledge that these perverse consequences of Australia's current system are the key to the traffickers' success.

"The current approach massively disadvantages the people who are playing by the rules, firstly, and, secondly, those who don't have finances to be as mobile as the asylum-seekers," says Mirko Bagaric, a Deakin University law professor who spent five years as a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal.

Writing in The Australian this week, Mr Bagaric argued that boatpeople benefited unfairly at the expense of other refugees because of an undue reverence in legal and political human rights circles for the outdated asylum provisions of the 1951 Convention Relating to the State of Refugees.

However, he said yesterday, modern asylum-seekers claim preferential treatment "by having the temerity to force themselves on us, though you can't blame them for that . . . and having sufficient money to be mobile enough to do so".

Now, however, Mr Bagaric warns, boat arrivals are in such volumes that they threaten to overwhelm the country's whole refugee process.

"By the end of next year, at the current rate of increase, all 13,750 places will be filled by people who have forced themselves on us," says Mr Bagaric. "The whole quota will be filled by people who have self-selected."

He has proposed a dramatic solution: more than doubling the offshore refugee intake to 30,000 annually while at same time permanently refusing refugee status "to any person who arrives on our shores unannounced".

People-smugglers are currently succeeding, Mr Bagaric says, because their clients have the will and financial wherewithal to impose themselves on Australia's refugee system ahead of all the other claimants.

"Fine, but that's not the basis for enhanced moral concern or preferential treatment - in other areas of life, the fact that one person is more pushy than the others shouldn't qualify them for better treatment."


24 December, 2010


I expect that I will do some blogging on Christmas day but not sure how much

The Leftist NSW government tries to escape scrutiny by closing down parliament: Fails

THESE are the four men who upheld democracy yesterday, defying Labor's attempt to gag their inquiry into the shambolic power sell-off. Even as Treasurer Eric Roozendaal finally admitted Parliament was closed early simply to scuttle their work, chairman Fred Nile, Liberal Greg Pearce, Green David Shoebridge and National Trevor Khan stood up to the Government's intimidation to begin proceedings.

The three Labor members, Luke Foley, Greg Donnelly and Kayee Griffin, boycotted the meeting as Premier Kristina Keneally tried to pass off the early proroguing of Parliament as normal procedure.

"Any scrutiny should not be done by a politically motivated committee," Mr Roozendaal said. "Some of the present members of the committee have already said publicly and in Hansard they object to the transaction process. "It has been prorogued early, it has been prorogued later [before past elections] but at the end of the day we have got to work in the interests of the people of NSW." [The interests of the people of NSW are served by secrecy? Typical Leftist thinking]

Mr Roozendaal wants the Auditor-General, who would not report until after the coming election, to examine the sale. He declined to say if he had advised the Premier to go to the Governor on Tuesday to have Parliament closed. Mr Roozendaal had unsuccessfully tried to convince Mr Nile that day to scrap the inquiry. Both he and Ms Keneally claimed an inquiry would be inappropriate until the power sale is finalised.

Mr Shoebridge said Ms Keneally had miscalculated when she had prorogued Parliament in a bid to halt the inquiry. He criticised the premier for claiming the inquiry would be illegal and witnesses, who will include eight board members who resigned last week, would not be covered by parliamentary privilege. "This entire process has blown up in the face of the Premier and the ALP Government, they're trying to avoid scrutiny," he said.

"The approach of the Premier and the Attorney-General suggesting the people who appear before this committee may be subject to defamation, may be subject to legal actions, couldn't be anything other than attempting to scare off witnesses so the whole story doesn't come out."

Mr Nile said he wanted to get to the truth and added: "I am very sorry the three Labor members, I assume on instruction from the Government, did not attend the meeting."


Anna Bligh opens door to nuclear power

ANNA Bligh has backed calls for the Labor Party to review its policy on nuclear power. The Queensland Premier has warned that renewable sources cannot meet the surging demand for baseload electricity. Ms Bligh and ALP national president said development of the only other viable alternative energy, hydro-electricity, had been hamstrung by resistance to new dams.

Ms Bligh said pointedly that "parts of the environment movement" had shifted on the nuclear option, and now supported it as an abatement measure for climate change.

Ms Bligh's comments to The Australian reflect an important shift on nuclear power among Labor leaders, who now cite cost and perception issues rather than philosophical considerations as the impediment to introducing nuclear energy. She joins senior Labor figures including federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, right-wing Australian Workers Union leader Paul Howes, former NSW premier Bob Carr and Labor senators Steve Hutchins and Mark Bishop in supporting a review of the ALP's long-standing ban on nuclear power, most likely at the party's national conference next December

The conference is already set to become a political battleground over gay marriage.

In an interview with The Australian, Ms Bligh said the national conference was "where these debates should happen. We shouldn't be frightened of them."

The office of NSW Premier Kristina Keneally said yesterday she was "open to a public debate" on nuclear energy. "As the Prime Minister has indicated previously, the Labor Party has had a longstanding policy of opposition to nuclear power," Ms Keneally's spokesperson said. "National conference has always been the place to debate changes to our national party policy. "Any change to Labor's long-stated policy against nuclear power would have to consider a range of issues, including safety and cost."

The senior Labor Premier, Mike Rann, is heavily invested in expanding uranium mining in South Australia but his spokesman said he would not comment on whether nuclear power should be on the agenda at the national conference, which has been brought forward from 2012.

The Australian understands Labor's NSW division has decided to bring its state conference forward from its usual date in October to July, partly to frame its position on nuclear power. A NSW Labor source said the move was to allow issues such as nuclear power and gay marriage to be thrashed out in advance of the national conference.

By bringing the national conference forward, Labor is trying to avoid having internal policy brawling drag into the election year of 2013.

Ms Bligh said the nation was entering "an environment where people are questioning coal-fired power". With a carbon tax back on the agenda, and Julia Gillard nominating 2011 as a year of decision and delivery on climate change, among other issues, Ms Bligh said it was "perfectly understandable" for nuclear power to be in the frame.

The Prime Minister, however, has played down the push within Labor ranks for a nuclear review.

The government's chief scientist, Penny Sackett, said this month that nuclear power should be considered as part of a suite of options aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Her comments came as a report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering found that nuclear, combined-cycle gas turbine and wind power would provide the cheapest low-carbon electricity, and were the most worthy of investment.

Ms Bligh said energy was "one of the big policy challenges for the nation" and a carbon tax "will be part of that". "We have . . . set ourselves renewable energy targets that almost by definition are going to be more expensive than our traditional forms of energy, and there's going to be a limit to the public appetite for that . . . So what are the alternatives?" the Queensland Premier said. "And . . . people are, you know, increasingly loath to consider hydro-electric power because they don't want dams."

Ms Bligh said other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, could not produce sufficient baseload power. "I think it is perfectly understandable why nuclear comes on to the agenda . . . as people are genuinely looking for what is a cleaner alternative," she told The Australian. "And I think it is quite interesting that's now coming as much from some parts -- not all, but some parts -- of the environmental movement, as it is from other parts of the energy sector. "As we move towards a carbon tax, then that price differential might well start to play out differently."

However, Ms Bligh cautioned that any discussion about nuclear power for Australia remained theoretical, and not just because the cost was "prohibitive". "I don't know of any suburb that would want it," she said.

"I think there are still very genuinely held concerns about safety, and in an environment . . . where we have other alternatives then I think the prospect of one (a nuclear power plant) in an Australian context in the near future is very slim."

Ms Bligh affirmed that she had no plans to relax Queensland's ban on uranium mining, even though it is now allowed in South Australia and Western Australia, as well as the Northern Territory.

Although Queensland allows uranium exploration, Ms Bligh said she would not take up the mining issue during the term of the current parliament. "It's not something on my agenda for the next election . . . it's the sort of thing, frankly, I don't have any intention of revisiting."


Australia's charming Muslims again

THREE worshippers from inner-city mosques were confirmed as Melbourne's second Islamic terrorism cell when a Supreme Court jury convicted them of conspiring to plan a terrorist attack. Two other men, including one who warned that an attack in Australia would be "a catastrophe", were found not guilty.

Their target was the Holsworthy army barracks in Sydney's south-west. Their aim was to enter the barracks armed with military weapons and kill 500 personnel before they were killed or ran out of ammunition.

But there was no evidence that the three found guilty - Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, 34, Saney Edow Aweys, 27, of Carlton, and Nayef El Sayed, 26, of Glenroy - had weapons when they were arrested on August 4 last year.

Federal police monitored their conversations in Somali, Arabic and English for almost a year as they sought a fatwa, or religious ruling, on the permissibility under Islam of launching an attack on the military in Australia. A Somali sheikh suggested it would do more harm than good for Australian Muslims.

The convictions end a 15-week trial and come after the jury of eight men and four women deliberated for more than 47 hours.

The verdicts drew no immediate reaction from the men. But Fattal, who appeared to be praying before the verdicts were delivered, called out to the jurors as they were dismissed: "I respect you. Islam is a true religion. Thank you very much."

The two found not guilty were Abdirahman Ahmed, 26, of Preston, and Yacqub Khayre, 23, of Meadow Heights. Both were embraced by the three guilty men before they left the dock.

When asked about the convictions of his co-accused, Mr Ahmed said: "It's unfortunate but this is God's will. I just want to tell them to be patient. They'll get out one day." He planned to spend the rest of the day at home. "See my daughters. Been a long time."

The federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the investigation into the group, code-named Operation Neath, was an example of state and federal police and intelligence agencies co-operating.

The court heard that the group's motivation was anger at the earlier, and what they regarded as wrongful, jailing of a group of seven Muslim men on terrorism charges. Those convictions resulted in sentences ranging from four years' jail to 15 years' jail. The men convicted yesterday were also angry at the deployment of Australian military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Fattal, Aweys and El Sayed will be sentenced next year. A pre-sentencing mention hearing is set for January 24.


Would-be Australians to be sent home to New Guinea

EMERGENCY accommodation was being organised last night for 119 protesters after they made a risky journey in dinghies from Papua New Guinea to the Torres Strait.

Immigration officials are expected to deport the group of PNG nationals today after they were intercepted in Australian waters on Wednesday. The group, which included some children, arrived on 11 boats, all of which have now been confiscated by the Department of Immigration.

The protesters are being housed on Horn Island in a Customs detention centre, with the children accommodated in hotels on the island.

The people belong to an organisation called Papua Australia Plaintiff United Affiliates. They want Australia to recognise that Papuans were not given a choice to remain Australians when PNG gained independence in 1975. They claimed twice as many people could join them within days, although the Department of Immigration vowed to return any more PNG nationals who entered Australia illegally to their homeland.

The Courier-Mail has learned that Immigration and Customs officials had been monitoring the group for days and were aware that they would set out in the dinghies for the hazardous six-hour journey to Australia.

It is understood an advance party left earlier to ensure the journey would be safe for the rest of the group.

Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan labelled the action by the group, which has been demanding Australian citizenship for a decade, as pointless. "Frankly, this is a waste of a lot of people's time – Customs on the water, Queensland police on the water," Mr Logan told ABC Radio. "Immigration officials have much better things to be doing than dealing with this sort of prank that this group is trying on," he said.

A Department of Immigration spokesman yesterday confirmed that nine PNG nationals were intercepted late on Wednesday near Cape York. They were refused entry and detained. "A second group of up to 110 people was intercepted at Warrior Reef and is currently being escorted to Horn Island," the spokesman said.

"The Australian Government's message to these people is clear – they have shown blatant disregard for our laws by trying to enter the country despite being told on numerous occasions the correct procedures to follow when applying for citizenship and we will be resolving this situation expeditiously. "An application for citizenship by a person who does not have lawful authority to enter and remain in Australia poses no barrier to us returning them home."

The protesters would have their boats confiscated while Immigration officials conduct an assessment of their claims. They would then be returned to PNG at the first available opportunity, the Immigration spokesman said.


23 December, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Julia is the real Grinch of Christmas

Another aggressive Muslim -- threatens woman

But now he's whining

A PERTH doctor will find out tomorrow if he becomes the first person in WA to have his vehicle permanently confiscated under road rage legislation. Ala’A Mohammed Ali Al Rammahi, 44, of Noranda, was fined $1000 and has his licence suspended for nine months after pleading guilty to reckless driving in September.

The GP drove his Alfa Romeo through a roundabout in March as he attempted to overtake a woman with her two children in the car.

The woman feared a collision and sounded her horn, prompting the doctor to chase her for several kilometres. She drove at high speed trying to lose her pursuer and at one point ran a red light. The woman drove past an unmarked police car and the doctor cut in front of the vehicle, almost causing a collision.

Police alleged he then approached the woman in a threatening and aggressive manner when all three vehicles came to a halt. His vehicle was impounded for 28 days.

In giving evidence at Perth Magistrates’ Court today, the doctor said he was suffering financial hardship and his two medical practices were not making any money. “I haven’t been paid since the (last) medical centre opened in April,” he said.

The court heard that payments on the Alfa Romeo, which the GP estimated to be worth $17000 to $20,0000, were in arrears although he was expected to have the estimated $6700 owing on the car paid off by March next year.

The doctor said he now has to rely on taxis to get to and from work and has had to cancel home visits. He said his wife had given up her university course to help him commute but she was now overseas.


Another bungled Greenie scheme in Qld.

THE State Government has been accused of a pink-batts-style subsidy debacle after hundreds of solar hot water system installations were found to be defective and even dangerous.

More than 400 systems funded by the Government's solar hot water rebate scheme were found to be faulty or illegally installed on the Gold Coast alone, with hundreds more discovered in Brisbane.

Faults include a failure to install temper valves, which prevent people being scalded, and the use of plastic pipes instead of copper. Some systems have been installed by people with no proper qualifications.

The Gold Coast City Council said the large number of defective solar systems was "nothing short of alarming".

A spokesman said the Government had been warned the systems should be inspected before the rebates were paid but this had been ignored.

He said it had echoes of the Federal Government's controversial pink batts roof insulation scheme, where widespread dodgy installations led to several deaths.

Gold Coast City Council planning committee chairman Ted Shepherd said more than a third of the 1080 rebate-funded solar hot water systems installed on the Coast were found by council inspectors to be defective or installed by unlicensed or unqulaified plumbers. "The 430 breaches are nothing short of alarming," he said.


Fisheries need to be protected -- sensibly

That very statement is going to land me in hot water with thousands of Australian recreational anglers, whose pasttime, and in some cases livelihood, is under genuine threat from the implementation of marine sanctuaries and no-fishing zones around the country.

I say it, though, to make it known right off the bat that I am an environmentalist, and have been a Greens voter in the past. You won’t find many anglers who believe that protecting our oceans isn’t crucial, and it is in this sense the truth has been lost in an ongoing heated debate.

The ‘us and them’ battle for access to fishing spots has painted us bloodthirsty murderers and the Marine Parks Authority as knights in shining green armour.

In reality, anglers are generally far more passionate and environmentally conscious than most of the people I meet; the types of people who sternly remind me of the dire situation our oceans are in while munching on their tuna sushi rolls or fish and chips.

Let it be known: most recreational anglers want marine parks. What we don’t want is marine parks in their current form.

For God’s sake, hand down tighter bag limits and bracketed size limits to protect large breeding fish. Please, create no-take zones like those so effective in our native freshwater fisheries during important spawning times for demersal species. By all means, implement catch-and-release-only zones and lure-fishing only zones in some areas.

Ban the use of stainless steel hooks and make lead sinkers things of the past. Limit and strictly monitor commercial quotas even further. Get more Fisheries officers out on the water to enforce the rational rules that, in many cases, are already in place.

Make sense? Of course, but such practical measures for protecting our recreational fisheries also sound like a lot of work, planning, money, communication and genuine scientific research. Wouldn’t it be easier to just cordon off massive sections of known fish-holding areas and slap a blanket ban on all forms of fishing in them? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you marine parks as they currently exist.

News flash: fish swim, a lot.

Like us, their movement is often motivated by the availability of food and sex, but other factors we can’t relate to as much, including tide, moon phase, barometric pressure and water temperature/quality play their part, too. Closures and restrictions relating to recreational angling should take the mobility of fish and the seasonal and biological factors that influence it into account.

I know the thought of a huge area of protected happy fish warms the cockles of the heart, but there are more practical measures to take that will probably do our fisheries more good while being fair to those that love getting out on the water and wetting a line.

I do not feel comfortable with the fate of my access to my favourite fisheries resting in the hands of environmentalist groups whose very methods of research and implementation betray they have never held a fishing rod in their lives.

The dark days of full iceboxes of slaughtered fish and trophy weigh-ins are in the past. Catch-and-release is sweeping recreational fishing and more anglers than you’d think are extremely conscious of their impact.

The bad eggs remain, and bloodthirsty redneck anglers are still, unfortunately, out there. Know though that they do not represent a majority of fishing Aussies, most of whom are only disgruntled about the management of our fisheries and marine parks because they are not being involved in the process.

The moral high ground of “the better interest of our fisheries and planet” that the marine parks advocates like to claim in their defence of no-take reserves shrinks to the size of an anchovy if you take the time to actually discuss the issue with an informed recreational angler.


Bible study opens door to mastering literature

David Hastie

In this yuletide Tony Abbott went on record again as regarding the Bible as essential for all Australian schools. "It is important for people to leave school with some understanding of the Bible," he responded to a question from the floor at his Penrith community forum on November 29. "It is impossible to imagine our society without the influence of Christendom."

Abbott stated a similar position in December 2009, drawing the ire of ACT Labor Senator Kate Lundy, prominent Muslim academic Ameer Ali and Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, who stated: " ultimately we consider it a private matter for parents and their children". Is it?

In my role as an English and history teacher, rather than as a person of faith, I am convinced we disadvantage our public school students by not acquainting them with the meta-structures, motifs and moral queries of the Abrahamic scriptures. And I am not alone.

Cantankerous atheist Christopher Hitchens declared in 2006: "You are not educated if you don't know the Bible. You can't read Shakespeare or Milton without it . . . And with the schools now, that's what I hate about secular relativism. They're afraid of insurance liability. They don't even teach it as a document. They stay out of the whole thing to avoid controversy."

Indeed, when studying literature, children now in Australian faith-based schools (about 32 per cent of total enrolments, and much higher in senior secondary) enjoy a significant advantage over their state-school peers. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Bronte (both), George Eliot, Hopkins, Hardy, T.S.Eliot, Steinbeck, Beckett, Yeats, Plath, Golding, Attwood and many, many others, require more than a passing knowledge of the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments.

The necessary time taken to induct students unfamiliar with them when studying literature is time saved in faith-based schools.

And it's not just Western texts: post-colonial writers such as Rushdie, Allende, Marquez, Neruda and lots more are infused with biblical material. Emerging Australian "canons" - Hart, Murray, Winton, Harwood, Dawe, Keneally and so forth - are also littered with biblical plot lines and motifs. With the shift of the New Australian English Curriculum back to a more "canonical" approach to teaching literature, this inequity is only set to intensify.

Similarly in teaching history, ancient religion is extra weird for students who can't access the language and categories of our own Western (even secular) religiosity.

So too medieval and renaissance history, the Elizabethan era, the English republic, the Reformation, the post-Christian Enlightenment, the American and French revolutions, anti-slavery movements, Darwin, American civil rights, Australian stolen generations, and political language of the Cold War. These are all intrinsically informed by explanations, motivations and the language of the Bible. The same could be equally said for the study of film, visual art and music.

British educationalist John Hull describes the phenomena of "bafflement" in adolescents: suddenly realising their lived experience contradicts their education. If an institution continues to dogmatically hold the line in such matters, students develop what he terms "learning sickness" or "ideological enclosure", ultimately rejecting what they have learned, along with its institutional context.

Ironically, he was describing fundamentalist religious schools, yet his critique applies to much of Australian state education where religion is concerned, effectively excised from curriculum as a "non-topic". Hence, the master-originating Urtext of the Bible is treated as the "untext".

Yet students continually stumble across it in their novels and history lessons, in their homes, in public debate, in geopolitics, in the playground, and become baffled by the contradiction.

Certainly, religious proselytising is inappropriate through the state curriculum: parents thus inclined can send their child to a faith-based school. But vital cultural knowledge is vital to the universal "public guarantee".

Narratives and motifs of Abrahamic scriptures form a vitally significant mythic text for Western civilisation, and are also important for Jewish and Islamic civilisations.

After all, curriculum is always about what is deemed as important. Existing Australian English curricula, and the New Australian English Curriculum, for example, rightly regard Aboriginal spirituality as nationally important. Indigenous dreaming stories are thus mandated and studied as "canonical" texts.

Yet, even though these are obviously religious in character, they are clearly not to be treated as "religious tracts", but rather as significant cultural texts.

Why should we not also endow our children with understanding of Western literary and historical heritage in the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments?

Abbott may be regarded as the mad monk, but in the case of the Bible in schools, there's certainly method in him, particularly considering the vast amount of Australians vaguely sentimental about Christianity, or Christmas, or voting.


22 December, 2010

Stupid Federal cops cost the taxpayer big

MOHAMED Haneef has reportedly been awarded about $1 million in compensation after he was wrongly detained on terrorism related charges in 2007. Charges against the Indian born doctor were later dropped as prosecutors admitted bungling the case, and an independent inquiry cleared Dr Haneef of any wrongdoing.

Yesterday, Dr Haneef was awarded a substantial but confidential amount of compensation following negotiations with the Federal Government. Now it has been reported by the Times of India that amount could be as much as $1 million.

Kevin Andrews was the immigration minister at the time and last night said he had been advised defamation action against him had been dropped. He added that he'd made no apology, nor had any compensation been paid in relation to the action.

Today, Dr Haneef's lawyer, Rod Hodgson, declined to comment on Indian media reports that the settlement was about $1 million, the ABC reported. Mr Hodgson would only say the settlement was "substantial" and Dr Haneef was "delighted" with the deal.


Another reason to avoid Melbourne trains

Ticket inspectors caught on CCTV assaulting passengers on Melbourne's trains. And the Greenies want subject us all to the risk of this!

ROGUE ticket inspectors have been caught bashing passengers and being given a free rein to use excessive force on Melbourne's trains. CCTV footage shows passengers being thrown to the ground, grabbed by the throat and tackled by gangs of aggressive ticket inspectors who are alleged to have filed false reports claiming they were the victims.

A scathing report by Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer tabled in Parliament yesterday found that even when the incidents were referred to the Department of Transport no action was taken against the inspectors. "In my view this demonstrates that authorised officers and their managers are clearly not aware of the limitations on their appropriate use of their powers, or are ignoring them," he said.

Among the most serious incidents uncovered in the investigation were:

A PLAIN clothed inspector with a previous criminal history pushed two youths from a moving train on to a platform at Ringwood station in March.

AN INSPECTOR laid a running tackle, forced a commuter on to a seat and possibly grabbed him by the throat after claiming he was spat on at Lilydale station, which was found later to be a lie.

AN OFFICER assaulted a commuter and four other inspectors tried to cover it up, despite CCTV footage showing the passenger being pushed backwards on to a chair and being grabbed by the throat.

As well as a string of aggressive incidents, the ombudsman found ticket inspectors were authorised and re-authorised to issue fines despite having poor records.

One inspector had incurred more than $8000 in traffic fines, while another had an intervention order imposed for violence and two others had been charged with drug possession.

The ombudsman began the investigation after 189 complaints were made by passengers fined over such things as travelling without a ticket. Overall, the Department of Transport issued 171,835 infringements in the 2009-10 financial year, generating $15.6 million in fines.

But the ombudsman found those handing out the fines weren't trained well enough to use discretion when dealing with passengers.

Mr Brouwer also found the Department of Transport was not rigorous or transparent enough when dealing with ticket inspectors' reports, while commuters who complained about their treatment did not even get a response.

Until March this year a single administration officer had to process up to 200,000 infringements a year - meaning they had just 10-15 seconds to decide who received a fine and who did not.

However, there was some good news for fined passengers with half of the almost 30,000 disputed infringements being torn up.


Another stupid "Green" scheme bites the dust

In the latest environmental bungle to plague the Gillard Government, a $130 million program to help households go green was yesterday scrapped before it even started.

The cancellation of the Green Loans program and now its replacement, Green Start, leaves the Federal Government without a major scheme to help Australians tackle rising power costs and climate change in their own homes.

The mishandled policy has also left the Government with a $30 million bill to help the estimated 10,000 green loans assessors who will be left without work from February next year when the existing scheme ends.

But those who never got a job will have to wait up to 12 months to get a refund on their $3000 training costs while contracted assessors will get $2500 to upgrade their skills.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday insisted a number of positives had come from the program. "Hundreds of thousands of home sustainability assessments have been conducted and I think have been conducted professionally," he said. "I think that's been of significant benefit to many households and the Government will continue to look for effective value-for-money programs that can assist households achieving improvements."

Mr Combet said any new household abatement assistance would not be considered until the Government decided how to put a price on carbon, a process which will ramp up next year.

He said there were too many risks to go ahead with the Green Start program amid concerns about poor quality data from home assessments already conducted under the Green Loans program.

The loans component of the $175 million scheme was cancelled in July after a damning audit found widespread problems with the scheme including mismanagement and breaches of Government guidelines.


Fired Principal in line to return to school

A difficult school got a capable principal for once -- so the bureaucrats fired her. They should have stood up for her but were too gutless. Amusing that the bureaucrat who fired here has now himself been fired, though. Background here

FORMER Coober Pedy Area School principal Sue Burtenshaw could return to the school she was ousted from if she wins an appeal. But the school will start 2011 with another principal appointed for Term 1 while the matter is resolved. The Education Department cannot appoint a permanent replacement until the appeal is settled.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled Ms Burtenshaw could continue with her appeal through the Teachers Appeal Board, after the department sought clarification on whether her challenge could be heard by the board.

Ms Burtenshaw has appealed against the disciplinary decision of former chief executive Chris Robinson, and also the separate decision to transfer her, which was handed down in July.

She was put on "special leave" in January so the department could investigate concerns raised by parents and the community about the principal's alleged unreasonable disciplinary action and abrasive behaviour.

The Education Department will now face the Teachers Appeal Board. "A principal has been appointed (to the area school) for Term 1, and term-by-term appointments of that principal will be made until the outcome of the appeal is known," a department spokeswoman said.

At the time of Ms Burtenshaw's transfer, Mr Robinson - who has since been sacked by Education Minister Jay Weatherill - said it was not disciplinary action but in the best interest of the school community that the principal did not return.


New mining tax proposals

The problem

RESOURCES Minister Martin Ferguson has savaged both the political judgment and the policy integrity of his own Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan in an extraordinary way. Ferguson has signed off on a document, without qualification, that effectively states Gillard and Swan are either incompetent or deceitful or some combination of both.

This conclusion is not denied by the fig leaf which the report from the so-called Policy Transition Group tries to throw over the controversy about state royalties on mining companies and the Federal Government's proposed resources tax (MRRT).

In order to "solve", actually only postpone, one of the three big disasters plaguing the preceding Rudd government, incoming PM Gillard did a deal with the mining industry.

Again, actually, she didn't do the deal with the industry as such but only with the very big end of town: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. The absolutely critical part of the deal was that all state royalties paid by mining companies would be credited against their MRRT liability. If she and Swan had not made that promise, the big three mining companies would not have called off their advertising campaign against the tax and the Gillard-Swan government.

Then, after the election, the Government said that only royalties in place at the time of the announcement of the amended tax would now be credited, plus any future royalties that had been announced at that time but not yet implemented. Gillard and Swan welshed on a specific promise. Further, they have both emphatically denied it was ever made, against the utterly undeniable written commitment they gave.

The Policy Transition Group which Ferguson co-leads with former BHP chairman Don Argus "recommends there be full crediting of all current and future state and territory royalties under the MRRT". The use of the word "recommends" is a fig leaf, to modify the clear repudiation of Gillard and Swan. It's not something new. A more accurate word would have been "endorses".

Further, the Ferguson-Argus report went on to again "recommend" that the federal, state and territory governments put in place "arrangements to ensure that state and territory governments do not have an incentive to increase royalties on coal and iron ore".

This was both further fig leaf over Gillard and Swan's incompetence/deceit and also a shovel to try to dig them out of the hole they've dug for themselves and the Government. For very simply they could have created a big new tax which could end up generating zero or close to zero revenue for Canberra, which of course explains why they welshed.

If they'd stuck to their initial promise, states could just increase their royalties to soak up whatever the MRRT might have raised. Because they are different taxes it wouldn't be exact but the states could certainly get most of the money.

So although Ferguson (and Argus) have thrown Gillard and Swan a couple of fig leafs, they have left them up the creek without much of a paddle. All they can do is to try to persuade the states to promise not to increase royalties, to leave the money for Canberra. But why should the three that matter, Western Australia, Queensland and NSW, do so?

If Anna Bligh in Queensland did, she would turn what is going to be a nasty defeat into a NSW-level obliteration.

This was supposed to be the "easy" one of the three big promises Gillard made before the election. It's now a complete debacle with a really big new tax that will directly hit every Australian coming up behind.


The dubious "solution"

WAYNE Swan plans to force premiers to cap state mining royalties or face financial penalties. This comes after a government-initiated taskforce into its revised mining tax found Labor should honour its peace deal with the industry.

The backdown by the Gillard government, which accepted yesterday that the agreement with mining companies meant all current and future state royalties be credited against their federal tax exposure, came as the Treasurer faced anger from premiers. They are reserving their right to set royalty rates and vowing to fight the commonwealth through the Council of Australian Governments.

As each level of government positioned to defend its taxation rights, the Minerals Council of Australia backed Mr Swan, subject to further consultation on the fine detail of his plan.

The developments came after the committee established to examine the implementation of the mineral resources rent tax - to be levied at 30 per cent on the profits of coal and iron ore producers - yesterday presented a report that resolved the long-running standoff between Canberra and the resources sector over the tax.

When Julia Gillard signed a deal in June with the three big miners - BHP Billion, Rio Tinto and Xstrata - to create the MRRT, she agreed that mining companies would be able to credit all royalties paid to states against their MRRT exposure. After the West Australian government indicated it planned to lift its royalty rates, the Prime Minister and Mr Swan said they would not write blank cheques for states and that only increases announced or scheduled by May 2 would be able to be credited. This created fear in the industry that the government would renege on the agreement.

The policy transition committee, led by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, yesterday made it clear the commonwealth should stick to its deal - a position Mr Swan accepted.

The committee, which consulted widely with the mining industry, said the commonwealth should agree to cover all present and future state royalties and recommended Mr Swan negotiate with states and territories about creating a mechanism to remove incentives for future increases in state royalties.

Although Mr Swan would not comment on how he might address the issue, the commonwealth has not ruled out docking GST payments to any state that lifts royalties in the future. "There's always been issues about whether state government will agree to this or that," he said. "At the end of the day, it gets worked out. I don't intend to endorse or reject every recommendation today but I can say this: there is a lot of common sense in this report. We can't give a green light to the states to increase royalties endlessly."

Mr Ferguson said it would be wrong of any state or territory to increase royalties because this could damage its attractiveness to investors. "In my opinion, we all have to live with it (the committee's report) because it provides the best possible outcome," he said.

"It also sends a message to all of us: no more. From a royalty point of view, it's inefficient. They (the mining industry) are in favour of a profits-based taxation system."

States wasted no time in asserting their rights. Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh declared: "We are very clear here in Queensland that constitutionally as a sovereign state in our own right, we reserve the right to set appropriate royalties which are returned to Queenslanders for the minerals that are taken out of our state.

"If that has consequences for federal arrangements, then that's something that would need to be negotiated between the mining companies and the federal government."

West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett said the commonwealth could not withhold GST revenue without the agreement of all states. "Western Australia will not agree to handing over GST revenues to the commonwealth." Mr Barnett said. "My advice to Julia Gillard is: have a nice Christmas, a happy new year, sit down quietly and think about it and realise that this tax proposal is a dog. Just get rid of it."

The Victorian Coalition government's Resources Minister, Michael O'Brien, said he would not allow his state's taxpayers to "fill the federal Labor government's budget black hole", insisting royalties had always been a state right.

The Argus committee, as well as recommending future royalty hikes be covered, also recommended that the point at which the tax applied be almost immediately after the ore was taken out of the ground - before any processing - a partial win for magnetite ore miners.

It also said smaller miners should be gradually exposed to the mineral tax when their profits hit $50m and not feel the full force of it until they reached $100m.

The government welcomed a recommendation to establish an implementation group, comprising industry representatives, taxation experts and officers from the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, Treasury and the Australian Tax Office.

The panel was also "strongly" of the view that the ATO should be properly resourced to ensure effective implementation of the new tax arrangements.

In May, the commonwealth proposed a 40 per cent resource super-profits tax after a review of taxation by Treasury secretary Ken Henry called for a tax on mining industry profits to give Australians a greater share of the proceeds of the mining boom and help deal with the emergence of a two-speed economy. Proceeds were to be used to fund a reduction in company tax, an increase in superannuation savings and extra spending in infrastructure, particularly in Queensland and WA.

After a vicious industry backlash that contributed to Labor's decision to dump Kevin Rudd, Ms Gillard proposed the MRRT as a compromise. Yesterday, the Argus committee's report backed the concept of a profits tax, describing royalties as inflexible and unable to capture "the economic rents" during a boom.

"Through the implementation of the MRRT, Australia has the opportunity to substantially improve the overall outcome for the taxation of coal and iron ore in this country," it said. "It provides a way to meet the needs of the states and territories and capture more of the profits and the peak of the resources cycle in a way royalties alone cannot, for the benefit of all Australians."

Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said Labor had mishandled the tax and the report covered much of the "basic design and consultation work that should have been done months ago". "Almost six months after Julia Gillard's pre-election quick fix, the impasse continues and the government's only solution seems be veiled threats of blackmail to prevent states from increasing royalties."


21 December, 2010

Summer freeze in Australia!

Australia generally is having an unusually cool December. I cannot remember cool nights ever before lasting this far into December -- and I live in the subtropics! Or as it says here: "Brisbane is experiencing its coldest December minimums in nearly a decade, with temperatures five degrees below average. The city last night reached 14.7 degrees, far below the average December minimum of 20.3" -- JR

Thongs and board shorts gave way to beanies and scarves yesterday as summer gave way to a wintry blast of snow and icy temperatures in the country's southeast.

While the bitter freeze in Europe continues, Victoria and NSW have had a cold snap of their own, with off-season ski slopes transformed into winter wonderlands. About 30cm of snow fell at Perisher in NSW yesterday, while Victoria's Mount Hotham received a 10cm dusting on Sunday.

Charlotte's Pass in the NSW Snowy Mountains also received a 10cm sprinkling of snow, prompting would-be bushwalkers to don clothing more suitable for skiing.

It was surprising to see the Kosciuszko Chalet Hotel blanketed with snow at this time of year, resort manager Michelle Lovius told The Australian yesterday. "I'm sitting inside in my scarf and beanie," she said. "When you walk in it, it's up past your ankles and it's just started snowing heavily again. "

In Sydney yesterday, there were blustery winds and unseasonably low temperatures of just 13C. The western suburb of Horsley Park recorded 9.8C and the Blue Mountains dropped to -2C.


Preliminary pricing for fibre broadband very high

And that's only for starters. Government cost estimates are always way lower than the final figure. For comparison, most wireless broadband services at the moment cost less than $20 p.m. -- and such services suit many people perfectly well

HOME owners could expect to pay between $53 and $58 a month for a basic internet service under the National Broadband Network. NBN Co will charge broadband retailers a uniform national wholesale fee of $24 a month for the cheapest internet package.

But retail prices are forecast to jump significantly for consumers who are looking to get a high-speed internet package with a download allowance of 500GB.

Estimated retail pricing contained in the NBN Co business case, which was released yesterday, forecasts consumers will pay about $55 for the basic internet service with speeds of 12 megabits per second and a monthly data allowance of 50GB.

This does not include voice-only customers who merely want to retain a fixed telephone line to their home.

Documents released by NBN Co yesterday said: "The government is committed to the continued availability of voice-only services for those who need them, at no greater price than they pay now."

The NBN Co business case said retail service providers that opt to move on to NBN Co fibre "could offer lower prices than are currently in the market for similar speed and download products".

Wholesale prices for NBN Co service packages range from a $24-a-month plan to $150 for super-fast fibre broadband offering speeds of up to 1000Mbps.

The wholesale network expects retail mark-ups to be in the vicinity of 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

Julia Gillard yesterday said it was up to retail service providers to determine what they would charge consumers. "Retail prices will obviously be set by the retail market, but it's just, you know, a golden rule (that) the more competition you have the better pricing consumers have," the Prime Minister said.

"So when you add it all up, what does it mean for consumers? Well, it means better quality; the NBN is obviously better quality than people have had access to. Fibre is better quality than the technologies people have been using, (and) more competition."

The opposition seized on the business plan to question the value of the NBN to consumers. Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said the business case offered "no nirvana of cheaper broadband for Australians".

"It's supposed to deliver universal and affordable broadband, and yet the broadband price that they've talked about today is comparable - it's certainly no cheaper than many comparable prices (today)," Mr Turnbull said.

NBN Co boss Mike Quigley said householders would have a choice of whether the NBN connection box was located inside or outside their home. Mr Quigley said if the householder wanted the box inside their house, they would have a choice of where it was located at no extra cost.

NBN Co is in discussions with various retail service providers over how to manage people who move into houses where the previous owner had declined the connection so they could be connected without financial penalty.


African attacks on Indians spread to Brisbane

Africans hate Indians because Indians show that a dark skin is no bar to success

A Sudanese refugee who assaulted two Indian students in separate robberies had shown little respect for the law, a court heard today. In the District Court in Brisbane Judge Kerry O'Brien was jailing Majok Mayen, 21, for four years on a total of nine offences committed over a 20 month period between February last year and October this year.

Judge O'Brien said most of the offences were committed when Mayen was either on bail, probation or a community service order. He warned Mayen he would be spending longer and longer in jail unless he mended his ways. Judge O'Brien jailed Mayen for four years with parole eligibility on September 20 next year which took into account time Mayen had already spent in custody on remand.

Mayen pleaded guilty to robbery with personal violence causing wounding, robbery with personal violence, common assault, and wilful damage. He also pleaded guilty to summary charges of disqualified driving, breach of a domestic violence order and public nuisance.

Prosecutor Dennis Kinsella said Mayen was drinking with friends and was in Melton St at Nundah, on Brisbane's northside, when he saw an Indian student, 21, walking the opposite direction, on February 14 last year. Mr Kinsella detailed how Mayen left his friends and began talking to the student before suddenly taking the student's mobile phone.

Mayen then forced the student to nearby Oxenham Park where he assaulted the victim with a broken vodka bottle as well as punching and kneeing him. Mr Kinsella said Mayen later forced the student to withdraw $500 from his bank account at an automatic teller machine.

He said while on bail for those offences Mayen assaulted a man, 21, at a video arcade at Chermside, also on the northside. Mayen was still on bail when he punched and robbed an Indian student, 24, who was working as a cab driver, on February 27 this year. Mr Kinsella said Mayen had also damaged the taxi cab's security camera.

Barrister Rob East said it was an unfortunate case of someone who had initially done very well in "the land of plenty" since coming to Australia from Sudan in 2003.

Mr East said, however, after a family upheaval Mayen had begun drinking alcohol at age 17 and his offending was directly linked to it. He said Mayen had celebrated his recent 21st birthday by going to Drug Arm in an effort to overcome his drinking problem.


British children beat Aussies for will to win, poll suggests

I fully believe this. Australia is an exceptionally relaxed society

The image of the English sportsman gracious in defeat and believing in “fair play’’ does not hold for today’s children, a poll suggests.

As England’s cricketers compete for the Ashes, the poll shows England’s youngsters are more competitive than their Australian counterparts. The Cricket Foundation survey found 83 per cent of English parents said their children were competitive (75 per cent for Australians) and 10 per cent believed winning was most important (against 5 per cent).

While more than a fifth Australian children were gracious in defeat, just 12 per cent of English were.

The survey questioned more than 1,000 English and Australian parents of children aged six to 16. Almost three in 10 Australian parents said their child was always gracious in victory when they took part in sport while almost 17 per cent of parents of English children said the same.

"The survey challenges certain stereotypes, while highlighting the benefits of competitive sport," said Wasim Khan, chief executive of the Cricket Foundation.


School bully victims paid $1m

A poor substitute for discipline

SCHOOL bullying victims have received almost $1 million in compensation from the Department of Education since January last year. One student who was harassed over 10 years won $500,000 in a court settlement, while two children were paid more than $15,000 each after their arms were broken by bullies. Another boy was paid more than $4200 because he claimed harassment by teachers caused him to fail his HSC.

The claims, which include both physical and severe psychological injuries up to September 30, were obtained under freedom of information laws by the Opposition.

The figures show students whose claims were settled by the department received less than those who went to court. A student who claimed to have been assaulted and that bullying caused a psychiatric illness was given $11,636.

The claims coincide with the Child Death Review Team this year that revealed several students committed suicide in 2009 after being bullied. One boy who claimed to suffer from gender identity disorder was "teased and threatened" at school.

Another boy was driven out of school by "taunts" in the lead-up to his suicide, while a third boy was also the subject of "taunts and bullying" while at his school.

The compensation claims show staff won payouts of more than $5000 between them over bullying cases, including ongoing sexual harassment in the school workplace and bullying and victimisation by a superior.

"These documents confirm that bullying is rife in our public schools, with both students and teachers feeling the brunt of it," Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said yesterday. "What is worse is the state is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims from students and teachers that have been victims of bullying. "Bullying can leave its victims with severe and lasting physical and psychological damage, and it must be stamped out immediately."

A spokesman for Education Minister Verity Firth said there were 26 claims which were "a tiny proportion" of staff and students. "We have given principals the power to impose strong sanctions to counter bullying, including suspensions of up to 20 days," he said. "NSW public schools are among the safest places in the community for young people, and serious incidents of violence are rare."

The department has introduced a web guide for parents on cyber bullying, including tips on how to prevent it.


Sick NSW hospital data 'hidden'

THIRTEEN NSW hospitals have failed to meet infection control targets. The Sunday Telegraph has obtained NSW Health data on the hospitals with the worst records of deadly infections, such as golden staph, after it was deliberately excluded from the federal Government's MyHospital website launched last week.

The worst performers include Royal Prince Alfred at Camperdown and Blacktown and Concord hospitals, the latter having received a glowing report card last week after MyHospital rated it among the top three in NSW in terms of emergency waiting times.

The worst hospital in NSW is Gundagai, a 26-bed facility near Wagga Wagga in the state's southwest, which, with an infection rate of 6.1, is three times higher than the federal Government's national benchmark of two infections per 10,000 bed days. The data reflects the number of infections contracted out of the total number of days a hospital bed is occupied by a patient.

The infection rates, based on information collected from NSW Area Health Services between April 1 and June 30 this year, relate to staphylococcal infections such as golden staph, which has a mortality rate of 35 per cent.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government had an obligation to make figures on the number of infections contracted in hospitals transparent, with infection rates on a bed-day basis "meaningless" for both patients and health workers. "We have to report it in a way that people working in the system can see that there is a problem," Ms Skinner said. "The Government has been trying to hide infections for a very long time. They just report very minimal stuff."

A spokeswoman for NSW Health said: "Where a hospital has a low number of patients, one infection can result in an artificially high overall rate. NSW hospital infection rates are low and consistent with rates nationally and internationally."

Harry Mavromatis, 60, of Edgecliff, contracted golden staph after undergoing a double bypass on his heart at St Vincent's Hospital in March. He said the infection led to a painful hernia, shingles and severe migraines and he had been unable to work ever since the operation.


20 December, 2010

Australia squares the circle

I have just put up on Dissecting Leftism a large excerpt from an article which sets out data tending to show that Australia scores very highly both as one of the freest countries in the world and also as one of the most "equal" countries in the world.

This has a huge bearing on Left/Right political controversies. The Left generally argue for more economic equality while conservatives generally argue for more economic liberty.

So what the Australian example shows is that such competing claims are not entirely a zero-sum game. You can at the same time have more of what both Right and Left want. I think that is a finding of very far-reaching implications for other countries, such as the USA. There are already major similarities between Australia and the USA so a convergence on the Australian system by the USA should, at least in theory, be much easier than most other sorts of change.

I think the claim that the USA is an "exceptional" country is so obviously true that it cannot rationally be denied (even if Mr Obama doesn't think so) but it would appear that Australia is another English-speaking country that is exceptional in important ways too.


Five current articles below

Rejected asylum seekers should go home, says the United Nations

THE UN refugee agency says Australia's immigration detention system is being clogged by growing numbers of rejected asylum seekers who should be sent home.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regional representative Richard Towle says large numbers of people now coming through the asylum system in Australia are not refugees and "the challenge is how to find fair and humane and effective ways of allowing them to leave this country to go home", Fairfax newspapers report.

The deportation of failed asylum seekers has already been announced as central to the government's efforts to stem the flow of boats.

So far, however, only a handful of asylum seekers have been deported. The government is believed to be examining further incentives for people to return home.

Mr Towle told Fairfax that improved political conditions in Sri Lanka and changed methods for assessing Afghan asylum seeker cases have led to the jump in the number of rejected cases, most "left sitting in the detention centres in Western Australia".

He also called for greater regional co-operation and improved conditions in South-East Asia to prevent asylum seekers from making the perilous voyage from Indonesia. He said the problem has little to do with Australia's border protection policies, but rather a "protection vacuum" throughout the region that has been forcing people to risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels.


Tony Abbott calls for tougher laws to prevent further asylum seeker boat tragedies

TONY Abbott has shattered the political truce over the Christmas Island boat tragedy, suggesting tougher border protection laws could have prevented the incident.

The Opposition Leader said the deaths of at least 30 people in the shipwreck was an "unspeakable horror" and demanded a return to Howard government-era policies, including turning asylum seeker boats around.

"The sad truth is that as long as the people-smuggling trade exists, as long as the boats keep coming, the risk of disaster remains," he said in his first public comments since Wednesday's disaster. "That's why it is important that we put policies in place as quickly as humanly possible that do offer the prospect of stopping the boats."

The official search for survivors was called off on Sunday as memorial services for the dead, many of them babies and young children, were held on Christmas Island.

The island's imam, Abdul Ghaffar Ismail, led a funeral prayer session and memorial for the survivors of the boat disaster and their families at the detention centre at Phosphate Hill on Sunday afternoon. He then held a second service at Construction Camp, another detention facility for families.

And at an intimate memorial in the island's small Catholic Church community, leaders told a crowd of worshippers - some locals, some detainees - the tragedy would never be forgotten.

Mr Abbott said it was time to reintroduce harsher deterrents for asylum seekers, calling for an "urgent" return to temporary protection visas, the reopening of the Nauru detention centre and turning the boats around. "We stopped the boats before, we can stop the boats again if we put the right policies in place," he said.

The Opposition Leader, who was in Japan when the tragedy happened, also formally rejected Prime Minister Julia Gillard's bid for a new committee to examine the facts of the incident, saying there was no need for it. "I don't think we need any new processes," Mr Abbott said.

The Opposition Leader's call to arms came only hours after Nationals' Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce warned that voters would judge politicians harshly for using the tragedy to force a policy change.

He also said it was the navy's call, not a politician's, to determine if a boat should be turned around, despite Mr Abbott's "boat phone" election promise that it would be a "prime ministerial decision".

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen also rejected Mr Abbott's call for harsher penalties, backing the Government's regional solution policy. He also said it would take "considerable expense and effort" to reopen Nauru. "The detention centre at Nauru closed: half of it is a school, other parts of it have been dismantled and moved around the island, some of it is Government offices," he said.

Mr Bowen also said the Government needed to work on a "very robust returns policy" for failed asylum seekers after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said a number of applicants in Australia were found not to be refugees.


Key Independent rejects position on Christmas Island 'committee'

Andrew Wilkie has turned down a spot on the federal government's standing group on Christmas Island, saying Australia wants action, not talk.

The former intelligence officer has launched a blistering attack on the government's approach to asylum-seekers in the wake of last week's boat accident, in which 30 people died.

His comments came as Labor MPs broke ranks on the Julia Gillard's handling of the issue, with the Prime Minister being urged to undertake a "serious review" of policies amid calls for a return to hardline treatment.

Mr Wilkie wants Labor to immediately double its humanitarian intake of refugees as well as boosting "disruption" operations in Indonesia to stop boats setting sail. "The government has dropped the ball," Mr Wilkie told ABC Radio. "Whatever it is doing is clearly not working.

"Even the best defence force ... is still going to struggle to pick up small wooden boats in that big ocean, (so) you've got to stop the boats leaving Indonesia. "It has to be ramped up, we have to hunt the smugglers down and put them out of business."

He rejected the government's proposed standing group as unnecessary, joining ranks with the opposition, which has already refused to be involved. "This isn't a case of setting up another committee and talking about it for another six months," Mr Wilkie said. "This is a case of looking at what we can do now and implementing them now. "If we wait another six months, more people are going to die."

Mr Wilkie said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had offered to double Australia's humanitarian intake in a bid to win the independent MP's support in forming government. Mr Wilkie said it was time for the opposition to resurrect the offer.

But a spokesman from Mr Abbott's office said Mr Wilkie was exaggerating. “The possibility of a modest increase in the humanitarian intake through established UN channels was canvassed in the context of a much tougher border protection policy,” the spokesman said. “There was no suggestion of doubling the intake.”


A diminished Gillard caught in a storm of her own making

The most surprising aspect of Julia Gillard's first day of facing parliamentary questioning as the newly elected Prime Minister was her demeanour. Gone was the woman who had made an art of confidence, even mockery, during question time. On this day, September 29, she was pale and nervous. She even said the government's home insulation program ''was beset by problems. It became a mess''.

Australia's first woman Prime Minister was clearly shaken from having just emerged from a terrible election campaign. She had lost the election. More members sat opposite her, and on the crossbenches, than sat with her government. That she was still Prime Minister was due only to a political fluke, a statistical improbability, and the moral gymnastics of two rank opportunists, the independent MPs Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. This pair managed to turn the lowest combined vote in the entire nation for Labor and the Greens into a mandate for a Labor government, propped up by the Greens.

Three months on from her near-death experience, Gillard has still not grown into her new role. Never did this seem more evident than in the aftermath of the tragedy at Christmas Island with asylum seekers dying in the surf. What did she do in this moment of crisis? She called for a committee.

It is impossible to exaggerate the failure of Gillard and her government in their policies towards boat people. She was the principle author of a policy paper, Protecting Australia, Protecting the Australian Way, which became Labor policy. This policy has managed to create the worst of both worlds: cruel yet ineffective. And ludicrously expensive, like almost everything else this government does.

The detention centres are bulging. More are sprouting up. A detention centre has been set up in a Brisbane hotel. Another in Darwin. Another in Melbourne. Another at a remote air force base in Western Australia. Another at a second remote air force base in north Queensland. A defence housing site in the Adelaide Hills has been turned into yet another detention centre, to the consternation of the locals. As for Christmas Island, it became saturated a year ago.

The vast majority of those arriving by boat are being granted residency. The approval rate is roughly twice that of applicants processed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is a green light to the people-smuggling trade.

The High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that large numbers claiming asylum status in Australia are not refugees. The government has been slow to handle legitimate refugee claims. It has been slow to handle illegitimate claims. Detention centres have seen riots, demonstrations, hunger strikes, self-harm and suicide by asylum seekers.

The courts are clotted with immigration appeals. The law itself has been rendered uncertain. The refugee intake quota has stayed set at 13,500, which means boat people are significantly displacing those awaiting processing by the UNHCR. This is the ''queue'' that refugee advocates pretend does not exist. It is another green light for people-smuggling.

The government has failed to prosecute those who blew up an asylum boat in 2009, killing five and injuring 40. It capitulated to demands from people with zero leverage during a standoff with Sri Lankans aboard the Oceanic Viking.

Almost 200 boatloads have arrived since Labor came to government. The people-smuggling trade is thriving. The budget for handling the refugee intake has blown out. Expensive charter flights are shuffling asylum seekers around the country. Children have drowned. Families have been separated.

All this manifold policy failure was compounded by Gillard when she came up with the panicky initiative of proposing an offshore refugee processing centre in East Timor. It was a ludicrous idea. East Timor is a failed state. It cannot be relied upon for anything.

During her first question time as an elected prime minister on September 29, Gillard was asked, with no delicacy, about yet another emergency Band-Aid being applied to the asylum seeker backlog:

Warren Entsch (Liberal National Party): ''I refer to the government's claim prior to and during the election that asylum seekers will not be housed at RAAF Base Scherger, nor would an immigration detention centre be built at RAAF Base Scherger. Now that the government has announced that RAAF Base Scherger will be used as a detention centre, how can anybody believe any promise made by this government?''

Gillard: ''I think we should be a little bit clear about the facts. What has been announced by the government is that the base will be used for short-term accommodation, while longer term options are investigated.''

This was misleading. On August 2, three weeks before the federal election, The Cairns Post reported that preparations were under way at the base to install a high-wire fence and outdoor lighting.

The newspaper quoted a government spokesman saying: ''On current plans, asylum seekers will not be housed at RAAF Scherger. Nor will an immigration detention centre be built at RAAF Scherger.''

Within weeks of the election, Scherger had become a detention centre. It now houses 300 male asylum seekers. This is all a Gillard-owned debacle on a scale even greater than her gold-plated Building the Education Revolution.

Even so, none of this is an excuse for the odious accusations that have been assiduously constructed by refugee advocates that the Gillard government, specifically the navy, was partly culpable for the drowning deaths of 30 asylum seekers at Christmas Island on Wednesday.

The moral chain in this matter is not complex. The people who sold places on the boat, and bought places on the boat, were assiduous in avoiding the process of legal arrival and safe passage. The protection of the state does not extend to illegal entry through ocean storms.


Beware gurus selling high migration

Article below by economist Ross Gittins, who is normally Left-leaning

The economic case for rapid population growth though immigration is surprisingly weak, but a lot of economists are keen to give you the opposite impression. Fortunately, the Productivity Commission can't bring itself to join in the happy sales job.

I suspect that, since almost all economists are great believers in economic growth as the path to ever higher material living standards, they have a tendency to throw in population growth for good measure. There's no doubt a bigger population leads to a bigger economy; the question is whether it leads to higher real income per person, thereby raising average living standards.

Of course, business people can gain from selling to a bigger market, regardless of whether the punters are better off. So I'd be wary of advice coming from economists employed by business or providing consulting services to business.

In 2006 the Productivity Commission conducted a modelling exercise to assess the effect of a 50 per cent increase in our skilled immigrant intake. It found that, after 20 years, real gross domestic product was only about 4 per cent higher than otherwise.

And the increase in real income per person was minor. What's more, most of the gains accrued to the migrants themselves, with the existing population suffering a tiny net decline in income. Why this lack of benefit? You'd expect the extra skilled labour to raise the proportion of the population participating in the labour force, thus boosting production per person.

But most of the productiveness of workers are achieved by the physical capital they're given to work with. So unless your extra workers are given extra capital equipment - a process known as "capital widening" - their productivity is likely to decline, thus offsetting the gain from having more workers.

Note, too, that we have to increase the housing stock to accommodate the migrant workers and their families, as well as providing the extra public infrastructure for a bigger population. So the migrants are paid to supply their labour, but the rest of us have to provide the extra economic and social capital they need if standards aren't to fall.

Last week Tony Burke, the federal minister responsible for developing a "sustainable population strategy" next year, released an issues paper to encourage discussion. It was accompanied by the reports of three advisory panels, including one on the economic aspects, led by Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group.

Ridout's report sets out to talk up the economic case for high migration by dispelling "myths" and pointing to hard-to-quantify benefits "often ignored by low-growth advocates when they skim the literature" (that's what they call a professorial put-down).

The main hard-to-quantify benefits left out of the Productivity Commission's modelling are the economies of scale arising from a bigger market. But why after all these years have economists been unable to produce good empirical evidence of something as straightforward as scale economies?

And why wax lyrical about unmeasurable benefits without mentioning unmeasurable costs? In its recent booklet on population and immigration, the commission acknowledges that as well as economies of scale there could be diseconomies.

The Ridout report objects that the commission's modelling measured the benefit of increased immigration only over 20 years. Sorry, but if you have to wait more than 20 years for the payoff you're not talking about a powerful effect.

A relatively new argument in favour of high immigration is that it could foster economic growth by countering to some extent the decline in labour-force participation caused by the ageing of the population. But, since immigrants age too, all this can do is put off the evil hour (not a course of action usually promoted by economists). To continue postponing the crunch you have to keep upping the dose of immigration.

The Productivity Commission is blunt: "changes in migration flows are unlikely to have a significant and lasting effect on the ageing of Australia's population".

The Ridout report argues that a faster-growing, immigration-fuelled economy would require greater levels of investment by businesses and in public infrastructure. This greater capital spending would generally involve investment in more productive capital equipment, as recent technological improvements will be embedded in the newer stock. In this way, faster growth of the size of the economy would drive the productivity gains that are central to advances in material living standards, we're told.

Huh? The proposition is that by taking on a need for considerable investment in capital widening (to provide the extra workers with the equipment and infrastructure they need to be as productive as the existing workers) we're increasing the scope for capital deepening (giving each worker more and better capital equipment).

Am I missing something? This is a twist on a common economists' argument I've never managed to fathom: we need to grow more and do more damage to the natural environment because when we're richer we'll be able to afford to fix the damage we've done to the environment.

The Ridout report asserts that provided population growth is "balanced and managed well", living standards will rise. It needs to be "matched by greater commitments to education and skills development, more and better investments in infrastructure, greater attention to the development of our cities and regions and to our natural environment".

In other words, to give business the extra population it wants but prevent this from worsening all those things, governments at all levels will really need to lift their game as well as spend a lot more. Turn in a perfect performance and high immigration won't be a problem.

I prefer the commission's way of putting it: "population growth and immigration can magnify existing policy problems and amplify pressures on 'unpriced' entities, such as the environment, and urban and social amenity".


19 December, 2010

Parents to sue over boy's death in W.A. hospital

Male nurse thought he was God and was allowed to act that way -- probably in fear of accusations of "homophobia"

THE parents of a schoolboy who died hours after being sent home from hospital with Panadol plan to sue after a damning report found a doctor was only metres away, but was never called by an inexperienced nurse to treat their son.

Contrary to earlier statements by the Country Health Service in the aftermath of Andrew Allan's tragic death, there was a GP and more experienced nurse in the emergency department of Northam Hospital, 97km northeast of Perth when his frantic mother took him there for urgent medical help, reported Perthnow.

The Sunday Times has obtained the Health Department's damning review into the circumstances surrounding the death of the 16-year-old Northam High School student, including that he spent just 13 minutes in the hospital. "This has been a major failure of the system to allow one individual to fail a patient in this way," respected neurosurgeon Bryant Stokes wrote in the report commissioned by director-general for health Kim Snowball.

The male registered nurse at the centre of the controversy referred to as RN-A in the review has now been sacked "due to the serious nature of the matter being investigated and his failure to co-operate". His actions were described as "a severe and fatal aberration".

Mr Snowball said yesterday: "There was a doctor and a senior emergency nurse in the emergency department at the time who could and would have responded had they known Andrew was in attendance."

The review has called for sweeping changes to the way hospitals deal with patients, including a recommendation that CCTV cameras be installed in every emergency department in the state. Mr Snowball said guidelines to the WA triage system would be revised and reissued as a result of the findings.

A number of changes had already been made at Northam Hospital, apart from additional CCTV cameras that will be installed to monitor patients in the emergency department waiting room.

Mr Snowball admitted RN-A failed to recognise the severity of Andrew's symptoms and his condition. "The nurse was neither qualified nor tasked to act as a triage nurse and attended to Andrew outside the normal treatment area," he said.

The review shows that Andrew was only at the hospital for about 13 minutes and his assessment by RN-A lasted just seven minutes, without any physical examination.

Andrew's parents James and Kylie are now preparing to launch a lawsuit against the Department of Health for what Mr Allan yesterday said was "gross negligence".

The review found:

* RN-A acted independently of a more experienced nurse and doctor working in the emergency department at the time.

* A very high body temperature and its significance were not taken into account.

* Correct triage and assessment protocols were not followed by RN-A.

* RN-A did not create a medical record of Andrew's assessment until after he died.

* His record incorrectly stated the diagnosis took place at 18.00 a time a GP would not have been in the emergency department. The wrong date was scribbled out and overwritten with the correct day.

* No base line observations were recorded.

Andrew was taken to Northam Hospital on September 16 with a temperature of 40C. He was barely able to breathe or walk, his skin was mottled and he was sweating profusely.

Despite his condition, RN-A sent him home with junior-strength Panadol and a pamphlet on gastroenteritis. Mrs Allan found her son dead in his bed early the next morning.

The review found that RN-A did not consult the doctor and nurse over his waiting assessment of Andrew. "The tragedy of it all was that there was a doctor in the emergency department the whole time and an experienced registered nurse was also present in the ED at the time of Andrew's presentation," Prof Stokes said in his report. "RN-A did not discuss Andrew's case with either the nurse or the doctor."

Prof Stokes suggested Andrew was suffering with flu and septicaemia when he presented for emergency treatment because of the "high body temperature and what was most likely peripheral circulatory failure". An autopsy report shows he had swine flu and staphylococcal pneumonia.

The WA Country Health Service previously said a doctor had been on call, but was not on site when Andrew and his mother sought urgent medical attention. A week later it stated one had been available at an adjacent medical practice in complete contrast to the report findings. In fact, the doctor was in an adjacent emergency department estimated by Mrs Allan to be less than 5m from the waiting room when Andrew was examined.

The review catalogues CCTV footage that shows just how sick the teenager was as he "staggered" into the hospital entrance and collapsed on a couch.

The findings come after The Sunday Times revealed the scandal in September.

The investigation shows that RN-A was registered with the Nurses Board of WA in 2008 and only had two years nursing experience in clinical units at a metropolitan hospital.

The review found that RN-A could not explain his management of Andrew when quizzed by the hospital's acting operations manager. "The only thing RN-A stated was that he thought the patient had the same thing (illness) he (the nurse) had had the week before, just a virus-like illness that RN-A recovered from," the report said. Since then he has refused repeated requests to co-operate or give his account of events to the health department.

Andrew's death is the subject of a coronial inquiry, which involves an investigation by WA Police. The coroner can compel RN-A to provide a statement or attend the inquest. The review, released to Mr and Mrs Allan this week, will be made available to the coroner and the Nurses and Midwives Board to assist their inquiries.


More Greenie Waste

State Government drops ZeroGen project after taxpayers pump $150 million into the plan

QUEENSLAND'S plan to become a world leader in clean coal is in disarray, with the state abandoning its ZeroGen project after taxpayers pumped $150 million into the initiative.

In a major blow to the state's carbon reduction strategy, the Government will give away the state-owned company ZeroGen and scrap its planned $4.3 billion clean coal power station in central Queensland.

As thousands of new jobs at the proposed plant go up in smoke, ownership of ZeroGen will be handed to an industry body, the Australian Coal Association, with state taxpayers' investment written off as a loss of almost $100 million.

The Federal Government yesterday attacked the decision after confirming it had also invested $47.5 million towards a pre-feasibility study for the now-aborted plant.

About $40 million of the state's $102.5 million investment in ZeroGen was spent after the Government was advised to withdraw from the project by a review which described the venture as "speculative".

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday confirmed the state would veto the 530MW power station, a project lauded as a "world-first" in cutting emissions. Ms Bligh insisted the ZeroGen investment had "yielded a wealth of information" and a further $50 million would remain in the Clean Coal Fund.

But Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he was "disappointed" the state was walking away from the project. "The Queensland Government cannot have its cake and eat it too, profiting from exports while being unwilling to invest in the R&D necessary to reduce emissions," he said.

The plant, creating 2000 construction jobs, involved carbon-capture storage technology, taking CO2 emissions and burying them west of Rockhampton. A report by Auditor-General Glenn Poole in September issued a damning assessment of ZeroGen's future. Mr Poole wrote that its reliance on the state and ability to attract other funding was a concern beyond November 30 this year. "These conditions . . . indicate the existence of material uncertainty which may cast doubt about the company's ability to continue," he wrote.

The Department of Economic Development wrote down $96.3 million of equity in ZeroGen as a loss in its recent annual report.

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek yesterday demanded an inquiry into the project.


Newspapers should lead the country?

Joanne Nova

A REPLY to a critic of "The Australian's" coverage of the debate about climate change

DAVID McKnight's criticism of "The Australian" over climate change ("Sceptical writers skipped inconvenient truths", Inquirer, December 11) makes for a good case study of Australian universities' intellectual collapse.

Here's a University of NSW senior research fellow in journalism who contradicts himself, fails by his own reasoning, does little research, breaks at least three laws of logic, and rests his entire argument on an assumption for which he provides no evidence.

Most disturbingly - like a crack through the facade of Western intellectual vigour - he asserts that the role of a national newspaper is to "give leadership".

Bask for a moment in the inanity of this declaration that newspapers "are our leaders". Last time I looked at our ballot papers, none of the people running to lead our nation had a name such as The Sydney Morning Herald. Didn't he notice we live in a country that chooses its leaders through elections? The role of a newspaper is to report all the substantiated arguments and filter out the poorly reasoned ones, so readers can make up their own minds.

The point of a free press is surely for the press to be free to ask the most searching questions on any topic. Yet here is an authority on journalism attacking The Australian for printing views of scientists who have degrees of doubt about global warming and/or any human component in it.

And these scientists that McKnight wants to silence are not just the odd rare heretic.

The swelling ranks of sceptical scientists is now the largest whistle-blowing cohort in science ever seen. It includes some of the brightest: two with Nobel prizes in physics, four NASA astronauts, 9000 PhDs in science, and another 20,000 science graduates to cap it off. A recent US Senate minority report contained 1000 names of eminent scientists who are sceptical, and the term professor pops up more than 500 times in that list. These, McKnight, an arts PhD, calls deniers.

Just because thousands of scientists support the sceptical view doesn't prove they're right, but it proves their opinions are nothing like the tobacco sceptics campaign that McKnight compares them with in a transparent attempt to smear commentators with whom he disagrees.

Ponder the irony that McKnight, the journalism lecturer, is demanding The Australian adopt the policy espoused by the dominant paradigm, the establishment, and censor the views of independent whistleblowers. He thinks repeating government PR is journalism; the rest of us know it as propaganda.

McKnight doesn't name any scientific paper that any sceptic denies. Instead, he seems to use a pre-emptive technique designed to stop people even discussing the evidence about the climate.

McKnight's research starts with the assumption that a UN committee, which was funded to find a crisis, has really found one, and that it is above question. His investigation appears to amount to comparing articles in Fairfax versus Murdoch papers, as if the key to radiative transfer and cumulative atmospheric feedbacks lies in counting op-ed pieces. If he had made the most basic inquiry, McKnight might also have found out that the entire case for the man-made threat to the climate rests on just the word of 60 scientists who reviewed chapter nine of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report.

He'd also know that the people he calls deniers, far from being recipients of thousands of regular Exxon cheques, are mostly self-funded - many are retirees - and that Exxon's paltry $US23 million for 1990-2007 was outdone by more than 3000 to one by the US government alone, which paid $US79 billion to the climate industry during 1989-2009.

So "sharp" is McKnight's analysis that he calls the independent unfunded scientists "a global PR campaign originating from coal and oil companies", but all while he is oblivious to the real billion-dollar PR campaign that is waged from government departments, a UN agency, financial houses such as Deutsche Bank, the renewable energy industry, the nuclear industry and multi-hundred-million-dollar corporations such as the WWF.

The job of a newspaper, he indicates, is to decide which scientist is right about atmospheric physics. Is Phil Jones from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit right, or is Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist, right? Add that to the duties for aspiring national editors. Tough job, eh?

McKnight's main error in his article - accepting an argument from authority - has been known in logic for 2000 years, and his entire synopsis is built around this fallacy.

Just suppose, hypothetically, that the government employed many scientists on one side of a theory and none from the other. McKnight's method of "knowing" who is right involves counting the institutions and authorities who support the grants - I mean, the theory. If science were exploited this way, McKnight would fall victim every time, blindly supporting the establishment.

That doesn't prove he's wrong but his analysis is confused at every level. He claims The Australian has zig-zagged from acceptance to denial but then later accuses The Australian's columnists of repeating "the dominant editorial line". But which editorial line would be dominant: the zig type or the zag?

In science, evidence is the only thing that counts, not opinion. McKnight, the follower of funded opinions, has the gall to question The Australian's standards of evidence but the only evidence he offers is a collection of opinions. McKnight paints himself as an authority on journalism yet fails to investigate his base assumption, research the targets of his scorn, or understand the role of the free press: he is his own best example of why argument from authority is a fallacy.

If our journalism lecturers are feeding students with ideas of leadership roles, how decrepit is the institution where students are not even taught that the highest aim of a journalist is to ask the most penetrating questions and leave no stone unturned, so the people they serve might have the best information?

Such is the modern delusion of the activist-journo: McKnight wants to be the leader, to dictate what the public can think and to direct where public spending goes, but he doesn't want to bother running for office or to expose his claim to open debate. He's nothing more than a totalitarian in disguise.


Pithouse the shithouse again

Sex attack victim tells of pain after magistrate Richard Pithouse denied victim's statement

A SEX assault victim distraught at her treatment by controversial magistrate Richard Pithouse has tried to take her life several times. "Emma" and her family have told how the torment of the crimes against her and the anguish of her heartfelt impact statement being thrown out of court sent her on a downward spiral, reported the Herald Sun.

A brave Emma has told the Sunday Herald Sun of her living hell at the hands of a sex offender and then a callous justice system that left her feeling trivialised.

The drastic situation has put further pressure on authorities to take action on Mr Pithouse, who has been the subject of several complaints by crime victims. Emma, 23, said Mr Pithouse's refusal to allow her to read the court a statement about her sex assault had turned her life upside down. She attempted suicide twice in a week this month - seven times in total since she was sexually assaulted.

"I hope he (Mr Pithouse) finally understands what he's doing to the victims and how he's making their struggles to survive a lot harder," she said.

Emma said she still hoped her voice would be heard. "My victim impact statement should be aired in court and I want the perpetrators to know what they have done to me and what I have to face every day. I want closure."

Emma's father said he had no doubt his daughter's torment was largely "as a result of not having a say in court". "I think they should - because he has done this in other cases as well - suspend him at the very least," he said. "If he was in any other job he would have got the sack because it's pure negligence."

Attorney-General Robert Clark agreed to look into the matter. "I will be very happy to meet with Emma and her family," he said.

Victims advocate Steve Medcraft called for action. "It's a blot on our justice system," he said.

Chief Magistrate Gray said: "I assure Emma and her family that the Magistrates' Court recognises the importance of victims' rights in the criminal justice system." [So what are you doing about it?]


18 December, 2010

'Betrayed' miners get set for war over tax

MINING companies are planning a damaging new advertising campaign against the government. They have accused Wayne Swan of deliberately misleading them earlier this year over Labor's ill-fated resource super-profits tax.

The miners have moved to a war footing in the belief that the Treasurer and Julia Gillard are reneging on a written agreement about the mineral resources rent tax, which replaced the RSPT days after Kevin Rudd's removal as prime minister.

Mining giants BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Rio Tinto are convinced Labor is preparing to double-cross them a second time by refusing to honour an agreement to offset "all" state royalties as part of the new minerals tax.

And while Mr Swan has emphatically denied misleading anyone about the RSPT, The Weekend Australian can reveal that several government ministers also believe he kept them out of the loop.

Mining tax policy has dogged Labor since Treasury secretary Ken Henry proposed a 40 per cent tax on mining profits in a tax-system review, which was handed to Mr Swan last Christmas Eve. Mr Swan unveiled the RSPT on May 2, infuriating the mining industry, which claimed it had not been adequately consulted before the announcement.

The claims of bad faith against Mr Swan revolve around the assertion that between receiving the Henry report and releasing detailed plans for the RSPT, the Treasurer led colleagues and miners to believe his proposal would not be set in concrete without further consultation. According to cabinet and industry sources, miners were told the tax rate and budget revenue estimates would not be finalised in Mr Swan's response. This, they expected, would have allowed for subsequent negotiations to finalise details.

Instead, Mr Swan revealed on May 2 that the tax would raise $12 billion in its first two years, with the proceeds included in the budget forward estimates to fund a number of measures and help the government return to surplus by 2013.

The mining industry's $17 million advertising campaign against the RSPT contributed to a collapse in public support for Mr Rudd and became a factor in Labor's decision to dump him as leader in favour of Ms Gillard on June 24.

Inquiries by The Weekend Australian have revealed cabinet ministers and mining industry executives believe the ferocity of the miners' RSPT campaign was based on the belief Mr Swan misled the miners and his colleagues.

The ministers now fear the mining companies will launch a second debilitating advertising war as the government works on the details of the more modest MRRT, designed by the Prime Minister to placate the industry after she took over from Mr Rudd. Their fears were confirmed yesterday by mining executives, although Rio Tinto is less pessimistic about the government's intentions than its fellow miners.

Under the terms of the heads of MRRT agreement signed by Ms Gillard and the three big miners, "all state and territory royalties will be creditable against the resources tax liability". Since the federal election, the government has maintained that only those state royalty increases announced or scheduled on May 2 would be creditable under the MRRT, in a bid to avoid Canberra picking up the bill for future royalty rises by the states.

Mr Swan yesterday denied misleading the companies and his colleagues over the RSPT, saying any contrary recollections must be based on "a misunderstanding of our intentions". The Treasurer said: "This was a bruising debate and it comes as no surprise to see all kinds of claims and counter-claims being made about it with the benefit of hindsight." .

But a senior cabinet source told The Weekend Australian the agreement before the RSPT was announced was "there wouldn't be any numbers or forward estimates in the tax plan". Sources say the alleged breach of faith was the reason the mining companies funded their anti-government advertising campaign in June.

They also funded polling that showed Labor's standing had been so damaged by the controversy that it would lose enough seats in the mining states of Queensland and West Australia to lose office in the election.

While government sources have dismissed the claims against Mr Swan as being linked to the MRRT talks, senior ministers have backed the mining industry's accusations. It is understood Resources Minister Martin Ferguson was told early in the year to personally assure his contacts in the mining industry that the RSPT would not be included in budget forward estimates.

Several industry sources have confirmed Mr Ferguson urged miners concerned about the prospect of a new tax to remain silent because they would be given a chance for consultation before the finalisation of the details of the tax. Other miners claim senior Treasury officials gave them the same assurances as Mr Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson was not briefed in full about the finalisation of the tax until a few days before the May 2 announcement and was angry that he had been inadvertently misleading the industry. Despite this, another senior government source expressed surprise that any minister "in the loop" could have been in any doubt about Mr Swan's intentions about the RSPT.

It was discussed in detail, including its revenue estimates, by Mr Rudd's kitchen cabinet - comprising Mr Swan, Ms Gillard and then finance minister Lindsay Tanner.


Canadian superbug detected in NSW public hospitals

THE first cases of a bacterial strain linked to severe illness and deaths overseas have been detected in NSW, prompting calls for increased surveillance and testing of patients across Australia.

The 027 strain of the bacteria clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhoea and killed up to 89 people in a 2003 outbreak in Quebec, Canada, has been found in samples from 22 people treated in northern Sydney hospitals in a two-year period, the Health Department confirmed yesterday. Two were still in hospital, for unrelated conditions, while the others were being contacted, a NSW Health spokeswoman said.

The superbug - which forms spores that can survive in hospitals even when the infected patient is no longer there - was identified after samples taken at the time of the patients' illness were re-analysed using a new genetic test to distinguish the deadly strain.

Lyn Gilbert, the chairwoman of the NSW Health Expert Advisory Committee on Health Care Associated Infections, said it was likely the bacteria had first been brought to Sydney by someone who had travelled overseas, "and there's been a low-grade level of spread which has not been [previously] recognised", which had remained confined to northern Sydney.

No samples from Professor Gilbert's own laboratory, at Westmead Hospital, had tested positive, she said, even though other hospitals send samples there for advanced testing if they suspect the patient may carry the 027 strain - linked to an outbreak and one death in Melbourne in April.

NSW Health guidelines say all patients who develop diarrhoea in hospital should be tested for c. difficile. But Professor Gilbert said more formal surveillance was now warranted. "We need to be counting cases," she said, and authorities should consider adding the infection to the national notifiable diseases list.

Professor Gilbert said no Sydney patients - treated at Mona Vale, Manly, Ryde, Royal North Shore and Greenwich hospitals - had apparently suffered severe complications, and it was possible the bacteria was evolving to become less virulent.

Tom Gottlieb, president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said the 027 strain had been "a long time coming. We're surprised it's not come sooner."


Thanks to Tony Abbott, we don't need a Tea Party

Christopher Pearson

Australia's conservative Coalition appeals more effectively to blue-collar social conservatives than the U.S. Republicans do

MOST of the commentary on contemporary US politics published in the Australian press has a pronounced left-liberal bias. It's hard to think of an account of the Tea Party, for example, where the author is primarily concerned to understand the phenomenon rather than to register Olympian disdain about it.

This year The American Spectator featured a remarkable essay by Angelo Codevilla on "America's ruling class - and the perils of revolution" . Its main interest is as a corrective to all the PC attitudinising that passes for analysis. As well, for Australian readers, it provides a useful prism through which to view Tony Abbott's prospects in the continuing campaign.

Codevilla's starting point is the high level of cross-party support for Barack Obama's initial $US700 billion rescue package and the eventual commitment of about 10 trillion nonexistent dollars. The cognoscenti had no qualms about this unprecedented expenditure, but he tells us the US public objected immediately by margins of three or four to one.

"When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term 'political class' came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public's understanding, the US people started referring to those in and around government as the 'ruling class'. And in fact Republican and Democratic office-holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a 'class'."

According to Codevilla: "Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind. Moreover, [in] 2009-10 establishment Republicans sought only to modify the government's agenda while showing eagerness to join the Democrats in new grand schemes, if only they were allowed to. Senator Orrin Hatch continued dreaming of being Ted Kennedy, while Lindsey Graham set aside what is true or false about 'global warming' for the sake of getting on the right side of history. No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class's continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place. The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are or would like to be part of it."

He thinks sociological factors account for what he sees as the unparalleled lack of diversity within America's dominant elite. "Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters - speaking the 'in' language - serves as a badge of identity."

The latent heat and energy of the Tea Party is best understood in terms of the US's asymmetrical political representation. The self-styled progressives can expect more of their agenda to be delivered by Democrats. Conservatives of any hue can hope for little satisfaction from anyone other than mavericks. "In short, the ruling class has a party, the Democrats. But some two-thirds of Americans - a few Democratic voters, most Republican voters, and all independents - lack a vehicle in electoral politics."

Codevilla calls the excluded majority "the country class" and makes the point that as a class it's hard to describe because it's so heterogeneous.

"It has no privileged podiums, and speaks with many voices, often inharmonious. It shares above all the desire to be rid of rulers it regards [as] inept and haughty. It defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers' defining ideas and proclivities - ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidising political favourites, social engineering, approval of abortion. Many want to restore a way of life largely superseded. Demographically, the country class is the other side of the ruling class's coin: its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice."

Whether such a diverse grouping can hope to construct the common cause and congruent agendas it needs to make headway against America's ruling class is a vexed question. But the parallels with Australian politics are as instructive as the differences. It's worth noting, for example, that comparisons in local media between the Tea Party and Hansonism are misleading, because the former can't be described as racist and the latter's agenda was secularist.

Thankfully, Australia is unlikely to have a movement like the Tea Party in the foreseeable future. The main reason is obvious. While Labor seems hell-bent on tearing itself apart over progressivist issues such as gay marriage and a carbon tax, which have no appeal to its traditional support base, candidates in the parties of the centre-right tend to understand the values of their electors and take them seriously.

The drift of socially conservative blue-collar votes to the Coalition, for most of the Howard years and at this year's federal election, is suggestive.

It tells us that when voting is compulsory people will ignore the tribal claims of party and vote for whoever seems to them to represent most closely their values and aspirations. It also tells us that the Liberals have managed to shake the perception that they're the party of big business, at a time when state and federal Labor's links with the big end of town and with property developers are damaging the party.

While the wet end of the Liberal Party in some ways resembles the Republicans, Abbott's approach to greenhouse gas emissions has made him a pin-up boy in conservative America; a reminder that leaders of mainstream parties in developed countries don't have to be captive to the bien pensant. His support for lower taxes, smaller government, vouchers in education and family-friendly policy reinforce the point.

No doubt that's why Arthur Sinodinos, in his opinion pieces in The Australian, has taken to referring to Abbott as Spartacus and likening the Coalition's resurgence to "the revolt of the slaves".


Doctor wins 21-year fight to build private hospital

A truly virulent NSW health bureaucracy -- and they are not repentant either

THE medical entrepreneur contracted to build a private hospital on the grounds of Royal Prince Alfred has said the project will go ahead - more than two decades after it was announced.

Thomas Wenkart won a mammoth legal battle this week against South West Sydney Area Health Service, giving him the right to take back the construction site and car park from which he was evicted in March 2000.

The Court of Appeal found not only was Dr Wenkart's Macquarie International Health Clinic wrongfully locked out of the Camperdown sites but the contract to build a $150 million, 200-bed private hospital and multistorey car park - signed in 1989 - was still binding.

Dr Wenkart has written to the Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, asking that she "become involved in assisting in having the project move forward".

The former business partner of the disgraced doctor Geoffrey Edelsten says the hospital was not built by the original December 1999 deadline because private health insurance was at a record low of 30 per cent, rendering the project uneconomical.

But federal support of private health insurance through tax incentives and rebates meant demand was now high for a profit-making hospital on the public campus, said Dr Wenkart, who owns five small hospitals from Dee Why to Kirrawee and is an executive director of six others.

"I'm enthusiastic about developing a hospital that's relevant for today," he said. "There's no doubt there will be an appetite as the public system continues to fail, and the ageing population has given us a big boost."

The story of Prince Alfred Private Hospital is one of the more bizarre and wasteful episodes in a history of health management tardiness in NSW. Dr Wenkart told the Herald in 1992 that hospital would be "up and running by the end of 1994".

In the years since, several plans have been drawn, countless meetings held, a scathing Ombudsman's report released and millions of dollars spent on legal fees.

Yet the highly regarded Royal Prince Alfred teaching hospital of Australia's oldest medical school, Sydney University, is the only major public hospital in Sydney without an adjacent private one.

The two hectares of cleared land behind the decommissioned King George V Memorial Hospital are an overgrown block used as a car park. Both sides were prevented from developing the site until legal action was finished.

Dr Wenkart is suing the area health service for tens of millions of dollars, as well as his legal costs, which he estimates at $3.5 million.

But the chief executive of the area health service, Mike Wallace, said it would strongly contest any claim for damages and is seeking legal advice on an appeal to the High Court. Mr Wallace said a private hospital on the grounds was still wanted, even with construction of the state-of-the-art Chris O'Brien Lifehouse cancer centre set to begin next year.

But Dr Wenkart has told Ms Tebbutt he is not willing to negotiate with Mr Wallace. Along with the then chief executive Diana Horvath, the court found Mr Wallace breached their agreement by failing to tell Macquarie that it had abandoned its masterplan, Campus 2010, which envisaged closing Missenden Road and having private and public hospital buildings.

Although Macquarie missed construction "drop dead" dates in 1999, the leases and construction deed were not validly terminated by the area health service and remained in force, the appeal judges said.

Dr Wenkart said: "It's going to take time, but then I've already spent a third of my life on it."


Rising tide of boat-borne illegals in Australia

PEOPLE arriving by boat now account for nearly half of the foreigners seeking asylum in Australia.

The Department of Immigration yesterday released figures showing the proportion of boat people jumped from 16 per cent two years ago to 47 per cent of the asylum seekers last year.

The majority of asylum seekers still remains those who arrive by air with a temporary visa and subsequently seek to stay permanently on grounds of persecution if they return to their homeland.

The department revealed the latest trend after WikiLeaks disclosed that the American embassy had criticised Australia's focus on boat people when there were thousands of other non-citizen overstayers already in Australia.

The Immigration Department's latest annual report does not list overstayers in its index, although the department reported in 2005 that there were an estimated 47,800 overstayers in Australia.

According to the department yesterday, non-boat-people asylum seekers totalled 5978 in 2009-10, significantly up from 5,074 in the previous 12 months.

However, that was outstripped by the massive rise in boatpeople, up from 2726 last year to 6232 boat people so far this calendar year.

Overall, asylum seekers appear to have had a better chance of winning refuge in Australia in recent years, although boat people have a lower success rate than those who arrive by air.

The better prospects may reflect the introduction by the Labor government of independent panels to review departmental decisions.

People from Afghanistan were the most like to win asylum, with a success rate of 99 per cent, followed by Iran (98 per cent) and and Iraq (97 per cent).

People from China have applied in the highest numbers for asylum, but have been the least successful. Out of a total 1288 Chinese applications for asylum last financial year, just 31 per cent succeeded.


17 December, 2010

WikiLeaks cleared of breaking Australian law

THE Wikileaks project has been officially cleared of breaking Australian law. The Australian Federal Police today said an investigation which began November 30 had detected no offences.

This finding is an embarrassment to Prime Minister Julia Gillard who initially said the leaking of confidential cables to Washington from the US Embassy in Canberra was illegal.

Ms Gillard later modified her position by saying the leaks had been based on an illegality - the original downloading of the diplomatic messages by a junior American soldier.

Attorney General Rob McClelland directed the AFP to examine "the matter relating to the publishing of United States (US) embassy cables containing classified information on the WikiLeaks website".

The police today said: "The AFP examined material relevant to potential Australian offences to determine whether an official investigation was warranted. "The AFP has completed its evaluation of the material available and has not established the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction. "Where additional cables are published and criminal offences are suspected, these matters should be referred to the AFP for evaluation."

Cables published so far have established that the Australian public was given a rosier outlook on our military involvement in Afghanistan than our leaders, particularly current Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, held in private.

It has also been revealed that when Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was looking at taking the top job after two or three elections, according to a junior MP.

Most of the revelations have been embarrassing to the Government, and less frequently to the Liberals.


Christmas Island tragedy forces review of ALP's asylum stance

LABOR Party national president Anna Bligh has backed a complete review of the government's border protection policies

The call comes as political unity over the Christmas Island asylum boat disaster crumbled. As the frantic search continued for survivors of Wednesday's horror sinking, the opposition said it would not join a proposed bipartisan group announced by Julia Gillard yesterday.

The rebuff came as The Australian learned that Indonesian authorities were searching for an Iranian in the belief he had planned the doomed people-smuggling operation.

It can also be revealed that the two patrol boats that participated in yesterday's rescue, plucking 41 survivors from the sea, were stationed off Christmas Island only because the seas were too rough to resume regular patrols.

The official death toll last night rose to 30, including four children and four babies, after divers recovered the bodies of man in his 20s and a boy about 10 years old, near the sunken hull.

However, the government, which yesterday announced three investigations into the tragedy, said the toll was likely to rise because up to 100 Iraqis, Iranians and Kurds were believed to have been aboard the boat.

Locals said bodies could be trapped for weeks in underwater caves at the site of the boat wreck, 200m from the island's only safe harbour, Flying Fish Cove.

Ms Bligh, the Queensland Premier, speaking in her federal leadership capacity with the ALP, yesterday agreed the "catastrophic tragedy" would raise questions about whether Christmas Island should continue to host the nation's biggest immigration detention camp.

She said the Prime Minister's decision to return to work from holidays demonstrated that she understood the implications for "policy settings in relation particularly to this island".

Asked whether the Indian Ocean territory had become a magnet for people-smuggling, Ms Bligh told The Australian: "I really do think it is premature to be jumping to specific conclusions. All I am saying is that . . . when a shocking incident like this happens, it's incumbent on all of us to have a really good look at all the settings, and we should have the courage to do so.

"This is an absolutely catastrophic tragedy and when we understand better the circumstances that led to it . . . I would expect that we as a nation would have a long, hard look at what it all means."

Inevitably, this would lead to "some questioning" about the viability of the detention facilities on Christmas Island, which was excised from the Australian migration zone by the Howard government. "I think as a nation we are all struggling with how we should protect our borders from illegal entry, how we should ensure we process people who are seeking asylum in a humane way and whether the detention centres are on Australian soil or places like Christmas Island," Ms Bligh said.

The three Indonesian crew members survived the disaster and last night were being held in the island's construction camp, away from the asylum-seeker survivors.

The Prime Minister warned the toll would almost certainly rise. "

Another asylum-seeker vessel arrived in Australian waters yesterday. The boat, with 54 passengers and two crew, was intercepted northwest of Ashmore Island by the patrol boat HMAS Glenelg yesterday afternoon. Those aboard were on their way to Christmas Island last night for security, identity and health checks.

Fending off questions about the role Labor's softened refugee policies might have played in drawing boats here, Ms Gillard called for any policy debate to be "informed by facts". "What we know from past instances in this area is there have been times when there has been a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of debate about the facts," she said.

She said West Australian authorities would conduct a coronial inquest into the incident. There would be a criminal investigation under people-smuggling laws and a review of the incident by Customs and Border Protection.

Mr Abbott said he was loathe to start a "political bunfight" over the issue, particularly while the rescue effort remained under way. "But given the Prime Minister's claim, I think I can make the observation that what Australia needs is a new policy to deal with this problem, not a new committee to investigate," he said.


Learn from Europe

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

If you want to understand the European crisis, you only need two statistics. The first is the development of the ratio of government expenditure to GDP over time; the second is the level of government debt.

Half a century ago, the state accounted for around a third of the economy in most EU countries. It was highest in Austria at 35.7% of GDP. In Italy, Belgium and Sweden, it was just over the 30% mark; in Switzerland and Spain, it was even lower than 20%.

What has happened since then can only be described as an explosion of government activities. In today’s European Union, there is not a single country with a government expenditure to GDP ratio below 40%. Ratios in the mid-40s are the norm, and in some countries they are well above the 50% mark. In Britain, it now stands at 52.2%, in France at 55.9%, and in Sweden at 56.0%.

Such expenditure levels require enormous tax revenues, and finance ministers found raising them to be increasingly difficult. So instead they went into debt. According to the latest available data from the European Central Bank, general government debt in Eurozone countries stood at 79.2% of GDP last year. The financial crisis of the past years has obviously contributed to this, but Europe’s march into debt began decades earlier.

What we are witnessing today is the end game of the European welfare state model as described above. Of course, there are further complications such as Europe’s demographic change, its failed migration and integration policies, and the folly of uniting the diverse continent in a monetary union. But above all, the European crisis boils down to the crisis of the overblown, inflated state.

For this reason alone, Australians should closely watch what is happening in Europe. Europe’s present can be our future if we repeat the mistakes Europeans have made in the past.

In comparison to the European figures, Australia’s expenditure to GDP ratio was 21.2% in 1960, had climbed to just over 34% by 1980, roughly stabilising at that level since. Consequently, Australian government debt is minimal by international standards.

Arguably, the smaller state has contributed to the higher growth rates that Australia has generated. As a rule of thumb, an increase in the spending ratio of 10 percentage points reduces economic growth by just under 1 percentage point a year. This may not sound much, but over the years the compound effect is substantial.

By comparing the different economic conditions of Europe and Australia, it should not be too difficult for Australians to make a choice about economic policy. Mimicking European policies is the surest way to economic disaster.

This makes it all the more surprising why the Australian government seems hell-bent on doing just that. ‘Building the Education Revolution,’ ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ the ‘National Broadband Network,’ and the universal parental leave scheme are all steps on the way to a bigger government Australia.

A quick glance at Europe shows why this is a dead end path.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Dec. 17. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Political interference will cripple climate debate

By Michael Asten, a professorial fellow in the school of geosciences, Monash University, Australia

THE Cancun climate change conference has come and gone. As expected, it began with a statement from climate scientists on the magnitude of the threat: a predicted sea-level rise of 0.5m to 2m by 2100.

Australia's Climate Change Minister Greg Combet spoke of Australia's commitment to spend $599 million on regional adaptation programs on climate change for poor countries. This may be a wise move since, based on the conference outcomes, few could be optimistic that the global community would succeed in reversing climate change by agreement on decreasing carbon emissions.

Less wise are the Gillard government's promises to introduce a price on Australian carbon emissions next year; we are entitled to ask first whether the government has learned from past mistakes, in particular its failure to countenance and consider a breadth of points of view on which mechanism, and indeed which scientific prediction we should believe.

The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, which advocates putting a price on carbon, is notable in its absence of endorsement of Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme over a carbon tax or vice versa.

The preferred mechanism for a price on carbon was a matter of some debate - and bureaucratic abuse of process - last year when Clive Spash, then of the CSIRO, wrote a journal article advocating a response to climate change via changes in economic structure, institutions and behaviour, rather than by the introduction of an ETS.

The Spash paper should have been welcomed as an example of the CSIRO fulfilling its six-point charter, which includes agreement for open communication, encouragement of debate on research issues of public interest, the contestability of ideas and demonstration of independence and integrity. Unfortunately, the CSIRO failed both its employee and its employer (the nation). The author was subject to intense pressure from his employer to modify his conclusions after they had been accepted by external peer review, to align them with the policy of the government of the day.

In what will be seen by historians as an outstanding example of political interference in the academic process, Spash resisted the demands for alteration, had his professional reputation traduced by ill-considered claims by Science Minister Kim Carr and eventually resigned his position.

His paper appeared this year in the June issue of the journal New Political Economy, and it is relevant to the present debate in that it questions the cost-effectiveness of an ETS and warns of the "potential for manipulation to achieve financial gain while showing little regard for environmental or social consequences".

A particular irony of this case is that Spash accepts the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming but differed from the 2009 government views on the nature of economic management of such change. Spash now holds a professorial position in Norway, and his work has renewed credibility as the OECD and our parliament consider options for a carbon-pricing alternative or some other mechanism for managing climate change.

Has the government learned from its mistakes of last year? Probably not. The supposedly multi-party Climate Change Committee set up by Combet includes a proviso that members must commit to a carbon price; the opposition has understandably declined to participate under such loaded terms of reference.

I also fear that the quality of scientific advice to the government is likewise loaded so that ongoing studies on scientific parameters vital to the climate debate such as the magnitude of the CO2 and water vapour-related feedbacks in atmospheric warming, the role of solar-magnetic and cosmic influences on climate, and the geological-historical records of cyclic climate change are starved of funding in Australia relative to the munificence of grants available for Combet's regional adaptation programs, or various green energy projects.

And if scientists involved in the foregoing topics arrive at a conclusion inconvenient to government policy, Spash's experience gives us no confidence that they will receive a fair hearing.

Political interference against scientific objectivity is insidious and may ultimately deliver hideous outcomes. It is common in climate change debate for lesser intellects to label those who dare to question present climate science orthodoxy as deniers, making the implicit association between climate sceptics and Holocaust deniers.

Such accusers probably are unaware of the savage irony in this epithet, in that German academics and scientists compliant with government policy were intimately involved in the formulation and development of Nazi racial policy, and, as historians have commented, the Nazi regime brought boom-time conditions for scientists from racial anthropologists, biologists and economists who were able to contribute to this aspect of the regime's policies. Those academics who were outspoken were removed by the Gestapo.

I do not offer these thoughts as being analogous to present climate debate but by way of caution to politicians who may be unwilling to allow debate, and scientists who may be unduly influenced by funding sources.

As a geophysicist my reading and writing leads me to question the level of influence of human-related CO2 emissions on present versus past climate change, and it is of huge concern to our nation's future if we commit to a price on carbon without a parallel high-priority, objective and ongoing scientific effort to quantify uncertainties and natural factors also affecting climate change.

The Cancun predictions on sea-level rises contrast with recent satellite observations on the rate of sea-level change and provide a timely example on the need for scientific objectivity.

A recent peer-reviewed paper by Svetlana Jevrejeva from Britain's National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, provides a calculation of 0.6m-1.6m by 2100 using a range of climate models. However, these models also show predicted sea-level change rates of 4.2mm-5.4mm a year for the first decade of the 21st century.

I contrast these predictions with just published observations by Riccardo Riva from Delft in The Netherlands and international colleagues who use satellite technology to measure actual global sea level rise in this same decade to be in the order of 1mm a year, which happens to be about the rate of sea-level increase that has been observed during the past century. In other words, the observational data suggests the problem as modelled may be overstated by a factor of five.

Did scientists from the no-longer independent CSIRO (or other competent body in Australia) brief minister Combet and his team at Cancun on this discrepancy and its implications? Are they permitted to make such comment publicly? And how will such observations affect the targeting of our funds on offer for regional adaptation programs?

Until we have confidence scientists can address such issues without censorship or denigration, we cannot have confidence that a price on carbon will be scientifically justified or wisely spent.


16 December, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has decided he is on the side of Julian Assange

No way to treat a valued friend

Greg Sheridan below is puzzled that Rudd again went off half-cocked -- Surprising that he does not see it clearly for what it was: Typical Leftist approval-seeking

THIS has been a remarkable week for Australia in Israel, made just a bit perplexing by a baffling little sequence from Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. This week the third meeting of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with a day in Ramallah talking to Palestinian leaders. There is no doubt Rudd is well regarded in Israel and his authentic leadership on Iran is appreciated.

However, there was one episode of policy freelancing, or innovation, or just downright oddity, that has no honourable explanation and has perplexed, to put it mildly, his many Israeli admirers.

In an interview with this paper's John Lyons in Cairo on Saturday, Rudd said: "Our view has been consistent for a long time and that is that all states in the region should adhere to the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that includes Israel. And therefore their nuclear facility should be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection."

Lyons was prompted to ask the question because Rudd had made very similar remarks at a press conference with the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, in Cairo the day before. In fairness to Rudd, he had strongly pressed the case that Iran's nuclear program must be contained.

However, the de facto equating of Israel and Iran is bizarre. Rudd may as well have demanded that India open its nuclear facilities to inspection by the IAEA.

But Rudd's words in Cairo were extremely welcome to his Arab interlocutors. No Australian foreign minister in history has previously called for Israel's nuclear facility to be open to IAEA inspection. Israel, not being a signatory to the NPT, has no legal obligation to submit to IAEA inspections. Iran, a member of the NPT, is in clear violation of NPT and IAEA rules.

Israel has never threatened anybody with nuclear weapons, Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is a democracy, Iran is a clerical-military dictatorship. Israel does not sponsor terrorism, Iran is the chief international sponsor of terrorism.

Israel has never proliferated any nuclear material, Iran has been intimately involved in nuclear technology proliferation with North Korea and Syria.

Israel does not officially admit to having any nuclear weapons, but most experts believe it probably has about 200 nukes.

As Rudd has acknowledged many times, Israel faces existential challenges no one else faces.

There are areas of deliberate greyness in international diplomacy. No serious Western foreign minister ever demands that Israel submit to IAEA inspection. Everyone knows that Israel, like India, will never give up its nuclear weapons and a repeated demand for inspections would become just another sterile, anti-Israel agitprop slogan, of no utility to nuclear non-proliferation but very helpful to those who hate Israel and wish to demonise it.

So, presumably Rudd would not take such a radical and fateful step unless this prefigured some new and profound Australian policy objective, right?

But, dear reader, the truth is that when Rudd got to Israel he did not raise the NPT and IAEA inspections even once in his lengthy meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, or in his speech to a gala dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Indeed, the timing of the publication of Lyons's story was such that Rudd's most senior Israeli interlocutors were not even aware that he had made these remarks when they saw him on Monday.

At a press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Rudd did repeat his statement that Australian policy wanted Israel to join the NPT but by then he had abandoned any reference to inspections.

On a smaller note, all through the Arab world Rudd had denounced Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, but in his talks with Netanyahu and in his public speech they didn't get a mention.

Now, in politics you can support policy A or its opposite, policy B. What you cannot credibly do is support policy A in Cairo and policy B in Jerusalem.

In a sense Rudd let down both the Arabs and the Israelis. If the Arabs thought he was sincere in wanting the Israelis to submit their nuclear facility to inspection, then they would be bitterly disappointed to know he didn't mention it to the Israelis.

If the Israelis thought he was sincere in his presentation of himself as Israel's best friend, they would have a right to be bitterly disappointed that he was espousing much more robust anti-Israeli opinions than the consensus view among even Israel's habitual critics in Western governments.

One interpretation is that Rudd could not resist telling the Arab audience in Cairo what it wanted to hear, then telling the Israeli audience in Jerusalem what it wanted to hear. This is a common interpretation of Rudd, but one this column has resisted, regarding Rudd as a figure of singular substance in foreign policy. But you cannot have it both ways.

Indeed, and this is a conclusion this column would be extremely reluctant to reach, Rudd's famous leaked comments to Hillary Clinton, saying that he wanted China to develop peacefully and fruitfully as a fully responsible member of the international community, but that if it didn't the US and Australia would have to have the option of force in reserve, could also be interpreted in this way: that Rudd was telling the Americans what he thought they wanted to hear.

The ongoing tragedy with Rudd is that his ability could never remotely be in doubt. He knows more about foreign policy than anyone on either side of the Australian parliament. But these strange quirks seem to get in the way. Rudd's performance in Israel overall was impressive, but there were times when he seemed to strain just that bit too much to connect with the audience.

At the speech at the King David Hotel, for example, he remarked: "From the 1930s, this hotel became the British field headquarters for what was then British Palestine, until Menachem Begin undertook some interior redesign." Rudd was referring to the incident in which Israeli independence activists blew up the hotel. I accept that they were not the equivalent of modern terrorists. But people died in that incident. I don't think such a joke was in good taste, although many in the audience appreciated it.

I remain convinced that Rudd has made a prodigious contribution to Australian foreign policy. His self-confidence on the international stage is a great asset. But he would do well to turn the volume down, stick a bit closer to conventional government positions, be a little less adventurous.

Now everyone in the Australian foreign policy debate is bound to explore whether this demand for IAEA inspections of Israel's nuclear facility is a serious government policy. As for myself, I confess considerable confusion about Rudd's purpose in this episode.


Australia is spending $600 million on climate BS??

Greg Combet says so

Australia understands that strong domestic action on climate change delivers both economic and environmental benefits. That is why Australia already has policies in place to encourage the development of clean energy sources within our economy, as well as a suite of policies to support greater energy efficiency for households and businesses.

My Government is also working to introduce a carbon price into our economy to achieve emissions reductions. No one should underestimate the challenge in Australia to make the economic reform required to reduce carbon pollution. My Government tried 3 times to introduce a carbon price during our last term of Government and was unsuccessful due to political opposition.

However, I reiterate our determination to pursue the introduction of a carbon price into our economy– it is a policy that is firmly in our national interest and one that will contribute to emissions reductions.

Apart from the domestic action we are taking the Australian Government is also endeavouring to play a constructive role internationally.

Today I announced further allocations under the $599 million of Australia’s committed fast start financing. These included:

$15 million to the Adaptation Fund
$169 million in new regional adaptation allocations to the Pacific, South and South-East Asia and Africa
$32 million for REDD+ Initiatives in Indonesia under our International Forest Carbon Initiative
$10 million to the Climate Investment Funds’ Programme on Scaling‑up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries, and
$10 million to the Partnership for Market Readiness

Australia is delivering on fast start and we will continue to provide regular and transparent information on the delivery of our fast start funds.


Australia's "cash for Clunkers" costs put ETS in the shade

JULIA Gillard's cash-for-clunkers proposal would cost 15 times more than an emissions trading scheme to reduce carbon pollution.And no research has been conducted on the fallout on used car dealers from the vehicle buyback policy.

Bureaucrats charged with administering the Cleaner Car Rebate scheme have confirmed that compliance to ensure vehicles were scrapped was a "major concern" overseas.

Under the plan, owners of cars manufactured before January 1, 1995, will be eligible for a $2000 rebate when they buy a new car with a Green Vehicle Guide greenhouse rating of six or above. The scheme is capped at 200,000 vehicles over four years.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has repeatedly declined to detail the carbon abatement cost per tonne of the cleaner car scheme, which has already been delayed for six months.

But the Department of Innovation has now confirmed for the first time that the cost of abatement under the $430 million scheme is $429.70 per tonne over the decade. That compares with a carbon price under the Rudd-Gillard government's original ETS of about $30 a tonne.

The Gillard government has already been forced to delay the start of the cash-for-clunkers scheme for six months as a budget savings measure.

But critics of the scheme believe Wayne Swan and Penny Wong should take the opportunity to axe it when they consider savings measures as part of next year's budget process.

Opposition innovation spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella said yesterday the departmental response confirmed there was no serious modelling, no serious discussion with the industry or research on likely effects.

"Kim Carr and Greg Combet have been like rabbits in the spotlight when asked about the carbon costs of this program," she said. "It's absurd. The government's own (emissions trading scheme) price was under $30 and this is now $429, it's just insane and there is no justification. It's disastrously inefficient from an environmental perspective.

"It makes imported cars more attractive. The used car market will be seriously distorted."

Australian National University climate change academic Frank Jotzo said if the federal government was going to spend $430m of taxpayers' money, there were far more effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"This kind of scheme is a very high-cost operation if the motivation is reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "In the US and Europe, the aim of such a scheme was to essentially prop up the car industry after the global financial crisis."


Death of 27 asylum seekers highlights Australia's immigration problems

Twenty-seven asylum seekers have died and dozens may be missing after heavy waves smashed their timber boat onto rocks on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean off Australia

With rescue efforts still under way on the remote territory of Christmas Island on Wednesday night, 41 people had been plucked from the water and one had swam to shore. Several of the survivors had been taken to hospital and three were in a critical condition.

The incident will reignite the simmering debate in Australia over asylum seekers and border protection.

Every year thousands of asylum seekers attempt to enter the country by making the dangerous 230-mile journey from Indonesia by boat in the hope that once they arrive they will be granted refugee visas and allowed to set up home on the mainland, which is 1,650 miles away.

Most hail from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and despite efforts to stop the procession of boats by the government, the country's detention centres are at capacity after more than 100 boats delivered 5,000 asylum seekers since January, the highest number for ten years.

There are now more than 2,000 people in detention on Christmas Island, which was originally configured to house 1,900. Three large tents are being used to accommodate the overflow.

On Wednesday, a wooden boat, believed to be carrying about 70 asylum seekers from Iraq and Iran, arrived at Christmas Island in treacherous seas.

Locals, woken at 6am by the screams from the stricken boat, rushed to the cliffs, where they were confronted by desperate scenes. The 130ft boat, which had lost power, was drifting close to the jagged rocks in the rolling surf. Women and children were clinging to the sides of the vessel and screaming.

As the islanders looked on, a huge wave smashed the boat onto the jagged rocks. The vessel disintegrated, sending its passengers and large planks of wood flying into the water.

While islanders frantically threw life jackets and ropes into the water, and some tried to clamber down the cliff to reach the victims, many of whom could not swim, navy boats attempted a rescue using two inflatable dinghies. But the dangerous conditions, brought on by a cyclone in the Indian Ocean to the north, hampered the rescue effort and scores of people, including women, children and babies drowned or were dashed against the rocks.

"There were children in the water. There was one very small child in a life jacket floating face down for a very long time... clearly dead," said Simon Prince, a local shop owner who lives on the cliff and was one of the first on the scene. "It's something I'm not going to forget very quickly."

"We could hear the screaming," a tearful resident, Ingrid Avery, said. "Screaming, screaming and I could hear children screaming." She said the navy boats had been delayed by the arrival of another vessel elsewhere on the island. Until the navy arrived, locals tried to help, she said.

"It was terrible to watch, there was nothing we could do, we were running around trying to send down life jackets but it was useless because the wind just blew them back in our faces."

Julia Gillard, the prime minister, said in a statement that the situation was "tragic" and the government was focusing on the rescue effort.

Earlier this year, Ms Gillard was accused of "going soft" on the issue by supporting policies that did not deter asylum seekers from making the dangerous journey across the Indian Ocean in unsafe vessels. Her party now wants to open a processing centre on East Timor, in the hope that it will move the problem out of Australian jurisdiction. The leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, has vowed simply to "stop the boats" if he gains power, a slogan that won his party strong support at the recent election.

Refugee rights groups have blamed misguided government policy for the disaster. "I do think the fact there isn't a welcome refugee policy, that the government has people smuggling laws in place which make it less likely that people on boats are willing to contact Australian authorities and to rendezvous," Ian Rintoul, head of the Refugee Action Coalition, said.

This is the third deadly incident involving boats trying to reach Christmas Island in the past decade. Last year, five Afghan refugees died when their boat exploded off Ashmore Reef, near Christmas Island, injuring 30 others. In 2001 the Siev X fishing boat sank just south of the Indonesian island of Java with 400 people onboard. A total of 353 people perished.


15 December, 2010

Draft legislation boosts homosexual marriage

THE federal Attorney-General's Department is in the early stages of drafting broad anti-discrimination legislation that will make it illegal to discriminate on gender or sexuality grounds and includes a policy suggestion that is a step towards legalising gay marriage.

In its secret Red Book to the incoming Gillard government, the department proposed prohibiting marital and relationship status discrimination "in consolidated bill to include same-sex couples".

The Attorney-General's Red Book says that while commonwealth law prohibits sexuality discrimination in employment, it does not prohibit gender status discrimination.

"This policy commits to including new protections against sexuality or gender status discrimination in the consolidation of commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, which is currently under way," it says.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland was quick to clarify that the Gillard government remains opposed to gay marriage, and has not changed its position.

Australian Marriage Equality spokesman Rodney Croome said it was untenable for the government to outlaw discrimination against same-sex relationships and yet remain the "ultimate offender by continuing to prohibit same-sex marriages".

"Even if the government refuses to admit this is a step towards allowing same-sex marriages, it's clearly a concession to the majority of ALP members and the majority of Australians who support that reform," he said.

The ALP will debate ending its ban on gay marriage at its national conference late next year.

A Greens motion urging MPs to seek the views of their electorates on changing marriage laws was passed in the House of Representatives last month with Labor's support.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's Department said the extract in the incoming government brief prepared by the department refers to the consolidation of anti-discrimination laws project, which is part of Australia's Human Rights Framework.


Schools should embrace Ramadan as well as Christmas?

SCHOOLS that celebrate Christmas should also embrace other non-Christian religious festivals, Muslim leaders say. Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, called on the Victorian Education Department to include the traditions of other religious faiths as part of the formal school curriculum.

"Schools have religious programs - but generally they're elective, they're not compulsory," he said. "To have an awareness of these festivals can be very enriching for all students, including people who go to secular schools."

His comments follow Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu's recent move to protect Christmas celebrations at state schools so that all children can enjoy the "simple pleasures" of the holiday.

Mr Trad called on Mr Baillieu to extend the same level of support to other religions as well. "When the Premier of the state makes a statement in that manner, one can't help but feel that he is giving an official stamp to one religion to the exclusion of the other," he said. "To be a Premier for all Victorians, I look forward to his instructions to schools to teach about the important religious festivals for all faiths."

Mr Trad added that Muslim people should be able to take leave from work during Eid, the three-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Sherene Hassan, vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, also endorsed the incorporation of Ramadan and other religious festivals in the classroom. "Conversations about increasing awareness of different cultures and religions are already taking place and have been happening for some time among educators," she said. "The ICV believes this is a positive way of fostering respect between children."

Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, spokesman for the Australian National Imams' Council, said that schools could hold anything from lessons to full-blown celebrations, depending on the number of pupils of that particular faith. "Christmas here is celebrated, although the majority of Australians are not Christians but probably consider themselves to be secularists or atheists," he said. "Exposure to other cultures in a multi-racial country is a good thing, especially in schools."

Mr Baillieu and the Victorian Education Department declined to comment when contacted by the Herald Sun.


Even top marks in English may not indicate proficiency

Sarah Michael

Until my first year of university last year, when one of my tutors quite bluntly pointed it out to me, I had always written "definately" instead of "definitely".

I went through 12 years of schooling and completed both Advanced and Extension 1 English during my HSC in 2007 without knowing how to spell the word. I was also still unclear about the difference between "its" and "it's". And I had no idea when it was appropriate to use a semicolon (I still have to Google "semicolons" to remind myself).

Many people my age have an appalling grasp of spelling and grammar. Some blame instant messaging and the wide use of abbreviations. Others blame the (arguably) apathetic members of Generation Y. I blame the high school English curriculum.

The NSW Board of Studies years 7-10 English syllabus aims to teach students to "speak, listen, read, write, view and represent" and "use language and communicate appropriately and effectively". Punctuation, spelling and grammar are itemised in the curriculum, but there seems to be a lack of focus on spelling and grammar in the classroom.

And what message does it send in HSC English exams, when students are not marked down for spelling or punctuation errors? Bad spelling and punctuation only count against them when the marker cannot understand what it is they are trying to express.

One English teacher told me: "I think they just assume teachers will just put [spelling and grammar] into their program when they do their own individual programming in the school. But the issue there is that the syllabus itself is so full of all this other stuff that they are requiring us to teach kids, that there isn't much time left when I'll only see one class five times every two weeks."

Personally, I have vague memories of learning the definitions of nouns, adjectives, pronouns and prepositions in primary school, which I remember to this day. I also remember doing a weekly spelling test. But high school English was different. I learnt how to spot a simile and metaphor from a mile away. I learnt to be critical of the books I read and the films I watched. I learnt to question why an author or a filmmaker would phrase something a certain way or use a certain type of camera shot. What I did not learn about was spelling or grammar.

If I made a mistake, my teacher would circle it in red pen. Sometimes I caught myself wondering whether I should be using "it's" or "its". But, being a typical 15-year-old, instead of bothering to find out, I would go online and try to download another episode of The O.C. or something.

Many internet browsers have spellcheck functions but none seem able to check grammar. This is odd, considering the amazing advancements in technology over the past decade.

Perhaps it is because a computer program cannot pick up on the context of a sentence and tell whether a person means "it's" or "its". Computer spell checks have made people lazy when typing.

Logging on to Facebook is a quick way to discover how far-reaching the problem is. The majority of my 400 or so friends would be between 16 to 25, making my news feed the perfect place to survey the grammatical know-how of Generation Y. And for the most part it is pretty grim.

I am not talking about people writing all in lower case. But in more than half the posts, I see people mix up "their", "there" and "they're". They confuse "your" and "you're". And, of course, "it's" and "its" are highly interchangeable.

Not all Facebook users are grammarless fools. There is a community of vigilant social networkers who take their spelling and punctuation very seriously, creating Facebook groups such as "'Let's eat Grandma' or 'Let's eat, Grandma' - Punctuation saves lives" ' and "You use 'your' and 'you're' properly? Excuse me while I undress myself". Both have more than 191,000 members.

The draft years 7-10 Australian Curriculum for English on the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority website includes a specific focus on spelling and grammar. Let's hope this means that the next generation will finish school knowing how to construct a proper sentence.

Spelling and grammar remain important because one error can completely distort the meaning of what we are trying to say. Just ask grandma.


Victorian Coalition wins control of Upper House

THE Coalition has seized control of both houses of the Victorian parliament, with counting in the Upper House finalised today. The Liberal/Nationals won 21 of the 40 Upper House seats, handing them the balance of power in the Legislative Council.

Liberal Craig Ondarchie clinched the final fifth seat in the northern metropolitan region after enduring a nail-biting two week count. "What an honour, what an honour for democracy and what an honour for myself and the Liberal Party, that we now look like we'll get a strong representation in the Upper House to take Victoria forward," he told reporters at the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) tally room.

With minutes to go before the eight Upper House seats were declared, the coalition was set to increase its membership of the house from 17 to 21.

Labor was likely to lose three, taking its numbers to 16, the Greens were on track to retain their three seats, and the Democratic Labor Party had lost its sole seat.


14 December, 2010

Afghan deal to return asylum seekers

AN arrangement to send failed Afghan asylum seekers back to Kabul will help Australia deal with unauthorised boat arrivals, a Labor frontbencher says. Canberra and Kabul reportedly have agreed on a draft memorandum of understanding that paves the way for involuntary returns. The historic memorandum could be signed within weeks, The Australian said today.

Parliamentary secretary Mark Dreyfus says discussions between the two nations have been underway for some time. "It's an important part of any system for dealing with unauthorised arrivals," he told Sky News today. "We prefer that people went on a voluntary basis after their claims are rejected. "If they don't it's important ... to make sure it's done in an orderly way."

Liberal backbencher Paul Fletcher says reaching agreement would help deal with overcrowding in Australia's detention centres, which currently house about 6000 people. "That (figure) includes a significant number of people (who've) been denied refugee status and ... (are) required to return to their homeland," he said.

Figures from the immigration department show that 4342 Afghans have arrived since late 2008 and only two have voluntarily returned to their home country in that time.

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says any deal is unlikely to help with the immediate problem of overcrowding in detention centres. "If they do get to a deal no-one will be going home anytime soon because of the ability to pursue ... failed claims in the courts," he told the Macquarie Network.


Hasty banking laws will have adverse consequences

ANYONE who believes that allowing gravel to call themselves boulders will convert a rock garden into Stonehenge urgently needs a dosage check. And that Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey seem to be sharing the meds hardly adds to one's confidence in the proposed banking reforms. But even putting the pebbles-into-pillars fantasies aside, the real trouble with the reforms is that they could inflict serious harm, merely so as to show that the government is "doing something".

The proposed ban on "price signalling", whatever that means, highlights the flaws.

Banks, like any other business, have a legitimate interest in informing their customers about likely trends in prices. That helps customers plan, and may also give them the time to shop around if they believe there are better deals to be found. Moreover, masses of research shows consumers react far better to price increases if they are forewarned and understand why they occur.

As a result, one would want convincing evidence before prohibiting firms from disclosing their pricing intentions. But rather than demonstrate there is a problem that needs fixing, the Treasurer merely says that the proposed ban "covers a gap in [the] Trade Practices Act" relative to "laws [that] already exist in the US, the UK and Europe".

That claim is at best misleading. American, British and European Union competition law would not prohibit the disclosure of price information unless it formed part of, or otherwise supported, explicit or tacit collusion; under the government's proposed approach, the conduct could be prohibited even if there were no collusion and no prospect of it.

Rather, all it requires for conduct to be in breach is that one purpose of the disclosure is to substantially lessen competition, where that purpose may be inferred by a court, even if there is no evidence that such a lessening of competition was the company's aim or intention.

It is easy to say that no court would come to such a finding capriciously. And it is also easy to say that actually making out the proscribed purpose could be a challenge. But long experience proves that bad laws impose high costs: not least by creating uncertainty as to what is allowed and what is prohibited. That the prohibition comes with swingeing penalties only adds to the risk that it will chill desirable conduct.

This is not to argue that our competition laws are in perfect shape. Rather, the provisions that deal with price-fixing need to be simplified and clarified. But sensible policy would tackle these deficiencies directly. Instead, the Treasurer is fiddling at the edges, in the process undermining the laws' coherence and integrity.

That the proposed changes will only apply to banking makes matters worse. It is for good reasons that successive governments have emphasised the need to ensure the competition provisions apply to all sectors equally, avoiding distortions associated with artificial boundaries.

And if "price signalling" is indeed so serious a problem, why tackle it in only one sector? Surely this is merely an admission that the legislation is hastily designed and rich in risks and unintended consequences?

All that and more could also be said of the proposed ban on exit charges. Far from being a barrier to competition, these were brought in by smaller mortgage lenders as a way of recovering costs and capturing part of the gains from competing aggressively to attract customers.

That exit fees, set at a moderate level, would enhance competition is hardly difficult to understand: these fees increase the prize each firm gets from winning a customer and hence encourage them to invest in customer acquisition.

And if they can't recover those costs from exit fees, they will either invest less in acquiring customers or recover the costs of doing so in other, less efficient, ways.

One might hope this would lead to a cautious, evidence-based, approach. But no such fuddy-duddy attitudes here. Rather, preferring decisiveness to prudence, the government proposes a blanket ban on mortgage exit fees, despite a complete lack of any evidentiary basis for so drastic a measure.

Nor are the interventions aimed at assisting smaller lenders better thought through. Rather, these too raise obvious questions the Treasurer's statement simply ignores. How can extending the deposit guarantees be justified, especially given that these are not priced in a way that adequately reflects and mitigates the risk taxpayers bear from the insurance they are providing?

And surely encouraging banks and credit unions to advertise the fact that they are government guaranteed courtesy of the proposed new "Government Protected Deposits" symbol, presumably modelled on the Heart Foundation's tick, will reinforce expectations of unconditional bail-outs, increasing yet further the dangers of moral hazard?

As for an increased commitment of public funds to buying residential mortgage backed securities, this involves the commonwealth selling government bonds, a very low risk instrument, and using the proceeds to purchase an asset that has substantially higher risks: indeed, so high a risk that private buyers are reluctant to purchase RMBS at current prices.

What is proposed, therefore, is a deterioration in the quality of the balance sheet of taxpayers. That deterioration amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers to the issuers of RMBS.

But where is the evidence that the benefits from the subsidy outweigh its costs? Indeed, where are the estimates of just how large that subsidy is likely to be, and to whom it will accrue? And where is the analysis showing that what Australia needs is yet more lending on houses, this time funded by taxpayers?

Don't waste your time looking, for the answers are nowhere to be found.

Is this really what we have come to? That with considerable concurrence between government and opposition, policy for perhaps the most important, but also most vulnerable, part of our economy is being made without any kind of careful evidence or analysis?

If so, these measures, however limited their apparent scale, foreshadow a future that is truly frightening: in which it isn't Stonehenge, with its timeless pillars, that the government is building, but a shaky and expensive house of cards.


Party revolt growing over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's WikiLeaks stance

JULIA Gillard is confronting a growing backlash within her own party, with more Labor MPs yesterday attacking the Prime Minister's language and declaring their support for WikiLeaks's founder Julian Assange and free speech.

Ms Gillard said the latest WikiLeaks information dump was based on an illegal act, but Canberra has since insisted that was a reference to the original theft of the material by a junior US serviceman rather than any action by Mr Assange.

However, Labor Left MP Maria Vamvakinou from Melbourne yesterday told The Australian the government had read the public mood wrongly on the issue and said she supported the release of the classified material. "The leaked material, I believe, the public should know about and have the right to know about this information. I believe that very strongly," she said. "If you believe in freedom of speech, you can't pick and choose. "I can't understand the comments that have been made by the members of the government. They are unwarranted."

The ALP's parliamentary Left national convenor Doug Cameron said he believed in freedom of the press and the right to publish material without Mr Assange being depicted as a traitor.

"The guy is entitled to a presumption of innocence. He is entitled to consular support and these argument . . . that he is some kind of traitor, I think has to be in the context that it (WikiLeaks) is operating like any other media outlet," Senator Cameron said. "It really is about the problems the Americans have in terms of their security systems."

West Australian Labor senator Louise Pratt said she wanted Mr Assange to get full consular assistance and said he should not be prejudged. "I hope that he doesn't turn into the next David Hicks for the government."

Following suggestions by Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland that Mr Assange may have his Australian passport cancelled, Kevin Rudd told The Australian in Cairo that any such decision was his as Foreign Minister.

The government has asked the federal police to probe whether Mr Assange had broken the law, a process Mr McClelland said could take a long time.

The Coalition's foreign spokeswoman Julie Bishop yesterday accused the Gillard government of being thrown into disarray by Ms Gillard's response to WikiLeaks.

Mr Rudd has consistently taken a different line to Ms Gillard and Mr McClelland.


Expensive Qld. government water bungles

A TOP-SECRET dossier has exposed the embarrassing water issues plaguing the Bligh Government - many of which it has tried to deny or deflect.

They include major blunders never publicly revealed until today, including the $2.3 million spent upgrading Queensland Water Commission's office, which is now half-empty because of its reduced role, and concerns about "rogue" recycled water test results.

In recent months, the Government has sought to deflect many of the issues raised in the document.

When quizzed about the value of water being recycled and poured daily into the sea, Mr Robertson's office initially claimed this did not happen routinely other than for testing. However, department director-general John Bradley later admitted the amount was on average 33 million litres a day – about $40,000 worth of water based on present wholesale prices.

The Government also tried to deny consumers would effectively pay for the scuttled Traveston Dam after being asked why the 10-year price path for water had not been revised down to account for the $2.1 billion in reduced expenditure.

However, Mr Robertson recently tried to make a virtue out of removing part of Traveston's original costs from prices so households could get a $5-a-year discount on their annual water bills.

Acting Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said the document once again confirmed the rampant culture of spin, lies and cover-up within the Bligh Government. "For too long Labor ministers have tried to get away with the Gordon Nuttall defence of claiming their department hadn't briefed them," he said. "This culture of denial is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Government has been under increasing fire over rising water bills, prompting it to mothball plants worth millions of dollars in a bid to cut costs. The $1.2 billion Tugun Desalination Plant, which has been plagued by problems since it opened last year, will be shut early next year, along with half the $380 million Bundamba treatment plant and the new $313 million plant at Gibson Island.

Households have been hit with average rises of between $100 and $300 a year to pay for building the water grid.


13 December, 2010

Appalling medical school teaching

Even something as basic as anatomy stumps medical students -- but you can be sure that they are well up on "cultural sensitivity" and the like

Anatomy teaching has been cut back so much that medical students have been unable to identify important body parts. In some cases, students who volunteered for a catch-up crash course in anatomy could not answer when asked to identify specific anatomical structures, such as major blood vessels, in partially dissected human specimens. In a few cases, students responded with fictitious names of body parts that did not exist.

The seven-week course in full-body dissection, run earlier this year at the University of Sydney, proved wildly popular with the students who completed it -- and had a dramatic effect on their anatomical knowledge. The students were tested again halfway through and at the conclusion of the course, and both times the 29 students achieved almost perfect scores.

The findings, by a team led by George Ramsey-Stewart, professor of surgical anatomy at the University of Sydney, promise to rekindle controversy over the scaling back of anatomy tuition nationwide.

Detailing the results in today's edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Ramsey-Stewart called for a standard national curriculum for anatomy -- something resisted by most medical school deans -- that included dissection. He also called for "barrier" assessments, requiring students to gain a pass mark before being able to progress in their degree course.

Structures some students failed to identify correctly included the abdominal aorta -- the biggest artery in the abdomen -- and the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in humans that runs from the lower back into the leg.

Professor Ramsey-Stewart said while it would be wrong to make too much of the students' poor results in the first tests, it was nevertheless "of concern" that one-quarter of all the answers given by the students betrayed worrying gaps in their knowledge. "It's a problem for most universities . . . I hear from my anatomical and surgical colleagues that it's across the board," he said.

However, he said the students involved were too advanced in their course to have benefited from curriculum changes introduced by the University of Sydney in 2007, when anatomy teaching hours were trebled.

Doctor and researcher Steven Craig, who in March published a study that found teaching hours for anatomy varied from as few as 56 hours in one medical school to 560 hours -- said improvements in anatomy teaching to date were mostly "a patch-up job". "These sorts of (voluntary dissection) courses are fantastic -- for the students who get to do them," Dr Craig said. "But if they can only accept 30 of the 250 students (it needs expanding)."

Australian Medical Students Association president Robert Marshall rejected the call for a national curriculum, and said such studies ignored the fact that much anatomy tuition was incorporated into other activities.


Bank changes pointless and possibly harmful

WAYNE Swan has produced a "McBank Package" - seemingly tasty but with all the nutritional value of cardboard. He has managed a rare double: a package that is both pointless and potentially damaging and harmful.

It is also a formal statement that this Government has embarked on populist feel-good measures that will unwind the tough Hawke-Keating Labor government reforms that delivered 20 years of growth and prosperity.

This is captured in the package's signature so-called reform: the abolition of exit fees. It's pointless, because the big banks were already abolishing them. The two Melbourne banks, the ANZ and NAB, have abolished them. Westpac and CBA haven't yet, but almost certainly would have followed.

In any event they aren't that large - $500-$700. That's so far as the big banks are concerned. It's the small banks and building societies that charge up to $7000.

They do so, because they have to, in order to compete with the big banks. So the number one thing that Swan and wannabe-PM Bill Shorten do, is directly and seriously attack the very institutions that they purportedly want to compete against the big banks! Pointless and harmful.

Their major complaint is that there's not enough competition. So what do they do? Seek to force all financial institutions, big banks and the rest to offer exactly the same sort of home loans, with inevitably exactly the same interest rate, charges and terms.

The reason we had exit fees was to deliver lower charges to the vast majority of borrowers who didn't seek to get out of their home loans in the first few years. Now those benefits vanish, courtesy of Swan and Shorten.

Sure, there are some good things in the package. The "lettuce" so to speak. Correction, one: the simplified, understandable facts sheet.

The rest are deceptive, dangerous and plain silly. The competition czar is going to be given the power to stamp down on "price-signalling". Oh yeah? So is the ACCC going to ban the most blatant price-signalling of all banks publishing what rates they charge and what rates they pay on deposits?

Like when the CBA announced immediately on Cup Day it would raise its home loan rate by 40 points. That was certainly a very big "signal", which all the other banks followed to varying degrees.

Oh dear, we have a Treasurer who's made a complete goose of himself.


Another government computer bungle

Queensland's OneSchool program hits a snag. When will they learn to buy "off the shelf"?

THE launch of a new $100 million software program for Queensland schools has suffered a major delay over concerns staff don't know how to operate it.

In the latest information technology bungle to hit the Bligh Government, The Sunday Mail can reveal the third and final phase of the controversial OneSchool program has been delayed for up to 12 months or more.

The rollout of the third phase, which has already cost $30.1 million, involves financial account keeping of receipts and invoices for hundreds of primary and high schools. However, Education Queensland has aborted the January 4 launch date because staff are complaining they don't know how to use the system.

The revelations come as the Government is still scrambling to fix the Queensland Health payroll debacle that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars and exposed major problems with the state's IT service delivery.

The OneSchool program, created by Education Queensland, first struck controversy when the initial phase, involving published student profiles to 1.5 million users, came under fire over concerns for children's privacy. The Auditor-General criticised the program last year because it was estimated to cost $45 million but had already cost $97 million.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson failed to answer questions directed to his office. But in a written statement, Education Queensland deputy director-general of corporate services Richard Eden said the software was ready to launch but staff required more training to use it.

"After feedback from school administration staff, who will be the ones using the program to run school accounts, the rollout will now happen progressively throughout 2011 instead of from 4 January," he said. "It's acknowledged that the start of the school year is a very busy time and it is more suitable to do a progressive rollout throughout next year as schools are ready for the transition."

But Opposition IT spokesman Scott Emerson said he had been told the department was concerned about going live after the embarrassment of the health payroll bungle. "Clearly this is another botched project by the long-term Labor Government," Mr Emerson said. "What we have here is the warning signs of another health payroll."


$20 million compensation payments for birth bungles in Victorian public hospitals

SECRET payouts totalling almost $20 million have been made to families whose babies suffered bungled births in Victoria's public hospitals. Hospitals were forced to pay compensation in 25 botched obstetric and newborn cases in just one year - totalling half of all medical payouts in the past 12 months - but authorities will not reveal details of what went wrong.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis and Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson have called for a culture of greater transparency.

And the Herald Sun can reveal further lawsuits over allegations of bungled births have been launched, including a Melbourne mum who says mistakes by the Monash Medical Centre left her baby severely brain-damaged. Janelle Smythe says she was sent home believing she had a healthy baby. It was only months later that she discovered her baby, Maddison, was profoundly disabled. Maddison is now aged three but still cannot laugh, talk, eat or sit after suffering brain damage when she was starved of oxygen at birth.

Ms Smythe claims doctors "stuffed around" for hours instead of delivering Maddison by emergency caesarean.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal more than $41.7 million was paid secretly to 128 Victorians by public hospitals for medical botch-ups in 2009.

The highest payout by the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority - the insurer for state government departments - was $5 million awarded to a newborn or child last year, while the second and third-highest sums, of $4.5 million and $3 million, went to obstetrics cases.

Other high-claim categories were emergency medicine, where 23 patients were awarded more than $4 million, 15 general surgery patients got $2.5 million and 11 anaesthetics patients shared $2 million. Two GP patients received more than $2 million, as did three radiology and three paramedical patients.

More than $372 million has been paid in compensation to patients in the past decade.

Leading medical negligence lawyer Paula Shelton, of Slater & Gordon, said: "As a human being it really frustrates me to see the same things happening over and over again, when these injuries are avoidable."

Obstetrics and newborn cases attracted high payouts if they were very badly disabled and needed care for life.

Mr Davis said: "Data identifying individual patients would be quite inappropriate, but more data and information on quality and safety is important in the long term."

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said hospitals were more open about mistakes than they used to be, but still had some way to go. "Hospitals deal with risky cases. Any misadventure is one too many and, of course, we'd like to see none at all. However, I think that's probably an unrealistic expectation," Ms Wilson said. "It's extremely important we learn from those mistakes so they are not repeated."


12 December, 2010

Fury over $500 KFC gift cards as nation battles obesity crisis

The headline above is as it appears in the original article. It is worthy of Dr. Goebbels. The nation is NOT battling anything. It is enjoying its food and plenty of it. And it's not the nation that is furious. It is a few fanatics. KFC products ARE fatty but the best medical research shows that a low-fat diet has NO health benefits. And it's not a crisis. It is people of middling weight who live longest. Where's the crisis in that?

FAST-food giant KFC has sparked outrage from health experts by offering Christmas gift cards worth up to $500 as the nation battles an obesity crisis. KFC outlets have been promoting the cards, ranging in value from $10 to $500 and to be used within 12 months, as a "thoughtful gift idea for any occasion".

A $500 card could purchase a fat banquet of 14 buckets of "Original Recipe" chicken pieces, containing 4.5kg of fat and 1.8kg of saturated fat; 63 maxi serves of "Popcorn Chicken" (2.8kg of fat and 1.25kg saturated fat) or 78 "Original Works Burgers" (1.6kg fat, 592g saturated fat).

The "tasty new gift idea" has attracted outrage and disbelief from health experts in Queensland struggling to combat a growing obesity epidemic. About 55 per cent of adult Queenslanders, and about a quarter of children aged five to 17, are considered obese or overweight. An average of 60 people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every day around the state.

Preventative Health Taskforce chair Professor Rob Moodie said he was shocked when he learned about KFC's latest marketing ploy. "It's marketing gone berserk," he said. "This stuff is fine if it's just once a month. But if it's twice a week, or $500 a year, it's completely different."

Prof Moodie said aggressive fast-food marketing was the last thing parents needed as they struggled to teach children proper eating habits. "We know that advertising for fast food just works. Never before in the history of man has so much food been made so available for so many. We're shoving more calories down our throats than ever before."

Brisbane-based nutritionist and dietitian Trudy Williams said the gift cards were "worrying". "There are much healthier choices that parents could be guiding their kids with, like a voucher to go indoor rock-climbing or sports gear. Clearly, we're eating far too much food as it is."

Ms Williams, who wrote the award-winning nutrition guide This=That Child Size, said parents should think twice about fast-food Christmas treats. "Certainly, the rates of obesity in kids appear to be increasing," she said. "Parents are really bad judgers of whether their child is overweight or not. They're too close to the coalface, particularly if they are overweight themselves."

Diabetes Australia Queensland CEO Michelle Trute said gift cards made poor eating choices easy. "I would still remind people that food like KFC is occasional food," she said. "Having a gift certificate that you know you can redeem at any time just makes it easy to make bad choices."


Labor politician fingers Lebanese Muslims as a problem group

Guess why the Sydney police have a "Middle-Eastern crime squad"?

RETIRING Labor MP Tony Stewart has attacked the powerful Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), branding it "backward and medieval" and claiming it wants to run pro-Muslim candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart used his final speech to State Parliament to slam the Lakemba-based LMA and its chairman Samier Dandan, claiming Dandan wanted Muslims to be "recognised and treated differently" to other Australians because of their faith. "To use religious background as a political focus is a backward and medieval approach," he said.

Mr Stewart said he was responding to reports Mr Dandan had told more than 5000 Muslims at its November Eid al-Adha festival Muslim people should have their say, and the LMA planned to run candidates in a number of seats, including Bankstown, at the March election.

"If there is any marginalisation of Australian Muslims, it is occurring because of people who seem to be suffering from a siege mentality syndrome," he told parliament. Mr Stewart said government in Australia had always represented the community rather than religious faiths.

But Mr Dandan hit back at the member for Bankstown, saying he should have got his facts straight before he used his last parliamentary speech to bag the entire Muslim community. Mr Dandan said the LMA had no intention of running candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart later told The Sunday Telegraph he stood by his comments and said mixing religion with politics was "not the Australian way". "Religion should not be involved in politics. We only have to look at the Middle East to see the political problems caused by faith being part of the political process," he said. "It can lead us to growing extremism and the idea of jihad and so on."

Mr Dandan said if the outgoing MP had read his speech online, he would have discovered he was urging Muslims to stand up for their political rights, "which have been taken for granted by Labor in western Sydney for 16 years".

"What is wrong with Muslims voicing their concerns? My speech was stating that the Muslim community is a little more intelligent than it was 20 or 30 years ago and we are going to express our voices," he said. "That's what democracy is all about."


Serious delays stymie remote housing scheme

More useless bureaucracy

EXCESSIVE bureaucracy, disputes and problems with leasing arrangements have thrown the remote Aboriginal home ownership scheme into chaos.

As the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land scheme stalls nationwide, The Weekend Australian can reveal that on the Tiwi Islands - the first remote community in Australia to sign a township lease - serious dysfunction has marred the scheme's rollout.

A handful of indigenous people have experienced extreme delay in the completion of their kit homes, which could have been erected in days. Two homes are still unfinished up to two years after their contracts were signed.

A bitter financial dispute between two builders has contributed to the serious delays in construction of new homes at the Tiwi Islands township of Nguiu, triggering complaints from indigenous people that they wish they had never signed up for mortgages.

Federal government subsidiary Indigenous Business Australia has been slow in releasing funds to allow building work, and statutory delays in the release of sub-leases by the Northern Territory and federal governments have deepened the bureaucratic mess.

The IBA - which acts as financier for indigenous clients - has been accused by one construction industry figure of acting as "gatekeeper and social worker" and stymying efforts to create private economies on Aboriginal land. The IBA is providing finance to 15 indigenous families at the Tiwi Islands under the HOIL scheme, which provides low-interest loans to eligible Aboriginal people with minimal deposits required.

But as the scheme began to falter earlier this year on the Tiwi Islands, and leasing negotiations in other remote communities failed to progress, the federal government quietly diverted more than $50 million from the remote housing program to cater for an exploding demand among urban-based indigenous people to buy their own homes.

While Nguiu has been promoted by the IBA as a stand-out success story in indigenous home ownership, the early rollout of the HOIL scheme was beset by difficulty.

Aboriginal couple Nazareth Alfred and Greg Orsto say they are disgusted with the way the IBA has managed the home ownership scheme. Yet two years ago, when the couple were living in a tent owing to a lack of housing on the island, home ownership seemed an ideal solution.

The couple, who have a combined income of $140,000, have bought a $341,000 two-storey home through the HOIL scheme. They pay about $500 a week in repayments and interest payments, which are pegged to their income and below market rate.

But the couple now say they wish they had never signed up to buy a home under the HOIL. More than two years after building began, they are still cooking on a gas burner and still have no power connected to their home. Despite this, the couple have been paying mortgage and interest payments since June. "The whole idea of having a home ownership scheme was to better our lives," Ms Alfred says. "But it's just made it worse. "I could have easily bought a house in Melbourne and been in my house by now, instead of having this headache."

The director of a company that constructed the home for Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto, Shaun Mowbray, has accused the IBA of contributing to serious delays experienced by his clients by refusing to release funds and unreasonably interfering in the construction process. "The IBA have acted like gatekeepers," Mr Mowbray says. "They have been slow on payments and unresponsive to complaints. They are certainly not helping the privatisation and the simplification of building Aboriginal housing."

Mr Mowbray says there is only about $1000 of "tidy-up" work still to be done on Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto's home, and he is working to connect their power despite the fact that it is not his responsibility. "I've done everything to try and make it right for them," Mr Mowbray says. "We've provided about $50,000 worth of free inclusions by way of a gratuity or apology for the delays caused in the contract, despite the fact many of them were not of our doing."

Mr Mowbray says he has provided excellent value for money for indigenous clients on the Tiwi Islands, and two out of four of his clients are very happy with their homes.

While the IBA says it is unable to comment on the individual experiences of clients, it has raised issues with construction quality control in remote communities. It says it was unable to resolve any issues between Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto and their builder because the IBA was not a party to the construction contract.

Delays in construction on the Tiwi Islands were also complicated by an acrimonious business dispute between Mr Mowbray and another construction industry figure, Matthew Hornibrook, the director of a company in which former prime minister Bob Hawke held shares. Fox Hornibrook held the original contract to build the first house of the Tiwi Islands, but the contract was terminated early in the construction process. Mr Hawke's spokeswoman said the former prime minister "had not worked with the company for some time".

The IBA rejected accusations that it had mismanaged the HOIL scheme on the Tiwi Islands and said most of its clients had had positive experiences. "It is unfortunate that problems have arisen for some customers during the early rollout of the HOIL program in Nguiu," a spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the government was committed to land tenure reform, and would make funds available to HOIL customers if demand for that program accelerated.


Banish Mickey Mouse from the republic of learning

SOCIAL inclusion is a worthy goal but it must not come at the cost of academic standards.

IN the 1930s, about 5 per cent of Australians went to university. By the late 80s, the figure had risen to about 25 per cent. If the Gillard government's targets are met, 40 per cent of today's primary school students will attend a university.

Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne and this year's Boyer lecturer, says this is a good thing. "All Australians, whatever their means, should feel encouraged to participate. Only when citizenship is available to all who seek [membership of the global republic of learning] will we realise the potential of this republic of learning."

You don't get to be vice-chancellor of a great seat of learning without a combination of intellectual ability and guile. It cannot have escaped Davis's notice that the expansionary policies he is so fulsomely endorsing will compromise what remain of the academic standards in the sandstone universities, let alone their besser-brick competitors. The most charitable gloss that can be put on the version of his fourth Boyer Lecture published in Inquirer last Saturday is that he's being diplomatic about something he must privately deplore and is powerless to stop. (As an aside, no doubt he hopes that Melbourne's new generalist first degrees will sandbag it, to some extent, against a rising tide).

But it can be argued that Davis and Julia Gillard are setting the bar too high. If a degree is good enough for 40 per cent of the population, why not extend the privilege to all as a citizen's birthright? Surely Labor's commitment to equity and social justice demands no less.

Inadvertently, Davis makes the case. "For younger adults, the lack of university or a higher-level vocational qualification doubles their chance of unemployment. Less education is statistically linked to lower income, a higher chance of poor physical or mental health, less involvement in community or civic life and, for men, a lesser chance of getting and staying married. Missing out on education flows through to every part of life."

When it's put like that, the question arises: what is so special about the lucky 40 per cent? Why should their incomes and life chances be boosted at the expense of everyone else? We can be confident that the proportion of people with high IQs hasn't magically increased to keep pace with the percentage of people admitted to tertiary education since the 30s. Rather, statistics tell us that most of the 40 per cent heading off to university will be of no more than average ability, just like most of the excluded 60 per cent. The inescapable conclusion is that the process of choosing winners and losers will be outrageously arbitrary.

In stressing the desirability of social inclusiveness in the undergraduate population, Davis gets into a rhetorical bind. "People expect university entry to be based strictly on merit. Elitism - at least elitism based on something other than intellectual ability - is untenable. If Australia is to be a meritocracy, drawing in students from all walks of life is essential."

As readers who are growing long in the tooth will recall, referring to people "from all walks of life" was a post-war social workers' cant term for alluding to the poor, which strikes an odd note in our brave new world. So does appearing to sanction intellectual elitism, especially when the policy you're advocating has precisely the reverse intention and guaranteed outcome.

If Davis were being frank with us, he'd have to admit that the 40 per cent inclusion principle was so arbitrary that a university entry scheme decided on the basis of students' hair colour, the month in which they were born or indeed their parents' income or postcode would make just as much sense.

In Australia we've already reached the stage where all you need to get into arts courses at Deakin's Warrnambool campus or La Trobe's Albury is a tertiary entrance rank score of 50. Such courses are not even attracting the top 40 per cent of school-leavers, so we can expect a further systematic dumbing-down of tertiary standards in the future to which Davis beckons us.

In his first Boyer Lecture, introducing the theme of "the republic of learning", Davis spoke of the way in which "a handful of humanists in the time of Erasmus has grown to more than 150 million higher education students and staff worldwide". This is as callow and shameless a conjuring exercise as I've seen in a long time. It calls to mind Julian Barnes's line about expecting the past to suck up to a triumphalist view of the present. No one apprised of the achievements of Renaissance scholarship could expect to be taken seriously when suggesting they could be conflated with what these days passes for tertiary education. I think that over the holidays Davis should read Erasmus's In Praise of Folly.

As a longstanding advocate of meritocracy, I'm all in favour of policies that open up tertiary education to able people from backgrounds of disadvantage. If, in the process, some middle-class dullards with a misplaced sense of entitlement are excluded, that's fine by me. The professional classes have no automatic right to entrench themselves to the third and fourth generation.

What I object to is lowering academic standards and debasing the currency in the name of social inclusion. Davis's reassurance that "the republic of learning, once the preserve of an elite, is on the road to democracy" just won't do. It should go without saying that it's demeaning to working-class people to assume that the only way most of them can get a tertiary education is by offering them Mickey Mouse courses.

Then again, considering that education services for foreign students now amount to such a large source of national income, the debauch of academic standards is a very short-sighted approach. Apart from the weather and proximity to home, in 10 years why would the most talented Chinese or Indian students pay good money to study here? Perhaps, in the future, leadership in the tertiary sector in Australia will come from private universities that see the competitive advantage in setting the highest standards and refusing to compromise on them.


11 December, 2010


The man of the moment at present. Two out of many articles about him and the issues he raises lead off today's stories below. Note: There are also new posts today on my QANTAS/Jetstar and Australian police news blogs

PM Julia Gillard's Left flank revolts over WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

JULIA Gillard is facing a revolt from MPs in her left-wing parliamentary faction, who are enraged at the treatment of Julian Assange. The MPs are demanding the Government stop treating Mr Assange as a criminal and protect his rights as an Australian citizen and whistleblower.

A large number of MPs have spoken to The Weekend Australian to express grave concerns at the language ministers and the Prime Minister are using in relation to Mr Assange.

Laurie Ferguson, a friend and factional colleague of Ms Gillard who was dumped as parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs and settlement services, told The Weekend Australian the Government had overreacted to the WikiLeaks release of secret US documents. He said the information that had been released was crucial to democracy and exposing the truth.

"It hasn't been borne out that people have been endangered by this information," Mr Ferguson said. "On the other side of the ledger, I think it is important that the world is informed on how intense the Saudis are about Iran's nuclear program and, for instance, that some members of the federal Labor Party caucus are so heavily engaged in briefing another nation."

Mr Ferguson took a veiled swipe at Sports Minister Mark Arbib, saying he was glad it was now well-known that the right-wing Labor frontbencher was a secret source for the US Government.

His comments came as Attorney-General Robert McClelland was yesterday unable to explain how Mr Assange had broken Australian law. Mr McClelland indicated an Australian Federal Police investigation into whether WikiLeaks had committed a criminal act could go on for more than a year.

The Government has come under fire after Ms Gillard appeared to pass judgment on Mr Assange, declaring that "the foundation stone of this WikiLeaks issue is an illegal act".

One senior left-wing MP said, on the condition of anonymity, that the Government had taken a "harsh" line on Mr Assange and had "angered" its left-wing base internally and in the community. Another said Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had "got it right" on the WikiLeaks case while Ms Gillard had "messed it up".

Mr Rudd this week took aim at US security levels surrounding the handling of classified confidential information, rather than Mr Assange. He said those who originally leaked the documents were legally liable.

The left-wing Labor MP who heads the economics caucus committee, Sharon Grierson, said she had sympathy for Mr Assange because he believed in freedom of information and the public interest test being applied. "It's terribly important to keep asserting that Australians will always and do always look after their citizens," Ms Grierson said. "They have rights and protection under the law, and we would all want to see those applied in that case."

Ms Grierson said the world had embraced the open, globalised flow of information, and had to deal with its consequences. "We now have to find ways to respond to that which are reasonable, not irrational in any way," she said.

West Australian Labor MP Melissa Parke said the Swedish rape charges against Mr Assange were unusual and he should not be treated as a criminal. "I am concerned about the statements in the United States that Julian Assange or his family should be subjected to physical violence, and I strongly condemn them," Ms Parke said.

"The charges from Sweden sound highly unusual on the basis of the information available, and I expect the British courts to take a long hard look at that before any decision on extradition is made.

"As to the actions of WikiLeaks and whether they have broken any laws, the fact is we don't know. I think it is therefore wrong for anyone to suggest Julian Assange is a criminal."

Hundreds of people in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne protested yesterday against the treatment of Mr Assange. Criminal lawyer Rob Stary told a Melbourne rally the Australian Government was a "sycophant" of the US. He compared Mr Assange to fellow Australians David Hicks and Jack Thomas, saying their conviction on terrorism charges were helped by the government's "propaganda machine".

Mr McClelland yesterday stressed it was not his responsibility to determine guilt or innocence. He said the Australian Federal Police had been asked to examine whether any Australian laws had been breached by Mr Assange. But asked to clarify the government's position, Mr McClelland repeated his assertion that it would be illegal in Australia to obtain or distribute classified documents.

"I said by way of analogy that if . . . serving military personnel or officer of the commonwealth had access to a similar database in Australia and took confidential national security classified information off that website and revealed it, I have no doubt it would raise issues of potential criminality."

Asked about the AFP inquiries into the case, Mr McClelland said it took a long time for the investigation into leaks by public servant Godwin Grech to reach a conclusion, and people needed to take a "reality check".


Legal fury at 'war on free speech'

A MELBOURNE lawyer and former boss of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has criticised her government for its handling of WikiLeaks and its Australian founder, Julian Assange. Peter Gordon, whose legal firm made Ms Gillard the first female partner of Slater and Gordon, said her comment that Mr Assange had broken the law was baseless.

He said the fact that people such as Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland - both of whom he knew to be good lawyers and decent people - could be driven to behave in this way was a sobering reminder of "the seductive and compulsive draw of power".

Mr Gordon was speaking on Thursday night at a WikiLeaks forum attended by 250 lawyers and civil libertarians at the Law Institute of Victoria.

In today's Age opinion page, he writes: "If the Wikileaks disclosures tell us anything, it is that no government, whatever its political colours, is going to hesitate for a nanosecond to conflate the notion of 'national security' with 'my own career security'." He calls for a challenge to the "war on information . call it what it is - a growing and insidious attack on free speech".

Mr Gordon's stance was backed by several top barristers, who said neither official secrets nor terror laws provided any offences under which Mr Assange could be charged in Australia.

Mr Assange also received support from more than 500 people who attended a rally outside the State Library in Melbourne. The rally was one of several held around the country, with backers calling for a ban on WikiLeaks censorship and for Mr Assange to be freed.

Julian Burnside, QC, said of the government: "I think they are trying to defend the indefensible." He said the state had an obligation to protect citizens who got into trouble in a foreign country. "They ignored that obligation and instead sided with the Americans. They even went so far as to threaten to cancel his passport. That's exactly the opposite of what any self-respecting country ought to do."

Ms Gillard insists the actions of Mr Assange, an Australian citizen, are illegal. Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said Wikileaks' actions are likely to be illegal. Yesterday Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said it was entirely up to federal police to say whether Mr Assange had committed any crimes.

Several barristers agreed that it would be stretching credulity to try to mount a case based on terror laws, such as a claim that Mr Assange had recklessly helped al-Qaeda by publishing a list of the sites the US most feared would be terror targets.

Greg Barns, a barrister with experience of Australian terror trials, said: "Even under the outrageous curtailing of freedom of speech that the anti-terror laws represent in this country, you couldn't even at a stretch maintain that there was an intention or even recklessness on the part of Mr Assange."

Mr Barns and others pointed out that any charge laid against Mr Assange would also have to be laid against all the large media outlets that had republished his documents.

Even the United States had so far failed in its search for an offence, Mr Assange's Melbourne solicitor, Rob Stary, said. "This issue has also been examined by the Congressional Research Service in the US, and they made the same observation. He's the second person in the chain; he receives material, but he doesn't take it himself." Therefore, no offence could be identified, he said.

Mr Stary said lawyers at the forum expressed "enormous disquiet as to the role of government attempting to suppress this information" and had criticised Ms Gillard and Mr McClelland for undermining the presumption of innocence.

Mr Burnside said: "I think, standing back from it, what we have seen is what happens to a citizen who breaks the unwritten law about embarrassing the governments of powerful countries . If they want to avoid embarrassment, they shouldn't shut down freedom of information. They should stop acting embarrassingly."


"Green" policies are cold comfort for older citizens

By Senator Barnaby Joyce

Certain things paint an indelible image in your mind. One happened to me lately when my mother in law told me that whilst doing meals on wheels in winter there was always a place you could find pensioners, in bed. This was not because of an infirmity but because they could not afford the price of the power to stay warm outside bed. How completely self indulgent and pathetic we have become that in our zealous desire to single-handedly cool the planet we have pandered to those who can afford the power bill over those less fortunate to avoid privation. How pathetic we are that South Korea, using our coal, can provide power cheaper to their citizens after an 8,300 km sea voyage than we can with power stations in our own coal fields.

Oh yes, aren't the solar panels doing a great a job. In Canberra last week it was revealed that they would add $225 to the average electricity bill, and that the Government's proposed carbon tax would raise them by a further 24%.

It is just that the poverty creep is making its way up the social strata, though I doubt it will reach the most affluent group The Greens. Bitterness on my part I suppose but I represent a party that represents the poorest electorates. Now what other lunacy are we considering, none other than shutting down the Murray Darling Basin so you can have a diet that suits the misery of the winter nights temperature in the unheated house..

Yes we have become so oblivious to the obvious because the loudest voices are not necessarily the neediest. We spend, sorry borrow, for school halls that do not make students more competitive in competency. No school hall taught a student a second language or a higher level maths. We borrowed for ceiling insulation and burnt down 190 houses and 4 installers died.

We borrowed for aimless $900 cheques as we decided that somehow imported electrical goods to Australia would reboot the US economy. We borrowed so much that we are now 170 billion dollars in gross debt. We are told not to worry about gross debt, its net debt that counts. Well try that out on your local bank manager. Try paying him back what you think you owe him, because of what you think others may owe you. Not surprisingly he will direct you to what is noted on your loan statement.

It is funny how the people who try to assuage our concerns with the net debt myth can never clearly identify what are the items that make up the difference between the figure on the Office of Financial Management website as Australian Government Securities outstanding and their miraculous net debt figure.

Since the election, the Labor-Green government has borrowed an average $1.6 billion each week. Every fortnight that amounts to three new major public hospitals or the inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane. Not bad going for a country that can not keep its pensioners warm.

Whilst we are waiting we are merrily selling at a record rate our agricultural land, mines and now the hub of commerce the ASX, so that when the day of reckoning for our children comes they can try and get out of trouble by working fastidiously for someone else and hoping they feed them. The average foreign purchase of agricultural land over the past two years is 2.7 billion a year or more than 10 times that of the average of the previous 10 years.

So when is all this going to change? When are we going to shake ourselves out of this dystopia that we are inflicting on others less connected but more affected by the self indulgent political delusion. What is our current solution to the very real problems becoming more and more apparent at the bottom end of the lucky country?

Well apparently it is gay marriage. Yep I am sure that will warm the cockles of their hearts, if not their living rooms, that our nation's wisest are going to engage in hours, possibly days at the end of the political year on gay marriage. Then when we are finished with gay marriage we may have enough time to engage the remainder of our time on euthanasia.

You can not reduce power prices without increasing the supply of cheap power. No other nation has an earnest desire to feed you before they satisfy their own. It is a fluke of history that you are here in this nation but luck is easily lost with bad management and naive aspirations.


Immigrant woman thinks she shouldn't have to understand English

ONE of Australia's largest labour hire companies is being sued for racial discrimination, with claims that it demanded that a young Thai migrant with limited English complete a written health and safety exam, and then in effect dismissed her when she failed it.

Wan Phen Promlee says she was looking forward to returning to casual work as a warehouse picker and packer this year after time off with a wrist injury.

But, according to a claim she has filed in the Federal Magistrates Court, her employer, the labour hire firm Integrated, had other ideas. Ms Promlee says that when she returned she was initially told there was no work for her. Then, some weeks later, she received a call. The management of the warehouse company she had been sent to, Ceva Logistics, had been wondering where she was and asked Integrated to send her specifically.

But instead of returning to her duties, Ms Promlee, 26, was told to sit a written exam. "I went there and the woman said, 'You sit and watch the CD and answer the questions'," Ms Promlee said. "I couldn't understand. I just gave the paper back."

Ms Promlee says she was not allowed to have someone with her to read out questions and was not offered any translation assistance. She was not offered any more work.

Integrated said Ms Promlee had the questions read to her and was given the chance to answer them verbally. It said the health and safety test is mandatory for all employees when they register with the company.

But Ms Promlee was not required to sit the exam until six months later. She had already been given a safety orientation by Ceva Logistics, including instruction by a young woman who spoke her language.

"I learnt about how to lift a box without hurting yourself and what boxes are too heavy so you need to ask for help," Ms Promlee said. "I know how to be safe."

This was confirmed by employees at the Lidcombe factory. Integrated refused to comment yesterday.

Ms Promlee's lawyer, Giri Sivaraman, said the case was one of the more blatant examples of racial discrimination he had come across. "I just fail to understand how in modern Australia someone can be forced to sit a written test in English," Mr Sivaraman, from law firm Maurice Blackburn, said.

"I was really surprised at the lack of assistance for someone who really needed it. Taking into account the type of work - they should have done better. I think labour hire firms are scared of injured workers. Over the last 10 years I've repeatedly advised people who couldn't get work with labour hire companies because they were injured."

Ms Promlee is also suing Integrated for breaching the Disability Discrimination Act on the grounds that it had refused her request to undertake limited duties while she was recovering from her injury.


Banned food list has gone nuts in Australia

SCHOOLS have banned lunchbox staples such as egg, mayonnaise, Nutella, peanut butter, kiwi fruit and bananas to protect a handful of students with severe food allergies. Children are not allowed to share food and have to wash their hands and face after recess and lunch to prevent cross-contamination.

While the number of Australian children suffering from food allergies is on the rise, official guidelines on anaphylaxis in schools do not recommend blanket bans.

Many schools forbid all nut products, but some have gone further, to include eggs and egg-based mayonnaise, fish products, fruits and chocolate that may contain traces of nuts. Canteens do not sell the offending products and parents are told not to pack them in their child's lunchbox.

Medical experts, parents and interest groups oppose the bans, arguing they pander to anxious parents and create a false sense of security when a risk-management strategy would be more effective. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing risk of anaphylaxis," NSW Department of Education and Training guidelines say.

Milk and egg are the most common food allergens in children, but many outgrow their allergy by the time they start school, leaving peanuts and tree nuts as the most dangerous culprits.

Associate Professor Dianne Campbell, a staff specialist in immunology at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said it is almost impossible to have an anaphylactic shock from touching a contaminated surface. They could, however, get a localised reaction such as hives or welts.

"But unless you've eaten it or absorbed it onto a mucosal surface like your mouth or eye, you can't actually have a systemic reaction, ie anaphylaxis," she said. "If someone is eating an egg sandwich or having mayonnaise and they're four lunchboxes away from you and you're not touching them or sharing food, you really shouldn't be able to have a dangerous reaction from that. But it's very anxiety provoking for the parents."

NSW Primary Principals Association president Geoff Scott said schools were "allergy aware" and vigilant but bans were impossible. "Banning of a product in another child's lunch prepared at home is a bit problematic as it's very difficult for a school to check 800 lunches to find out what's in each," he said.

"Obviously, no school lives in a bubble and, for those children who are anaphylactic, you just put in place as much risk-management as you can."

Croydon Public School principal David Horne said all nut products were banned including Nutella and marzipan, the canteen did not sell egg or egg-based mayonnaise, and parents were asked not to send egg products and kiwi fruit to school. "If a child comes with those foods, they need to inform their teacher and wash face and hands immediately after eating it," he said.

A Canberra school visited last month by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned journalists who had eaten a banana in the previous 12 hours they were not permitted to cover the visit due to allergy concerns.

Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said said she knew of independent, Catholic and government schools that had imposed food bans but they were overreacting. "Have hand-washing procedures, have children eat at designated times, no sharing of food, make sure teachers are trained and children have awareness of food allergy - those strategies will work much more effectively than saying we have a blanket ban on kiwi fruit or mayonnaise," she said.


10 December, 2010

An unpublished Letter to Editor of "The Australian" 4 Dec 2010

Geologist Geoff Derrick [] below is trying to get journalists to look at science before they talk about it.

Your newspaper is to be congratulated on publishing both skeptical and alarmist climate arguments. However, the rambling defence by Graham Lloyd of its climate policy credentials (Weekend Australian 4 Dec) served only to highlight the almost total inability of most journalists, editors and media managers to connect with the actual science around which healthy debate continues.

Most journalists seem not to be bothered with speaking to scientists who speak accurately and tellingly about the deficiencies of IPCC science (e.g. Bob Carter, Richard Lindzen), but instead turn for opinions to climate loons like Clive Hamilton, and serial alarmist and gold medallist in unfulfilled predictions, Tim Flannery.

Currently we have a warmist manager of the Bureau of Meteorology claiming 2010 to be the hottest year ever, but why are not journalists investigating, for example, the closing down by weather officials of hundreds of recording stations in cooler parts of the globe; the ‘homogenisation’ (i.e. favourable adjustments) of older climate records, and the deeply flawed climate models of BOM which predicted in August 2010 that southwest WA, now in drought, was going to have a wet spring ?

More proof of global cooling

The Warmists have assured us many times that warming will lead to drought

THE biggest floods to hit the state in 50 years were sweeping across tracts of NSW last night, as the state government declared 30 separate disaster zones and planned mass evacuations in more than a dozen inland towns.

More heavy rain pelted down in the state's west last night as storms brewed along the south coast. Renewed flood warnings were issued for the Namoi, Castlereagh, Macquarie, Bogan and Lachlan valleys and the Hunter and Murrumbidgee rivers also were expected to rise again as floodwaters moved downstream.

"We haven't had flooding like this in NSW for the past 50 years," said a State Emergency Service spokesman, Phil Campbell. The service had carried out 104 rescues and received about 2200 calls for help. "We evacuated 25 homes in Tarcutta and we have an evacuation procedure set in place for East Wagga, North Wagga and Gumly Gumly. We've also issued a prepare to evacuate order in Wee Waa."

Tens of thousands of sandbags had been propped against doors to prevent flash floods inundating homes and businesses as Wagga's strained stormwater system overflowed, and 20 homes were evacuated late yesterday.

Some residents were making the most of the temporary rivers that had swamped their streets. "It's awesome," said Kane Flack, 9, as he pedalled on his bike, waist deep in trapped stormwater, on Vestey Street. His friend, Hayden Nicholls, was not among the residents rescued from the drowned north-west Wagga area by emergency crews in the early hours yesterday but he said he had never seen so much water. "It's a bit scary because we could hear my little dog squealing and squeaking," he said.

About 65 millimetres of rain fell on Wagga in less than 24 hours. The Murrumbidgee River was expected to rise again during the night.

East Wagga and Gumly residents were told last night they could return home, while the evacuation order remained for North Wagga. The Murrumbidgee River was steady at nearly 8.7 metres last night, but was expected to rise to 9.2 metres this morning.

Almost 100 people, their properties damaged by lightning strikes and fallen trees, had called the SES for assistance in Wagga in the 24 hours to 6pm yesterday. In Tumut, a caravan park was evacuated and emergency services volunteers moved door-to-door on nearby properties warning people to leave before the rising water reached their homes.

In the Castlereagh Valley, residents of Coonamble received an evacuation warning yesterday and may be asked to leave their homes today, some for the second time in a week.

Bathurst faced "the potential for heavy rain and flooding overnight," Mr Campbell said. "Downstream, Molong and Eugowra may be affected by local heavy rain … We've got a close watch on communities there tonight."

Buildings were also being sandbagged last night in Wellington, Dubbo and Narromine.

The Bureau of Meteorology said more rain was on the way and would add to the swollen rivers. "We're looking at possible renewed flooding in the Namoi, Castlereagh, Macquarie, Bogan and Lachlan valleys," said a hydrologist at the bureau, Fiona Johnson. "The Hunter River is a possibility - it's just been added to flood watch this afternoon."

Heavy rain was expected last night in the central and north-west areas of the state, including near Dubbo, Bathurst and Orange, she said.


Labor plots free-trade revolution

Good if it happens

TRADE Minister Craig Emerson is planning a fundamental shake-up of Australia's trade policy. The plan includes tariff reductions and a return to the Hawke doctrine of putting trade liberalisation at the centre of economic reform.

Dr Emerson will also decouple trade policy from the nation's geo-political concerns and reject special trade deals and free trade agreements unless they deliver genuine economic benefits.

The significant change, which Dr Emerson will outline in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney today, provides the first insight into policy shifts that Julia Gillard plans in line with her recent promises to pursue economic reform in the spirit of former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

It could also aggravate Labor MPs in South Australia and Victoria, where car, footwear and textile producers benefit from the nation's few remaining tariffs protections.

Dr Emerson was Mr Hawke's microeconomic and trade policy adviser when the then prime minister began reducing tariffs and liberalising financial markets -- moves that both sides of politics agree secured significant productivity gains that fuelled economic prosperity.

But in his speech to the Lowy Institute, Dr Emerson will argue that the purist approach of Mr Hawke -- pursuing economic reform in isolation from foreign affairs -- had been watered down after Labor lost government in 1996.

"I want to reconnect with the Hawke-Keating governments' first guiding principle in economic reform that competition is good, and dispense with the bargaining-chip-approach to the remaining Australian tariffs," says Dr Emerson in his speech, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian.

"In negotiations with trading partners, we neither seek exclusive nor preferential access to other countries' markets -- just an opportunity to compete. It's the quality of the deal, not the quality of the strategic relationships, that should determine whether the deal is worth having."

Dr Emerson will use the speech to commit to continued pursuit of multilateral trade deals through the stalled Doha round of international talks and APEC.

He will also vow to continue to pursue negotiations for free-trade agreements with South Korea, Japan, China and other nations.

However, he will make it clear he prefers a non-discriminatory approach to trade talks and will be prepared to reject FTAs and other deals that don't provide benefits to Australia.

"I am interested in results for our country and the global trading system, not in appearances of looking busy, mired in interminable processes that simply enable us to say that negotiations are proceeding," he will say.

Dr Emerson will argue that under the last Coalition government, a view developed that Australia's remaining tariffs should be retained and used as bargaining chips in negotiations for future trade deals.

Successive changes started by the Hawke government have seen general tariff rates fall from 15 per cent to 5 per cent or zero, while automotive tariffs have fallen from 85 per cent to 5 per cent, and those on clothing and some textiles have fallen from 180 per cent to 10 per cent, with another 5 per cent reduction due in 2015.

According to Dr Emerson, "clinging" to the remaining 5 per cent tariffs would repudiate the Hawke and Keating approach and make no sense. But while he leaves open the notion of unilateral tariff reductions, he gives no timetable.

Dr Emerson will argue that while the Gillard government will "fight tooth and nail" to bring down overseas trade barriers confronting Australian exporters, it will not jealously refuse to reduce its own tariffs if reductions would lift national productivity.

He will also rule out trade deals with other nations that allow them to maintain tariff barriers and introduce the policy of "separation", under which trade would be treated in isolation from foreign policy concerns or the government's domestic political requirements.

"As new Trade Minister, I have been given a stream of advice that I should initiate so-called free-trade negotiations with countries of strategic importance to Australia," he will say. "It's as if the very announcement of the commencement of negotiations performs the task of affirming a strategic, geo-political relationship, with barely a moment's thought given to the prospects of concluding a positive, truly liberalising agreement."

He will say that while he will not rule out trade deals with strategic partners, he will resist the "foreign policy urgers".

He will also promise greater transparency in trade policy and commit himself to the "grand unifying principle" that the best trade policy is domestic economic reform that raises productivity and competitiveness.

Dr Emerson, who in his maiden parliamentary speech in 1998 described himself as an economic rationalist, will also argue that Labor can best help the disadvantaged by being committed to markets and competition as the means to boost national income.

While it should intervene to correct market failure, its presumption must be "that competition is good, more competition is better and markets are better than governments in allocating scarce resources among competing commercial uses".

Dr Emerson will also announce a review of the nation's trade policy framework to be guided by his trade principles for release by March. It will be partly informed by a Productivity Commission review into trade to be released soon.


Claim: New national curriculum will raise the bar in Queensland schools

Good if it's true, but colour me skeptical

STUDENTS are facing a "more demanding" curriculum that not only goes back to the basics but also raises the bar in literacy and mathematics, Australia's curriculum head says.

But experts warn standards under the new Australian curriculum may be too high for some of the state's youngest and more marginalised students.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chair Professor Barry McGaw said the national curriculum, released this week, placed a heavier emphasis on grammar in the early years, which would now be taught more systematically in Queensland.

He said the Australian curriculum would stretch top-performing students "by being more demanding, by raising the requirements in maths, by putting more literature into the primary school" and "by being more explicit about literacy".

Prof McGaw also warned that Queensland's Year 7 teachers would need more professional development to implement the new curriculum than some of their peers interstate, where Year 7 was in secondary school and taught by specialist teachers with access to specialist facilities.

In Prep, a higher level of knowledge will also be required in some areas by Queensland students.

The four to six-year-olds will be expected "to read short, predictable texts aloud with some fluency and accuracy" and count to and from 20 from any starting point.

QUT School of Early Childhood Professor Donna Berthelsen said reading could be a problem for those marginalised children who did not have particularly advanced literacy skills.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said it had always been understood the developmental range in four to six-year-olds was quite extensive, with some able to read and others not.

The national curriculum achievement standards are still to be finalised, with ministers and the authority agreeing to continue to work on them before signing off on a final version next year.

A Queensland Studies Authority spokesman said the Australian and Queensland curriculums for the Prep year were fairly closely aligned, with expectations of what children should know and be able to do being very similar.


9 December, 2010

Bolt case reflects hollow commitment to free speech

The courtroom is no place to shut down even the most offensive opinions

"SORRY, Janet. To better defend my right to free speech, I should stay silent." So said Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt recently when I asked him about the Federal Court action brought against him by Aborigines claiming that he "offended, insulted and humiliated" them in breach of the federal Racial Discrimination Act.

The case is due back in court on Monday and Bolt has been advised that the best way to defend his right to free speech is to not speak about the matter. Welcome to the West's wacky commitment to free speech.

It gets worse. Many who have penned a defence of Bolt's right to express his opinion have offered up a sniggering, begrudging defence littered with a great deal more insult and offence than anything Bolt wrote in the columns now the subject of litigation.

And it gets still worse. A single judge will be asked to form an opinion as to whether Bolt, an opinion columnist, is entitled to express his opinion.

Bolt and his employer, Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, are not being sued for defamation. Neither is the allegation that they used words to incite violence. Quite rightly, the law will censor speech in such circumstances. No, Bolt simply expressed an opinion that there is a fashion for some light-skinned people to self-identify as Aboriginal which is divisive and has the unfortunate aim of entrenching racial differences.

In two columns written last year, Bolt says a number of people, often more European than indigenous, have been able to advance their careers by applying for positions, prizes and scholarships by self-identifying as Aboriginal. He says it is "sad that we harp on about differences and rights based on such trivial inflections of race". For expressing these opinions, Bolt must now front up to court.

Never mind that Bolt acknowledged that these people may have identified as Aboriginal for "the most heartfelt and honest of reasons". Never mind that Bolt expressly says he is not accusing them of opportunism. His aim is that we move "beyond black and white to find what unites us and not to invent such racist and trivial excuses to divide".

Yet the claimants are demanding an apology, a retraction "and any other redress as is deemed appropriate". Welcome, once again, to the wacky world of free speech in the West, where the law hinders open debate about the implications of people who choose to self-identify as Aboriginal.

Of course, if the law allows such claims to be made, no criticism can be made of those who exercise their legal right to sue. However, the law is, in this respect, undoubtedly an ass.

The inconsistent way such a law can be used only compounds its hypocrisies. For example, in a 2002 article in Good Weekend Magazine discussing the vexed issue of establishing Aboriginality, Larissa Behrendt, a well-known indigenous legal academic, said: "If that [issue] isn't resolved, you run the risk of having the parameters stretched to the ludicrous point where someone can say: 'Seven generations ago there was an Aboriginal person in my family, therefore I am Aboriginal.' "

We are entering dangerous territory if the case against Bolt succeeds. Too often, claims made under the plethora of human rights acts can appear to have the result - intentional or not - of shutting down particular views and, even more troubling, particular people who challenge the politically polite views of progressives.

Bolt, a white conservative man loathed by the Left, is sued. Behrendt, an indigenous progressive woman, is not. Instead, Behrendt is listed in the Australian Human Rights Commission complaint form as one of those likely to be "offended, insulted and humiliated" by Bolt's comments.

While the complainants in the Federal Court are no doubt well intentioned, and are perfectly entitled to exercise whatever rights the law gives them, ill-drafted statutes can hijack free speech in pursuit of special interest political agendas. Vaguely drafted provisions proscribing speech that is "offensive" "insulting" or "humiliating" scream out to be pressed into the service of stifling debate.

In Canada, Mark Steyn, another white conservative writer, was hauled in front of a human rights commission to defend his views about multiculturalism and the growing conflict between Islam and the West. In Germany on Friday, the politically moderate German Chancellor Angela Merkel made similar remarks. She said that multiculturalism had "failed, utterly failed" in Germany. It was time for people to integrate, she said. Will she be sued for offending those who haven't integrated?

Let's hope not. The courtroom is no place to determine even the most contentious political debates or to shut down even the most offensive opinions. The prosecution of Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician now facing a retrial ordered in October for inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims for criticising Islam, is political, not legal. There are no useful legal tests about hurt feelings or inciting hate. As Oliver Kamm wrote about Wilders, "the state has no business concerning itself with how its citizens feel".

It's unfortunate that this needs to be said again and again. Freedom of expression is meaningless if it does not include a right to be offensive. The real gem at the core of Western progress is the free market of ideas where better ideas triumph by exposing, challenging and contradicting the dud ones. Many views that were once regarded as too offensive to air have been vindicated. Hence Merkel's new-found courage to talk about integration, not multiculturalism.

Even if Bolt wins in court, we lose. Misguided racial discrimination and vilification laws can kill free speech slowly by threatening censorship. Create a bureaucracy and watch its empire blossom. Even some who supported the creation of human rights commissions are having second thoughts. A robust democracy is fuelled by debates that often offend some people. We sharpen our minds and bring clarity to ideas through open, reasoned discussion. By setting up empire-building bureaucracies to shut down offensive views proscribed by ambiguous laws and determined by a handful of judges, we import the standards of censorship found in countries across the Middle East.

That's why the case against Bolt is wrong. Before you say "She would defend him, wouldn't she?", remember that she also defended Phillip Adams when he was the subject of a racial vilification complaint. Adam's view after September 11 that the US was its own worst enemy was offensive. But the notion that he could be hauled before some bureaucracy to censor him is far more offensive to our liberty.

Sadly, some progressives have tried to bask in the sunlight of the high moral ground that comes from defending free speech while aiming a series of insulting slurs at Bolt. When you spend so much time dumping on Bolt, rather than arguing a straightforward defence of free speech, your commitment looks phony.

Free speech is not a Left v Right thing, as Steyn said. It's a free v unfree thing. The case against Bolt shows we are all unfree.


Oprah's handlers tell Melbourne doll shop to remove golliwog

I had a Golliwog myself when I was a little kid. They were always popular in Australia and Britain as a child's soft toy. The explanation of their origin given below is absurd. See my previous post on the matter
"A MELBOURNE doll shop has withdrawn a golliwog from its display to avoid offending the Oprah Winfrey roadshow. The store removed the "Mamee" washer woman dolls after a visit by Oprah's production company.

But the Dafel Dolls and Bears shop in Block Arcade - where 110 of Oprah's guests will attend a cocktail party tomorrow night - will continue to display other golliwogs. Golliwogs are deeply offensive to Americans because of their perceived links to slavery and racism.

The store owner declined to comment because she had signed a confidentiality agreement with Harpo productions, but confirmed a meeting had taken place. "Oprah's people came ... and yes it was discussed," a source familiar with the agreement told the Herald Sun. "As a result, they won't have that particular doll on display. But there will be plenty of other gollies when they come through."

The golliwogs still on display at Dafel's have an explanatory note on the origins of the black dolls, a throwback to the toys enjoyed by Egyptian children when British troops occupied the country in the late 1800s.

Dafel's has sold dolls and toys, including golliwogs, in the Block Arcade since 1945.

Last year Australia faced international condemnation when American singer Harry Connick Jr expressed his shock at Hey Hey It's Saturday for broadcasting a minstrel sketch and asking him to judge the performance. [LOL!]

UK publishing company Macdonalds, which put out the Noddy books featuring a gang of golliwogs, decided in 1987 the dolls were racially derogatory.

But golliwog defenders say they have nothing to do with racism and are seen by children as just bright and friendly dolls.

A spokeswoman for Oprah's Ultimate Adventure declined to comment on the Block Arcade golliwogs.

The talk show queen jetted into Cairns and then on to Hamilton Island yesterday on the first leg of her Oprah Down Under tour.


PM Julia Gillard urged to rethink energy and industrial relations policies

PRODUCTIVITY Commission chairman Gary Banks has warned Julia Gillard against subsidising alternative energy sources.

Mr Banks urged the Prime Minister to rethink her industrial relations laws for the sake of national productivity.

Mr Banks, the government's chief economic adviser outside of Treasury, has also warned against responding to the nation's two-speed economy by "hobbling" the mining sector and called for cutbacks to taxpayer-funded assistance to manufacturers.

Ahead of Wayne Swan's announcement of new banking sector rules, he sounded a warning about over-regulating the sector.

In a speech in Sydney yesterday, Mr Banks also appeared to question the standard of political advice provided to the Rudd and Gillard governments, noting that the Hawke and Keating Labor governments delivered major economic reforms while being advised by "high-calibre" staff.

In recent speeches, the Prime Minister has sought to embrace the reformist heritage of previous Labor governments, promising to focus on education and training and to apply market-based principles to service areas such as health.

But her government has encountered difficulties in its water, health and tax reform programs, as well as delays in rolling out an upgrade of its My School website and its planned national curriculum for schools.

Yesterday, as Ms Gillard expressed confidence that the election of a Coalition government in Victoria would not compromise her ability to deliver economic reform through the Council of Australian Governments, Finance Minister Penny Wong ordered all departments to overhaul their processes of auditing major program delivery.

But Tony Abbott said the government did not understand economic reform.

"To the Rudd-Gillard government, reform is imposing big new taxes, spending taxpayers' money and holding intergovernmental talk-fests," the Opposition Leader told The Australian last night.

"Virtually the entire policy agenda of the government is either stalled or characterised by shambolic mismanagement," he said.

Mr Banks, in an address to the forecasting conference of the Australian Business Economists group, did not explicitly criticise the government.

But he did make clear he believed some government and opposition policies would do little to lift productivity, which he described as "the mainstay of economic progress".

Warning that the "renewed policy priority being attached to carbon pricing" had significant implications for productivity, Mr Banks said the main benefit of putting a price on carbon might be to displace subsidies for alternative energy technologies.

"Unfortunately, most of the programs in question serve more as industry assistance than environmental assistance and they will accordingly be difficult to terminate," Mr Banks said.

Apparently referencing the government's planned mineral resources rent tax, he said in the circumstances of a tight budget and a two- or three-speed economy, the government should deliver reforms that could reduce business costs and enhance the economy's supply-side responsiveness.

"Attempts to counter structural pressures by either hobbling the mining sector or (further) assisting manufacturing could only detract from Australia's longer-term productivity performance and living standards," Mr Banks said.

"Indeed, there is a stronger case than ever right now for reducing any government assistance to manufacturing or other activities, that is not justified by genuine market failures, to free up skills needed for expanding sectors."

He also called for "evidence-based" policy in industrial relations, saying it was vital that regulations intended to promote fairness in workplaces did not detract unduly from their productivity.

In clear references to the government's Fair Work Act, he said: "If we are to secure Australia's productivity potential into the future, the regulation of labour markets cannot remain a no-go area for evidence-based policymaking."

Mr Banks questioned the value of favouring subsidised local production of defence assets over imports, investing in infrastructure with no net social benefit and using the public sector to deliver human services such as health when they could be provided more cheaply by the private sector.

Labor is resisting pressure to have the Productivity Commission conduct a cost-benefit analysis of its $36 billion National Broadband Network.

Ahead of the Treasurer's expected release of banking reforms tomorrow, Mr Banks said the need for regulatory vigilance had been heightened by the global financial crisis and its aftermath.

He said Australia had dodged a bullet by avoiding being forced into implementing template international regulatory changes "but recent domestic proposals - such as to address alleged 'price signalling' - pose risks of their own".

Mr Banks also warned against governments taking on too many big reforms at one time, noting that COAG had 200 policy initiatives on its books.

Ms Gillard was not available late yesterday to respond to Mr Banks's speech.


Smart kids being ignored in Australia -- with the inevitable result

And given the now demonstrated truth of smart fraction theory, that's pretty bad for Australia. The national well-being would be better served by treating them exceptionally attentively.

Most very bright students will do well regardless of the system, however. My educational development was retarded rather than assisted by the environment into which I grew up but I still sailed through the system without a care. I even taught myself (successfully) the last two years of the High School curriculum!

THE number of high achievers is shrinking because all the attention goes to the weak.

THE results of the Program for International Student Assessment every three years are highly anticipated in education circles and are dissected for years afterwards.

Unfortunately, the 2009 report released this week has been cause for dismay. Australia was one of very few countries to have a significant decline in its average reading and mathematical literacy scores. This decline is attributed largely to a reduction in the proportion of students performing at the highest proficiency levels.

It is important to bear in mind that country comparisons need be considered with some caution. Comparing city-states such as Hong Kong and Singapore with a country that has a widely dispersed population like Australia has obvious problems. It might be more defensible to compare these cities with Sydney or the ACT. However, even putting aside the international rankings, the fact remains that Australia has failed to meet its own previous standards.

The bad news about our PISA performance should not come as a shock. Australia's relatively low representation at the top of the academic spectrum was evident in PISA 2006. Shamefully, it was not taken seriously at the time.

The PISA report does not offer any explanation for Australia's shrinking pool of bright sparks. It rejects the argument that there has been a focus on students at the low end of the academic range at the expense of students at the top, apparently on the basis that there has been no change in the proportion of low achievers. Logic suggests this does not mean that there has not been increased attention paid to these students, just that it hasn't worked. In my view, education policy over the past decade has leaned heavily towards alleviating the effect of social disadvantage and lifting the performance of low achievers. These are important aims. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that not only have low achievers not benefited, high achievers have suffered.

In all countries participating in PISA there is a positive relationship between socioeconomic status and literacy performance, to varying degrees. The strength of this relationship in Australia has reduced from PISA 2000 to PISA 2009. In 2000, Australia was described as a high-quality, low-equity country. By 2006, Australia was no longer judged to be a low-equity country and in the 2009 results released yesterday, Australia is now slightly better than the international average in terms of the impact of socioeconomic background on literacy.

Nonetheless, a socioeconomic literacy gap was still evident in PISA 2009, particularly among students with the lowest literacy performance. Only 5 per cent of children in the highest socioeconomic quartile scored in the Level 1 literacy bands, compared with 24 per cent of children in the lowest socioeconomic quartile.

But there is more to the relationship between social background and school performance than meets the eye, and our understanding of this relationship has profound implications for policy.

Over the last decade, a number of studies, including PISA, have shown that socioeconomic variables are stronger at the school-level than the individual level. That is, the mean socioeconomic status of a student's school has a larger impact on their achievement than their own socioeconomic status.

These findings have been accompanied by research looking at the ways ways in which school-level socioeconomic status might affect the academic achievement of students. Gary Marks's research in this area has led him to argue that the academic context or "climate" of the school is more important than the socioeconomic status of the students themselves.

The association between socioeconomic variables and literacy is not inevitable -- there are high-performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as low-performing students from advantaged backgrounds -- and it is mediated by other factors, such as quality of instruction and school climate. Marks says: "there is no deterministic relationship between socioeconomic background and low achievement". There is good reason to believe that the entrenched literacy gap can be substantially reduced.

The problem remains in finding a way to target resources without creating a new form of disadvantage. Geoff Masters, chief of the Australian Council for Education Research, once said that any student whose needs are not being met is disadvantaged. It seems that at the moment, our high-ability students fall into this category.


8 December, 2010

A public utility that people have to be compelled to use?

Typical Leftist authoritarianism

Even the NBN's backers concede it won't pay dividends if people aren't 'directed' to use it.

Julia Gillard reckons Fred Hilmer would be proud of what Labor is doing in splitting up Telstra and committing $50 billion or so of taxpayers' money to build a government-owned broadband monopoly. This was finally completing the competition agenda Hilmer set out for Labor in the early 1990s.

"Two decades later, the NBN and structural separation gives us the chance to bring the Hilmer principles to bear on the telecommunications industry," she says. Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy adds that separating Telstra's retail arm from the wholesale network is "the holy grail of microeconomic reform" in the telco sector.

Except Hilmer, the former management consultant and media company chief executive who is now University of NSW vice-chancellor, doesn't agree with any of this. He doesn't think Telstra is a natural monopoly that needs to be separated into a government infrastructure utility and a private retail arm.

He doesn't think a wholesale broadband monopoly should be restricting competition from other infrastructure providers, junking existing infrastructure and mandating fibre technology. And he doubts the much-hyped benefits of superfast broadband.

Hilmer yesterday said the poor result of Labor's 2008 tender for telco companies to build a broadband network was revealing. "Does that mean the market has failed, or does that mean the market has spoken and no one's listening?" he told The Australian.

Labor's stated reason against putting the NBN through a cost-benefit analysis - that the benefits are unimaginable - is an "impossible argument". "When do we get the best judgment in cases of uncertainty?" he asks. "We don't get it by one source of wisdom. We get it from multiple judgments over time."

Hilmer urges the "logical incrementalism" he says developed IBM's original 360 mainframe computer in the 1960s. Instead, Labor was going for a risky Australian "big hit" he likened to the US trying to put a man on the moon. To justify its big hit, Labor needs to inflate the benefits. The hype began on the NBN's day one, when Kevin Rudd said information and communications technology "drives 78 per cent of productivity gains in services businesses and 85 per cent in manufacturing".

Rudd's claim is punctured along with other broadband hype by London-based telco analyst Robert Kenny and US-based Charles Kenny in their paper "Superfast: Is it really worth a subsidy?"

The numbers Rudd spruiked were really 59-78 per cent of productivity gains for services and 65-85 per cent for manufacturing. And the driving technology was not just IT-related but all technology, from biotech and nanotech to new materials and containerisation.

Now Gillard quotes the United Nations Broadband Commission's suggestion in September that "for every 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration we can expect an average of 1.3 per cent additional growth in national GDP". This claim traces back to a World Bank study of all communications technology stretching back to 1980, well before broadband. And a moment's thought suggests the claimed growth stimulus is implausibly large.

In the past decade, Australia's broadband penetration has increased from zero to about 25 per cent, which on these estimates should be accounting for just about all our economic growth by now. Yet this decade of broadband rollout has coincided with an alarming fall in productivity growth.

There's good reason for the finding that broadband is associated with higher economic growth, as the World Bank study itself cautions. The causation at least partly runs the other way: the demand for telco services increases as people become wealthier through economic growth. Much of this is for consumption, such as video and porn, rather than enhancing business productivity. And Gillard's UN report is full of calls for "infrastructure-based competition" and private investment that doesn't discriminate against particular technologies, as the NBN monopoly does.

The NBN's business case merely claims it won't lose taxpayers' money, even if it won't deliver a proper commercial return. The 24-hour news cycle can't tell this from a cost-benefit analysis of whether it is worth the money.

Yet Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Business Council and now Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens all urge putting the NBN through proper cost-benefit scrutiny. Hilmer doesn't even think we should have got to the point of arguing for a cost-benefit analysis of a government network monopoly.

A key issue is whether broadband delivers increasing or decreasing returns. This is the third internet upgrade to telco infrastructure after the 1990s dial-up technology of email, e-commerce and online news and the always-on DSL technology of the 2000s that facilitated YouTube and Skype. The Kenny brothers suggest the biggest benefits, even if they're yet to be fully realised, come from the initial internet connection. Stepping up to much faster connection may produce smaller gains, just as another third-generation technology - supersonic aircraft - was grounded with the Concorde in 2003.

While possibly delivering less, this next upgrade will cost much more. Previous upgrades required modest investments at both ends of the existing copper network. This one involves rushing out a new fibre network into every home and premises in the land.

Conroy says the NBN will "transform service delivery in key areas such as health and education and energy efficiency applications".

Yet tele-medicine is mainly about connecting hospitals and doctors, not patients' homes. Existing broadband videophone technology already can partly take the place of nurse home visits. The abysmal returns on trying to replace manual medical record with e-health suggest the costs are bigger than the technologists assume.

Broadbanding our schools doesn't require putting fibre into every home. Lectures already can be downloaded by students over existing broadband. And, for the young, broadband is more about social networking than education, which in turn is more about good teachers. Smart electricity grids don't need very fast broadband and have already been rolled out in Italy without it.

The critique has pinched a nerve among NBN proponents. IT consultant Paul Budde agrees that a fibre-to-the-home network for smart electricity grids is ridiculous. And international experience does not back the superfast broadband hype.

But Australia would be different if we reallocated money toward the NBN's digital economy. "Active government policies are then needed to direct the other sectors to start using the digital infrastructure for these services," Budde explains. Otherwise, "such a network can indeed become a white elephant".

Without even more taxpayers' money, Labor's NBN will become like the sacred but burdensome bleached pachyderms Thai kings presented to their subjects. Labor's subjects must be "directed" to use the government's monopoly network. And it's all in the name of competition. Just ask Hilmer.


Santa fired from Victorian pre-school so not to offend religious groups

THERE'S no holly in the halls, and Santa has been sacked. Christmas is out at a Victorian kindergarten, which is tiptoeing around any mention of the religious holiday.

Santa and his sleigh don't get a look in at Montessori Marvels Preschool in Greenvale which is striving to be everything to everybody. Children celebrate with an end-of-year party rather than a Christmas party and will part for the holidays wishing each other "Happy New Year".

Premier Ted Baillieu has warned Victorians not to let political correctness ruin Christmas with some schools and community groups imposing yuletide bans in recent years.

But the centre is not budging, saying it is abiding by Montessori's philosophy to be inclusive of all religious and cultural groups. "We are just trying to take an open approach to the holiday season," said spokeswoman Marlene Guclu, herself a Christian. "We run a non-denominational, non-religious program."

One parent is upset by what she said was effectively a Christmas ban. The woman, called Anna, rang up radio station 3AW to complain about a kinder in Greenvale, which she did not name. "My son is getting really frustrated because I'm singing one song, and he's singing the other," she said. "They sing carols but they change the words. "It doesn't have to be about religion."

But Ms Guclu said Christmas could still be discussed one on one with children. "We want all families to feel welcome, of all nationalities," she said.

Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria chairman Sam Afra said it could be a positive move if they were seeking to include all faiths in celebrating the festive season.

"If they are trying to do the right thing for everyone, we don't want to take that out of context," he said. "Different people coming around the table now saying maybe we should look at interfaith. I would like to encourage more debate, and to be more mature about our debate, where we are more understanding and respect each other."


Government secrecy in Labor-run South Australia

THE public is being refused information from state government departments which falsely argue its release is not in the "public interest", the State Ombudsman has revealed.

Ombudsman Richard Bingham has warned it is rare for government agencies to correctly apply the Freedom of Information Act provision which requires that they show release of documents would be "contrary" to the public interest.

Mr Bingham told The Advertiser it was "fair comment" to say that agencies were using narrow definitions of what they thought was in the public interest, rather than well explained legitimate concerns.

"There is a need for people to be much more specific in addressing the (negative) consequences of the release of the information," he said. "It is a common misunderstanding and my office is involved in the training of FoI officers and we hammer it in that context."

The Freedom of Information Act 1991 contains numerous references to documents which can be kept secret in the public interest, but the onus is on the government agency to prove that the release would be "contrary" to the public interest.

In his 2009-10 annual report Mr Bingham cited numerous examples of where agencies had failed to meet the public interest test. The office of the Minister for Health, John Hill, had tried to refuse access to the identity of donors who supported the Labor Party's fundraising arm SA Progressive Business. "The apparent public interest in there being transparency in political fundraising, as reflected in the media and associated public comments was relevant in this regard," Mr Bingham stated in reversing the decision.

Adelaide City Council was also criticised for its refusal to release a list of possible heritage places, based on the opinion of a councillor with expertise in the area. The Department of Children's Services was also criticised for its refusal to release an independent evaluation of the Rose Park Primary School Family Unit.


Qld. Public Works Minister Robert Schwarten slams 'high-paid' bureaucrats for Health payroll bungle

There's no doubt that Schwarto is right on this one

FIERY frontbencher Robert Schwarten has launched an extraordinary attack on "high-paid" bureaucrats who originally commissioned the disastrous Health payroll system.

The veteran minister yesterday told The Courier-Mail that all the evidence showed that the bureaucrats who signed the Government up to the contract were to blame for its failure.

Mr Schwarten also struck out at faceless Labor MPs who have engaged in a whispering campaign questioning why he and Health Minister Paul Lucas were not sacked over the scandal. "Anybody who has suggested that hasn't had the guts to say it to my face," he said. "I assume it is either mischief or made up."

Mr Schwarten's comment will further fuel the finger-pointing and soul-searching that the Government has been unsuccessfully trying to avoid over the payroll fiasco, which has been branded the worst failure of public administration in the state's history.

Much of the focus has centred on the public works and health departments of Mr Schwarten and Mr Lucas. However, internal documents show that Treasury was the department that originally approved the contract to build the health payroll system in December 2007. The unit tasked with its introduction was transferred to Mr Schwarten's responsibility last year.

The $60 million system failed spectacularly, leaving hundreds of workers with little or no pay as it was unable to cope with the vast array of wage types in the public health system.

A report by Queensland's Auditor-General blamed a "failure of governance" for the issues.

About $210 million will now be spent on staff to ensure Queensland Health workers continue to get paid and a new system that will take until 2012 to complete.

While Premier Anna Bligh has labelled the Government's performance "manifestly inadequate", Mr Schwarten said he would freely quit if any evidence emerged that showed he had failed in his duties. "There is not one piece of paper anywhere that says I was responsible for the scope of the contract or anything whatsoever to do with setting up the whole system," he said.

Mr Schwarten said the contract was signed before either he or Mr Lucas were responsible for their current portfolios. "It was a lack of scope and it was misunderstood at the time and (Mr) Lucas and I have been trying to fix it since."


School building program rip-offs revealed by auditor

Peter Achterstraat tells it like it is

The NSW government accepted building contracts for school programs under the Building the Education Revolution that were inflated and did not meet the preferences of local communities, an audit has found.

The federal government's major program for schools has come under renewed criticism for its high costs in a report released today by the NSW Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat.

A detailed study of spending at 1270 primary schools found the government accepted building contracts that were $188 million higher than their own costings, according to the report.
Advertisement: Story continues below

"Irrespective of time constraints, the Department [of Education] should not approve estimated construction costs that are substantially higher than the department's own assessments," Mr Achterstraat said.

"They should investigate significant variances, negotiate with the managing contractors and set the estimated costs based on their own assessment, not the managing contractor's assessment."

Mr Achterstraat said he examined nine schools closely, and found eight had costs between 2 and 40 per cent higher than an independent surveyor's estimate.

Of a further 68 schools surveyed, just 40 per cent thought the project was value for money, he said.

"The department strictly adhered to the Australian government's guidelines and their own standards, which meant some schools got a library when they wanted a hall," Mr Achterstraat said.


7 December, 2010

Crazy Green/Left Federal government wants to take river water away from irrigated farms and let it run out to sea as "environmental flows"

And even their chosen bureaucrat thinks it's destructive -- so has resigned

JULIA Gillard has declared the shock resignation of Mike Taylor as chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority won't halt the government's water reforms. The Prime Minister said the government would replace Mr Taylor, and did not share his concerns that the Water Act made it difficult to balance the environmental and socio-economic impacts of cuts to water allocations aimed at rescuing rivers in the basin.

Mr Taylor has written to Water Minister Tony Burke to say the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is not empowered to undertake the “entire complex task” of water reform and that “it is time for the government to reconsider the next phase”.

His resignation, to take effect at the end of January, comes amid growing controversy over government's plan to buy back water from regional irrigators.

The authority confronted widespread anger during a series of community consultations following the release of a draft guide to its basin plan, which outlined widespread cuts to water allocations. The authority was asked by Mr Burke to balance socio-economic impacts with the need to restore environmental river flows to the Murray-Darling Basin.

Mr Taylor said the draft guide, which advocated returns of between 3000-4000 gigalitres of water per year to the environment, was developed with full regard to the requirements of the Water Act, and in close consultation with the Australian Government Solicitor.

He said in a statement that “balancing the requirements of the Water Act 2007 against the potential social and economic impact on communities will be a significant challenge”.

But Ms Gillard today gave no indication the government would seek to amend the Water Act, despite the problems identified by Mr Taylor, and said basin reforms would stay on track.

“As Mr Taylor makes clear in his letter of resignation, he has a particular view about the meaning of the Water Act and the way in which the Murray-Darling Basin reforms should occur,” she said.

“Particularly he believes that the overriding outcome that should be sought from these reforms is the environmental outcome. As Prime Minister, my view is that we must optimise across the environmental, social and economic areas of work.

“That is the aim of these reforms - to ensure that we've got a healthy river, we've got food production and we've got viable regional communities. We want to optimise across those three areas.

“The government will continue to see these reforms with optimisation across these three areas. The government will appoint a replacement as chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and our reform program will stay on track.”

Mr Burke said the government was standing by its own interpretation of the Water Act. He also said that would ensure that Mr Taylor's resignation would not detract from the government's goal of “seeing healthy rivers, strong communities and continued food production”.

“It has been known for some time that there has been a difference of opinion between the government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority over the interpretation of the Water Act,” he said in a statement. “The government stands by its interpretation of the Water Act, which was the view of the previous government when the Water Act was introduced by Malcolm Turnbull.”

But farming groups and the Coalition seized on Mr Taylor's resignation as evidence of a problem with the Water Act's focus on environmental requirements. Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, Mick Keogh, said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had always felt constrained by the Act because of the environmental requirements.

“I think the Murray-Darling Basin Authority made it quite clear very early on that they felt constrained by the Water Act 2007 in that it put a very high level of focus on environmental requirements and then only allowed consideration of socio-economic factors, subject to having met those environmental requirements or standard,” he told The Australian Online.

“They (the MDBA) actually published their understanding of the requirements of the legislation quite early in the piece. And Mike has maintained that line constantly.”

Mr Keogh said the resignation of Mr Taylor “highlights that the process was already in trouble and I think that's widely recognised”. “So it is going to take quite a deal of effort to put it back together and get some common agreement.”

Opposition water spokesman Barnaby Joyce repeated his call for an investigation into the Water Act and for any necessary changes to be made. “My concerns have obviously been confirmed by Mike Taylor,” he told The Australian Online.

Senator Joyce said there were clear differences in the legal advice received by Mr Burke in relation to the ability of the Act to take into account environmental and social considerations and what Mr Taylor's own understanding was. “I'll be looking forward to discussing with Mr Taylor and I understand the predicament he's in.”

Senator Joyce said that one of the next steps forward was to “come up with the proper changes (to the Act) if required to bring about a triple bottom line outcome.”

NSW independent Tony Windsor, who heads an inquiry into the impact of the social and economic costs of the proposed cuts to water allocations, did not advocate changes to the Water Act. He said parliament would have the final say on the shape of any cuts in water allocations and repeated his argument that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had no real authority.

“Irrespective of the pros and cons of whether the Act does this or whether people in the authority agree with one another, any decision-making will be the parliament making decisions. “And so we can argue whether the Act's good or the Act's bad. At the end of the day the issue will be addressed by the parliament, because the authority has no authority to do anything.

“The authority has to work under the Act. That doesn't mean the parliament has to take any notice of the authority,” Mr Windsor said. “For the process, it's best to actually move forward. The parliament will make the decisions irrespective of what the authority does.”


Free speech for charities upheld

A High Court decision last week provided a big win for charities, and another big loss for the Tax Commissioner. At issue was whether an organisation can retain its charitable status and tax benefits while engaging in political debate. The High Court held that it could. This redefined what it means to be a charity, and provided a boost to freedom of speech.

The test case concerned Aid/Watch, a self-described "activist" group concerned with the relief of international poverty. It seeks to achieve its goals through unorthodox means for a charity. Rather than raising money for or engaging directly in anti-poverty initiatives, it campaigns for improvements in the delivery of Australia's overseas aid. It has been sharply critical of government, and has not been shy in proposing major reforms to aid policy.

Australian charities have tended to be wary of such advocacy. They have feared that engaging in public debate could jeopardise their charitable status, and so their entitlement to the income tax, fringe benefits tax and GST exemptions and concessions upon which their livelihood depends. This fear was realised in 2006 when the Commissioner of Taxation revoked Aid/Watch's standing as a charity.

Aid/Watch has spent four years seeking to have the decision overturned. Its legal battle has focused upon the meaning of the term charitable institution in federal tax laws.

In contrast to the modern practice of parliaments seeking to explain key terms with extraordinary precision, charitable institution is not at all defined. This leaves the courts to fill in an enormous gap in the law.

Fortunately, judges have a long history of working out what a charity is. As the High Court recognised, the "modern" starting point lies in the opening words of the Statute of Elizabeth of 1601 as distilled by a 1891 decision of the House of Lords. In that case, Lord Macnaghten found that "charity" in its legal sense comprises four principal divisions: trusts for the relief of poverty; trusts for the advancement of education; trusts for the advancement of religion; and trusts for other purposes beneficial to the community, not falling under any of the preceding heads.

The primary question in the Aid/Watch case was whether its public advocacy fitted into the fourth category as being for "other purposes beneficial to the community".

A majority of the High Court held that Aid/Watch did fit within the definition. The judges found that the group's generation of public debate about how best to deliver foreign aid was a beneficial purpose. Charitable status was not inconsistent with freedom of speech in matters of government and public policy.

The court reached this conclusion after recognising that, like other judge-made law, the definition of a charity can change over time to accommodate new thinking and new social needs. Of central importance was the fact that Australia's constitution provides people with a freedom to communicate about government and politics. This suggested that charities are also entitled to agitate for legal and policy change in pursuit of their goals.

The Aid/Watch decision is merely an interpretation of federal tax legislation. Parliament can change those laws to narrow the definition of what it means to be a charity. However, the High Court's reliance upon the constitution hints at a possible barrier. If the definition of a charity was altered to prevent bodies from engaging in public debate, this could run foul of the constitutional freedom of political communication and be struck down.

The Aid/Watch decision is a good outcome for democracy. It means that organisations such as World Vision, the Smith Family and the Cancer Council can take part in public debate with greater freedom and confidence.

Organisations dedicated to fighting poverty will be able to criticise governments where their policies are inadequate in areas like mental health and homelessness.

Organisations with years of on-the-ground experience of disadvantage, research and education have an important role to play in public debate. Having seen governments come and go, they can take a longer-term, non-partisan perspective on what needs to be done to fix problems and policy challenges. These bodies should not be muzzled by the threat that playing a public role could threaten their status as a charity.


Leftist rag going broke

Murdoch's "Herald Sun" offers a more balanced coverage so is getting more and more of Melbourne's readers

FAIRFAX Media's Melbourne broadsheet The Age will slide into the red next year. After losing $101 million in revenue and $68m in profit over the past five years, according to a confidential report obtained by Media.

The document -- The Age: a litany of decline -- has been prepared as the basis of a planned public vote of no confidence in Fairfax management. The campaign is being organised by a group of "concerned citizens", including several former Age executives, and is expected to be launched early next year in the form of an online petition calling for urgent action to save The Age.

"It is time for the facts of The Age's plight to become known publicly," the report states. "Those who value media diversity and the role The Age plays in the Victorian community should be aware of the situation facing the paper so that every effort can be made to pressure the Fairfax board into making urgent changes to ensure the 156-year-old newspaper remains in Melbourne."

The authors of the report insisted on anonymity but plan to be identified when a campaign is launched next month. They are likely to weild considerable clout based on previous community campaigns for The Age and will look to draw on previous participants. A public campaign in 1988, spearheaded by former prime ministers Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser, led to a charter of independence for The Age editor. That was followed by "Maintain Your Age" campaigns in 1997 and 2005 aimed at shoring up the paper's position in the face of proposed government media reform.

"We're in the organising stage at the moment and we are getting solid indications of support," one of the authors told Media. "On all the key performance indicators -- circulation, readership and revenue -- The Age is performing poorly," the report says. "From being in a strong commercial position five years ago it is now dangerously close to the tipping point, where it could potentially go out of business, leaving Melbourne as a one-newspaper town."

Faced with such a predicament -- a loss of $101m in revenue and $68m in profit, as well as massively declining sales and readership -- the normal reaction of management and a board would be swift and in some cases, brutal. "This has not happened at The Age, partly because the real story of its decline has been kept quiet and unpublished. The Fairfax board and even analysts would not be aware of the deep-seated problems facing the masthead. Age management is in denial.

"The accelerating rate of decline cannot be blamed merely on changing reader habits and increased online use. Current Age management appears to have had only one strategy over the past three to five years: reducing costs. "Radical surgery is urgently needed. There needs to be an aggressive growth and investment strategy to rebuild revenues and relationships. There is an urgent need for a total overhaul of the paper's management team."

The report plots the decline of circulation, readership and revenue, highlighting the predicament of the Saturday edition. Sales are down from 301,000 in June 2007 to 273,700 in September this year on audited figures, but the report says the "real number" is now in the 260s, with bumper editions and promotions artificially inflating the reported number. "Age management has always operated on the basis that 300,000 is the tipping point in the masthead's financial model and if the circulation falls below that number the ability to retain the Saturday profits falls away with it," the report says.

Readership of the Saturday edition is down 76,000 on last year, according to Morgan Research figures, contributing to an "alarming" loss of 79,000 AB readers over the past three years. The Age has traditionally boasted of its strength with upmarket AB readers.

"The Saturday edition is the only one to make a profit, but with the circulation and readership falls, the tipping point predictions are coming true," the report says. "While it is true most papers are losing circulation and readership as readers migrate online, the rate of decline and loss of market share is significant. By any measure The Age is now one of the worst-performing papers in Australia. The story on revenue is even worse. "In just five years The Age revenues have shrunk from $326m a year to $225m -- a loss of $101m.

"In five years, classifieds have declined by $76m. Alarmingly, The Age's profit has crashed from around $90m in 2007 to $22m today -- a loss of $68m. "At a recent meeting, The Age's CEO admitted that EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) had dropped to $20m and that the paper was in crisis."

A spokesman for the dissident group said: "At these rates of decline, The Age will be in loss next year. It seems Fairfax's Sydney management has either turned a blind eye to The Age's performance or they don't comprehend the seriousness of the situation."


Get your fracking facts right

No energy extraction process is without problems

Hydraulic fracturing - fracking (Herald style), or fraccing (used by the natural gas industry) - represents a potential goldmine for Australia. It is the key to developing energy resources potentially much bigger than the natural gas deposits off Western Australia that have been part of the resources export boom that protected Australia from the global recession and is beginning to change the entire economy.

The natural gas fields off the coast of Western Australia have enough energy to sustain all of Australia's baseload needs for hundreds of years, and slash greenhouse emissions in the process, yet these reserves are exceeded by what lies below much of NSW and Queensland, trapped inside enormous reserves of coal, according to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. All up, with natural gas we are sitting on another Saudi Arabia.

But we are also being told that much of this is destructive energy, that the process of hydraulic fracturing, which is how coal seam gas is extracted from coal beds, can only be achieved by an unsustainable level of water depletion, and an unacceptable risk to ground water tables.

That is why the short word used for hydraulic fracturing is essentially becoming synonymous with environmental vandalism. Now exploratory drilling for coal seam gas is about to begin within Sydney itself, in St Peters, because Sydney is sitting on the sort of coal beds that can yield commercial coal seam gas.

You would certainly believe this was bad if you had seen the new film Gasland, a horror movie in documentary form. You would also hate fracking if you believed the Greens. Having killed off the Rudd government's proposed emissions trading scheme, the Greens are now busy clogging the development of the technology which represents transformative change in reducing greenhouse emissions - natural gas, nuclear power, and now coal seam gas, the energy source extracted by fracking.

The chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Belinda Robinson, says: "The Greens have described climate change as 'the greatest threat to our world in human history', yet their political response is to oppose, at every turn, the development of Australia's gas industry." In contrast to this view, every possible argument to the development of coal seam gas in Australia can be found in Gasland, an American documentary now showing in some Australian theatres and on Qantas long-haul flights.

I enjoyed Gasland. How can one not be moved by claims that a relatively new technology, hydraulic fracturing, poses an innate threat to ground water supplies wherever it is used? The film features some wild images, such as when Mike Markham turns on the kitchen tap in his home in Colorado, puts a lit lighter to the flowing water, and the water bursts into flame. This, we are told, is what fracking does to your water supply. It makes you sick. It makes your home dangerous.

Gasland also features stark images of entire communities that have become sick after their water supply was contaminated by natural gas. It features despoiled landscapes. It also features a brace of scientists.

The scientists are important because the maker of Gasland, Josh Fox, is not a scientist. He is a good filmmaker, but he is also a polemicist, intent on revealing what he believes is a vast conspiracy of silence.

He also may have trouble with the truth. Large factual holes can be found in Gasland. Yes, Markham's kitchen water caught on fire, but the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had already conducted a study of his property before Gasland was made and concluded that his water was contaminated by natural gas - it's impossible to miss - but the gas was naturally occurring, not the result of nearby coal seam gas mining. The film simply ignores this, as it does with several other similar findings in properties used as other examples.

This is the inconvenient truth that Gasland skirts. If you live above coal seam beds, your wells have a chance of natural contamination. It doesn't require coal seam gas mining for this to happen, but Gasland blames mining every time. It prefers the dramatic to the accurate, such as this claim: "[The process] blasts a mix of water and chemicals 8000 feet (2438 metres) into the ground. The fracking itself is like a mini-earthquake . . . in order to frack, you need fracking fluid, a mix of over 596 chemicals."

But nearly all the fluids used are a mixture of water and sand, along with a handful of chemicals - not 596 - most of which can also be found in household items, such as emulsifiers in ice cream. Numerous other bald claims made in Gasland are simply untrue. I downloaded eight pages of scientific material debunking the film.

No energy extraction process is without problems. But the idea that fracking is run by secretive cowboys, largely beyond the bounds of environmental oversight, is wrong on every count. Gasland, in other words, is like the Greens: it spouts far more hot air than strictly necessary.


Still problems with national schools curriculum says NSW Government

THE New South Wales Government says it will refuse to roll out a substandard national schools curriculum. Federal, state and territory education ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss the content of the curriculum, which was meant to be rolled out around the country in 2011.

NSW Education Minister Verity Firth today said that she was not going to compromise on quality. "The advice that I have from the NSW Board of Studies ... is that the draft curriculum in its current form is not ready," she told ABC Radio. "I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to take the advice of my board about quality and I think that's the responsible thing to do."

Ms Firth said the states had until 2013 to implement the national curriculum anyway. "Tomorrow's meeting was never going to be the be-all-and-end-all, the absolute sign off of a finished and perfect curriculum," she said.

There were still three main problems with the document, she said.

Ms Firth said more consultation with teachers on the syllabus was needed, while the structure of the curriculum needed to balance the amount of content with the time available to study it.

A new syllabus must also cater for all students, from those with learning difficulties to gifted and talented, she said. "There needs to be a broad spectrum in the curriculum, especially from special needs teachers there is a sense that there really isn't."


6 December, 2010

Greenie-inspired Desalination Plant to be mothballed

ANYTHING was better than building dams and global warming was going to bring drought so a gullible State government spent a fortune on this thing. But the prophecies were wrong (funnily enough!) and Australia is now having widespread floods -- so there was no need for it anyway

THE troubled Tugan Desalination Plant is now a $1.2 billion white elephant, with the Bligh Government also forced to mothball hundreds of millions of dollars worth of other plants in a desperate bid to cut water bills.

The Sunday Mail can reveal the Government has also decided to take an axe to the bloated water bureaucracy and sack highly paid water executives under a new stategy to reduce hikes to household bills by $5 next year.

The desal plant on the Gold Coast, which has been plagued by rusting and cracking problems since it opened last year, will be shut down early next year, along with half the $380 million Bundamba treatment plant and the new $313 million plant at Gibson Island.

However, the futures of staff working the plant contractor Veola are unclear.

Treasurer Andrew Fraser yesterday confirmed the plans, saying the shutdowns would be revisited if dam storage levels hit 60 per cent. Challenging councils to halt their planned price hikes, Mr Fraser said prices were to rise by $59 on average in 2011-12, but would now only increase by $54 after the $18 million in savings.

"It's small, but every little bit counts," he said. "This means the Government has taken steps to reduce price increases, but the council-owned water entities are on the public record supporting $200 and $300 increases."

The desal plant will run on "hot standby" with only one shift a week to keep the machinery turning over, but the facility can be switched on within 72 hours.

SEQWater will be merged with WaterSecure in July , with senior contracted managers to be sacked and no EBA staff sacked.

Mr Robertson said the water reforms would provide relief to householders dealing with the rising cost of living. ``For a typical household, next year's bulk water charge will be around $5 less than previously announced - $54 down from $59," he said. ``Additional savings will continue for every year and will grow to more than $30 per household by 2017."

One of Bundamba's two treatment plants will be placed on standby, Mr Robertson said. The treatment facility at Luggage Point will remain at 100 per cent while the Gibson Island plant will be closed.

All plants would be brought back on line if dam capacity trended under the 40 per cent trigger point to add purified recycled water into Wivenhoe Dam, Mr Robertson said.

The government will also revise down its 10-year price-path for bulk water sales to the council-owned retail water entities following savings from the scrapped Traveston Dam project, he said.

Mr Robertson said the state government had consulted unions about the merger of southeast Queensland's two bulk water authorities - Seqwater and WaterSecure. ``We will continue to protect workers' entitlements throughout the process," he said. ``There will be no forced redundancies of staff employed under awards or enterprise bargaining agreements."

Mr Robertson called on local councils profiting from water retail businesses to pass on savings to struggling householders.


Bosses fearing parental leave burden not hiring women

Entirely foreseen but ignored by the Left

WOMEN of child-bearing age are in the firing line as struggling small businesses baulk at the cost of implementing the Gillard Government's paid parental leave scheme. Dozens of cases of pregnant women being bullied and unfairly sacked have already been lodged with authorities, fuelling fears of widespread discrimination once paid parental leave starts on January 1.

Business groups warn that the onerous cost of administering payments will force some employers to think again about hiring women. Queensland's Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss David Goodwin said small businesses - already hurting from the financial downturn - could not absorb the costs of filling out "welfare papers" and changing payroll systems. Some small businesses "probably" won't hire women of child-bearing age.

"If you've got three staff and one goes on maternity leave, that's 30 per cent of your workforce," he said.

Eligible women will be paid $570 a week for up to 18 weeks and, after July 1, businesses will receive money from the Government to administer the scheme for workers. Businesses will have to withhold tax under PAYG, provide pay slips and keep records for staff and the government.

In the past 16 months, the Fair Work Ombudsman has received 95 complaints from pregnant women, including many in Queensland. The Ombudsman said allegations included:

* Working hours reduced or work status changed to casual because an employer said the woman was unreliable because of her morning sickness;

* Receiving a written warning about inappropriate dress due to pregnancy;

* Being bullied and harassed because they were pregnant.

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said she did not believe paid leave would spark more discrimination but added: "Where there is a propensity for confusion there is a propensity for discrimination. "It is a right and not a privilege for women to work during pregnancy. Pregnancy is seen as a total inconvenience for some businesses."

She said businesses should be the paymasters of the scheme because it enabled worker and employer to maintain contact.

But raising fresh concerns, Opposition small business spokesman Bruce Billson said business groups had warned that having further administration burdens could have unintended consequences. "Small business recruit the best person for the job, but if it's a line-ball decision (between a man and a woman), I hate to think that the new paid parental leave pay clerk burden the Government is imposing on employers would discourage the employment of a woman," he said.

Mr Billson introduced a private member's Bill to keep the scheme's administrative responsibility with a government agency. It will be voted on in February.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland said "recent events have highlighted that sexual harassment continues to be a widespread problem in the workplace" but the Government had strengthened workers' rights and protection in amended legislation.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin said the scheme would help employers retain skilled and valuable staff. [So the government knows better than the businessman what is best for business??]


Julian Assange treated like non-citizen by Australian government, says lawyer

THE lawyer representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has attacked the Australian government for failing to offer help to his client. And Mr Assange’s London-based lawyer, Mark Stephens, has said sex charges against Mr Assange amounted to a "show trial".

As the fallout from the release of diplomatic cables spreads to Australia, Mr Stephens questioned the worth of an Australian passport. "He has had no assistance or offers of assistance ... by the Australian authorities in Sweden, or London or America," Mr Stephens told ABC radio. "One has to question what the value of an Australian passport is, whether you agree with what he has done or not."

"One would think that having an Australian passport you would get some assistance but thus far, I have to say, the high commissions and embassies have been shutting their doors to Julian Assange."

Asked if his client had broken any laws by releasing thousands of confidential diplomatic cables, Mr Stephens said "not that I can see”.

He dismissed suggestions that his client was a terrorist. "Julian Assange is giving out useful information, journalists, investigative journalists, have been doing that for years," he said. "What he got, unasked for, he didn’t hack for it, was the electronic equivalent of a brown envelope. Quality investigative journalists have been working with brown envelopes and material given to them to hold our governments to account, to ascertain whether what they are doing is what we want them to be doing.

"If Julian Assange is a criminal than every national newspaper that has published exactly the same stories is also a criminal. Are we going to lock up editors from all over the planet? I don’t think so."

On the charges his client was facing in Sweden, Mr Stephens said the original allegation of rape brought against his client had been dropped and that he had now been charged with "sex by surprise".

"Originally the allegation was one of rape and many will remember that but of course what has not been reported is that the Swedish court of appeal dismissed the case of rape and said the facts don’t support it," he said. "They are now investigating something called sex by surprise."

"It is the very first time Sweden has actually sought extradition for this charge … it is a fairly minor charge and usually carries something like a 5000 Krone penalty."

Yesterday, Mr Stephens, had expressed concern that the pursuit of Mr Assange had "political motivations", in comments to the BBC.

Swedish prosecutor Marianne Ny, who is handling the rape allegations in Sweden, said: "I can very clearly say no, there is nothing at all of that nature." "This investigation has proceeded perfectly normally without any political pressure of any kind," Ms Ny said. "It is completely independent," she added. [She would say that, of course]

Mr Assange is in hiding somewhere in the world, believed to be Europe. Interpol has issued a "red notice" against him alerting all police forces that he is a wanted person in Sweden, which wants to question him "in connection with a number of sexual offences". [Interpol issues a notice over something that is a crime in Sweden only?? Patently improper]


Another huge failure of government "child protection"

The bureaucrats responsible should be held to account

A FATHER has been ordered to pay his eight-year-old young daughter $32,250 in compensation for horrific injuries he inflicted upon her within weeks of her birth in early 2002.

Brisbane District Court Nick Samios, in a judgment just published ordered the father-of-three, now aged 42, to pay his youngest child criminal compensation for injuries caused within six weeks of her birth in late January 2002.

In August 2004, Judge Helen O'Sullivan condemned child-protection agencies for placing the newborn girl in her father's care just eight months after he received a suspended jail term for abusing his seven-week-old son.

The Courier-Mail at the time also revealed the father, then aged 36, allowed his wife to spend almost a year in jail after she agreed to take the blame for his almost-fatal attack on their son in September 2000.

Prosecutors said the attack was only revealed after his wife gave birth to their daughter in prison in January 2002, and he inflicted horrific injuries on the baby when authorities placed her in his care.

A routine community health check of the six-week-old girl found multiple fractures to her ribs and skull.

The dad later confessed to police that not only had he inflicted the injuries on his daughter, he also admitted bashing his son and letting his wife take the blame for the attack.

Judge O'Sullivan, who has since retired, said it was hard to believe authorities had not acted earlier to remove both children from the couple's care. "How on earth did this terrible situation arise . . . (that) these children were put within a bull's roar of these people?" the judge said. "These children . . . were not cared for properly by anyone; not you, not your wife, her mother, family services or the police. They suffered terrible injuries."

The man, who cannot be named because the children are in care, was jailed on August 17, 2004, for 10 years after he pleaded guilty to four counts of assault causing bodily harm, and one each of grievous bodily harm and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

In July 2001, Judge Brian Boulton sentenced the man to an 18-month wholly suspended jail term when he pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide the necessities of life to his son. Judge Boulton also jailed his wife, then aged 36, for six years when she pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm.

The court was told the son had 11 fractured ribs, eye damage, two skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken legs, a fractured elbow and extensive bruising in two attacks.

The woman had her conviction quashed after her husband confessed to police and was freed after serving 11 months.

Judge Nick Samios, in a five-page criminal compensation decision published on Friday, said the man's daughter, now aged eight, should be compensated for the injuries and mental or nervous shock. "I order the (father) pay (his daughter) the sum of $32,250," Judge Samios said. "I regard that the (child) did nothing directly or indirectly to contribute to her injuries."


New "softer" jail policies a disaster

Leftists never learn. The same old do-gooder policies have been tried many times -- e.g. at Barlinnie Jail in Glasgow -- and they never work

CHANGES to discipline in state prisons have sparked an outbreak of crime at one of Queensland's highest-security jails. The Courier-Mail can reveal a spate of incidents at Maryborough Correctional Centre since controversial changes to the disciplinary process were implemented across Queensland four months ago.

In one incident at the medium-to-high-security facility – which houses 479 male inmates – a female prison nurse was allegedly assaulted by one of Queensland's most violent criminals. The nurse suffered facial injuries, including two black eyes, when a prisoner serving an indefinite sentence for attempted murder allegedly attacked the nurse with a bottle on August 26.

A prison officer, who did not want to be named for fear of losing their job, said prison management had broken protocol because the inmate was not transferred to another jail. "That nurse is still medicating that prisoner," the officer told The Courier-Mail. Police did not receive a formal complaint until September 17 – three weeks after it happened.

Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts refused to comment on the assault, but said the nurse had continued to work in the same area as the offender "under staff supervision". Corrective Services was considering transferring the inmate to another facility, he said.

In another alarming incident at Maryborough, prison sources say management waited two days before acting on reports from prison officers that two inmates had been seen on CCTV "shooting up" (injecting drugs intravenously) in a prison laundry on September 11. The delayed search failed to find evidence of the crime. Two inmates were also seen injecting drugs in a prison yard on June 5, the minister confirmed.

The Queensland Public Sector Union and prison staff blame the rise in incidents on a new Breach of Discipline process which they say has stripped staff of authority. QPSU organiser David McInnes said the change in philosophy "came out of nowhere".

Mr McInnes said that until recently "mini-hearings" for inmates who committed offences were conducted by correctional supervisors at any time of the day or night, but now they were heard by a manager during office hours. "At the end of the day (management) is generally perceived as being softer in terms of consequences," he said.

"Management at Woodford are all over it and coping well, but at Wacol they've got big problems with breaches (of discipline) lapsing. Management is running around asking them to not (discipline) prisoners."

A prison officer said inmates had "gained the upper hand" since the power shift. "(Management) are in an admin block and spend hardly any time face to face with prisoners. We're there dealing with them daily," the officer said. "(Prisoners) are pushing the boundaries with their verbal abuse and we've got to be nice to them and treat them with respect. "The prisoners' behaviour, knowing that their punishment is going to be minor, just seems to be getting worse.

Director of the Office of the Commissioner for Corrections, Ross McSwain, gave conflicting responses, denying there was a new disciplinary policy, but admitting there had been changes in procedure. Mr McSwain admitted a review late last year had led to managers replacing correctional supervisors in the disciplinary process.

He said elevating the breach hearings to a manager was designed to ensure greater impartiality and separate the roles of prison officers from managers when investigating incidents. "Maintaining an appropriate level of consistency of penalties has been part of the changes."

Opposition prisons spokesman Vaughan Johnson said jails were not being run in accordance with government policy. "There have been other incidents that have left staff scratching their heads as to who's running the prison," he said.


5 December, 2010

The misrepresentations just keep coming

Piers Akerman

THE Victorian election result and the continuing decay of Labor governments federally and in every state the ALP still holds highlights the failure of Labor's claim to be the party of good management and the problems of its shift toward the Green-Left.

Former Treasurer and Prime Minister Paul Keating may have draped himself in a Zegna suit to project an air of Gordon Gekko business savvy but his Labor successors, state and federal, have demonstrated that running a business, a department or an economy requires more than a spivvy set of duds and a pre-programmed publicist from the Hawker Britton stable.

Gauging by their sentiment, voters across the country now know that Labor cannot differentiate between spin and substance. If a minister - state or federal - makes an announcement, Labor has attempted to con punters into believing that something has really happened but, as the polls show, the voters are tired of being lied to. They are over spin.

Writing in The Australian yesterday, Noel Pearson noted that "one of the problems with the popularisation of the word spin is that it has trivialised what is the deliberate and systematic misrepresentation of the truth and the promulgation of misleading interpretations of facts designed to deceive the listening and viewing public.

Spin ends up trivialising a scourge in our democracy, because it sanctions a subtle process of suggestive misleading by elected representatives."

In NSW, the ABC's morning radio presenter Deborah Cameron's Green-Left program features a regular segment called the Spin Doctors which contributes to the normalisation of Labor's deceitful distortions.

A master of the art of spin is Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon who promised before the 2007 federal election that Labor's $645 million roll-out of GP super-clinics would provide "after-hours care" with links to relevant health care call centres and would be "encouraged to bulk bill".

Obviously a winner with focus groups, 36 super-clinics were to be delivered in 2008 Labor's first term, and, with focus groups still supporting the promise, a further 28 during the current term.

In reality, only seven of the clinics are actually operating, and, in reality, only one - in Devonport, Tasmania - is providing an in-house after-hours service, according to an audit conducted by The Australian newspaper. The others either had no available after-hours doctors or provided the contact number for a GP who serviced the local region on their answering machine.

Only two of the seven clinics audited - Ballan in Victoria and Strathpine in Queensland - provided universal bulk billing, with most only providing it to under-16s and concession-card holders, the newspaper found.

Yet Roxon has the hide to defend her failure to deliver as evidence of the Government's determination to "get it right".

Seven out of a promised 36 and then two years late does not sound like a successful program or a well-managed one and the failure to meet the key objectives of providing after-hours care and bulk billing cannot be wished away, though Roxon has now begun downplaying these items as just mere factors to be taken into account in the assessment of the super clinics.

It doesn't take too much to understand that is service delivery failure with a capital "F".

Which gives the lie to Labor senator Doug Cameron's excuses for the loss of the Victorian Labor government last weekend. On Sky's Agenda program on Thursday, Cameron made the claim that one of the major issues was the delivery of services before bizarrely blaming the privatisation of transport services in Victoria as the problem. Transport, he said, "has never recovered from privatisation. It's a big problem and I think that people see that as a key issue."

Privatisation? As if the Victorian public wanted a return to the bad old days of poorly run government railways with all of the attendant problems caused by the brothers in the trade union movement.

Coming from NSW, where commuters have to face overcrowded trains daily, where buses don't run to time and where the ticketing is as problematic as it is in Victoria, Cameron seems as divorced from reality as Roxon and provides a real clue as to the reason Labor is losing across the nation.

As one of his senior NSW Labor colleagues told me when reviewing the Victorian election, "Labor didn't connect with the suburbs" and the reason it didn't is because Labor (at every level) no longer knows what it stands for.

Try standing at a suburban railway station waiting for a non-existent train and talking to the commuters about the need to revisit the US alliance, work harder (in the dark) for a carbon-free future and spend more time rethinking our Middle East policy, or even, engage the average person on the pressing need to debate gay marriage and euthanasia and there's a reasonable chance of provoking an outburst of commuter rage.

Remember, though, that the political climate can only get worse from next July when the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate and begin pushing their social agenda, a social agenda that the gibbering Independent Rob Oakeshott has already enthusiastically embraced.

The more optimistic of Labor's more serious thinkers are hoping that the effect of the Greens might be hampered by their own in-fighting, predicting a split between the former communists Lee Rhiannon and Adam Bandt, and those who came up through the dwindling ranks of the environmentalist movement.

But that may not be enough to erode the Greens' influence on Prime Minister Julia Gillard who rushed into signing a written agreement with Greens leader Bob Brown in return for his support in her mongrel coalition.

The Greens lost an upper house seat in Victoria and failed to win any lower house places. Even the inner-urban latte lappers might be seeing through the Greens' simplistic propaganda, which leaves Gillard looking as if she went ugly early.

This view was supported by Keating in an interview with the ABC's Lateline last Wednesday when he said "the climate-change fiasco gave the Greens a real opportunity".

He went on to say that "the Labor Party should never concede space to the Greens. Minor parties always, through the proportional system, climb into the Senate and get into a bargaining position", and he advocated moving Labor back into "the mainstream, and we will, then the relative position of the Greens will change.

But I wouldn't be giving them any space unnecessarily.

The two-party system matters to this country and fracturing it won't be a good thing."

The task for Gillard and her government over Christmas will be to show that she is capable of managing something, anything, and that she can stand up to the Greens. Otherwise, Labor's new year is looking very bleak, indeed.


Poll paints grim picture for Keneally

KRISTINA KENEALLY'S quest to present a fresh face before the election has failed, with support for NSW Labor slumping further.

A Roy Morgan poll completed on Wednesday has found Barry O'Farrell's Coalition is on track to what the pollsters say will be a "crushing" victory, with 65 per cent support on a two-party preferred basis.

Support for the Coalition is up 7.3 per cent since June while Labor has fallen 7.0 per cent over the same period to just 35 per cent.

The ALP's primary vote would be just 22 per cent if an election was held this weekend, according to Roy Morgan. Ms Keneally, who has presided over an unprecedented clean-out of veteran MPs over recent months, has fallen behind Mr O'Farrell for the first time, with her approval rating down 7.5 per cent to 38.5 per cent.

Mr O'Farrell's approval climbed 1.0 per cent to 43 per cent. Just under 70 per cent of the 365 electors polled believe O'Farrell will lead the coalition to victory.

Pollster Gary Morgan said Mr O'Farrell was on track to achieve a "devastating electoral victory". A spokesman for Ms Keneally said she was well aware Labor faced the "toughest election we will ever face".

Meanwhile, veteran state MP Richard Amery has avoided the clean-out of Labor's ranks and will stay on to fight the election. Mr Amery, the member for Mount Druitt, has become the notable exception among the exodus of long-serving Labor MPs including Joe Tripodi, Paul Gibson and Tony Stewart, forced out as part of the Premier's quest for renewal.

After the resignation on Friday of environment minister Frank Sartor, a total of 18 Labor MPs will now not recontest in March.

Sartor joined former opposition leader Peter Debnam and other MPs to deliver valedictory speeches on the last day of Parliament on Friday but Mr Amery was absent at the dispatch box. "I've expressed my interest in staying and head office has been supportive," he told The Sun-Herald.

"Preselection for my seat has not yet been called and no final decision has been made." The Sun-Herald understands he has the backing of the Premier.


Pre-election doctoring in NSW

PUBLIC hospital doctors are being pushed to work weekends and extra shifts to cut elective surgery waiting lists ahead of the State election. The NSW Australian Medical Association said public hospitals were pressuring surgeons to work weekends to reduce waiting times. AMA NSW president Michael Steiner said patients were being treated like "pawns".

"In election years, doctors are pushed very hard to cut down on elective lists, and as soon as it's not an election year [it's back to normal]," he said. "In a proper system, we would know the surgery is in such-and-such a month. It's not fair that just because the Government wants to get re-elected that suddenly operating theatres become available. Patients are not pawns."

New Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that procedures have been dropping since a peak in 2007, the year of the last State election.

Westmead Hospital neurosurgeon Brian Owler said he and his colleagues had been asked to take on more than double their normal workload, on weekends and during already busy weekdays. On Thursday, he performed seven elective surgeries instead of his typical two to three because there were suddenly extra anaesthetists, nurses and beds made available to handle surgeons' extra workloads.

He said the election, as well as $30 million in Federal funding that was dependent on eliminating waiting-time breaches, were behind the pressure. "There are probably going to be some nice figures coming out in the first quarter of next year right before the election," he said.

"If there was proper planning in place throughout the year, there should not be any breaches. Some people are saying no [to the requests], but a lot of people are saying yes and pitching in to help out. "They asked me at my hospital: 'Would you be willing to do a Saturday?' I said no because I do a lot of Saturdays as it is with my emergency workload. But I would run extra rooms during the week."

Elective surgery patients are divided into three categories.

Category 1 includes those deemed to be the most critical, with a surgery waiting time set for 30 days, while category 2 have 90 days and category 3 have a 365-day time frame. Breaches were measured in terms of the number of days a patient must wait beyond their category's time frame.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government had a record of neglecting hospital waiting lists for three-and-a-half years of a term, and then trying to lower the numbers to look good for the next election.

A spokesman for Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said there was "no directive" doctors should work excessive hours to cut lists. "I'm advised that the overwhelming majority of planned surgery continues to be done in normal operating times," he said.


Refugees are exploiting a loophole in Australian laws

I have commented on this some time ago. Good to see that it is now getting wider recognition

AGAIN, I ask: how old are all these Afghan "boys" who came by boat and will soon be freed into our community?

More than 300 say they are under 18, which makes them "minors" who qualify to bring out their families.

"But I'd say some are in their early 30s," says one of their guards at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation. "I'd say there were only two of the 168 we've got here in Melbourne who are really under 18. "None of the other 'boys', in inverted commas, speaks to them, and they are frightened out of their minds."

And so evidence grows of a massive rorting of a loophole in the Gillard Government's boat people laws.

In fact, the guard, a staff member of Serco, the firm now running detention centres, claims an extraordinary 128 of the 168 "Afghan boys" in the Melbourne centre have listed as their birthday December 31, 1993.

That's not necessarily the birth date they gave, but the one that Immigration Department officials were forced to put down, unable to get from the "boys" a real birth date.

How odd that so many should be just young enough to qualify as a minor under the boat people laws. And how lucky. If they were one year older, they would lose their right to sponsor their families once they got permanent residency. Nor would they now get all these excursions and the nicer accommodation.

And they wouldn't now be eligible for the Government's latest "compassionate" plan to send unaccompanied minors out to live in the community, looked after by religious groups and charities.

No wonder teachers, doctors, immigration officials and now detention centre staff are privately warning that few of the more than 300 "Afghan boys" who arrived here on boats, without their families, are what they actually claim.

One interstate official told me most of the "Afghan boys" he'd seen given school lessons were clearly young men, older than their classmates.

And the Serco officer says not only do most boys in the Melbourne centre seem older than 18, many do not seem to be from Afghanistan, either.

One month ago, some 40 of those "boys" staged a wild brawl that sent seven to hospital. The Immigration Department claimed the fight started over access to the centre's computers. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre even argued the boys used those computers to track American bombing raids in Afghanistan to see if their families were safe.

In fact, says the Serco staff member, who has asked not to be identified, the brawl started when some 40 Afghans at the centre were joined by 98 more "Afghan boys" flown in from Christmas Island, now full to bursting, after the flood of boats unleashed by Labor's softening of boat people laws in 2008.

The Afghans at the centre became angry when they realised the newcomers were not Afghans but Pakistanis, who could hurt the "real" Afghans' chances of staying.

The Serco staffer thinks they were right to be suspicious: "Most of the newer boys speak fluent Urdu (a Pakistani language) and some even understand French and Italian as well." He suspects some are actually children of Pakistani officials who served overseas, and that they went to international schools. "Australians are so naive. These are boys with hair gel and Manchester United or Chelsea T-shirts."

The statistics alone should have warned the Government its rules were being rorted by Afghans and Pakistanis who saw a way to get entire families to Australia just by sending over a son by boat and have him say he was not yet 18.

Of the 2278 Afghans in detention, an extraordinary 326 claim to be boys aged under 18. Just 22 are girls. Compare this with the 602 Sri Lankans in detention. Only 23 say they are boys under 18, and they are nicely matched by the number of girls -- 21. So, while one in seven Afghans says they are just boys, only one in 26 Sri Lankans claims the same.

The Opposition has now asked what checks are run on "unaccompanied minors" to establish their age, but it already seems clear the Government has yet again been outwitted by mere fly-by-nighters. Or sail-by-dayers.

You must admire the smarts of these "boys". And worry about the brainlessness of the politicians.


4 December, 2010

Proof of global cooling

The Warmists told us for years that warming would cause drought, so ....

Note that Australia is a continent so this is not trivial

AUSTRALIA has recorded its wettest spring in 111 years of records as the Weather Bureau warns of heavy rain on Saturday for much of Queensland's southeast. The nation recorded an average 163mm over spring, up on the previous record of 140mm set in 1975.

It comes as Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt raises concerns about the impacts of the wet on the reef.

Dr Reichelt said on Thursday that although cloud cover could help keep sea surface temperatures down and reduce bleaching, cyclones and flood run-off could cause damage. Environment Department staff and tourism operators would be involved in monitoring reef health. "Surveys will provide early warning of any problems such as coral bleaching and disease and damage from predators and storms," Dr Reichelt said.

Weather Channel meteorologist Tom Saunders said all states, except Tasmania, recorded heavy spring rain. "A moderate to strong La Nina weather pattern through the Pacific Ocean has delivered Australia's wettest spring in the 111 years of records we have available," he said.

"The wet spring follows a wet summer, autumn and winter. The nation has averaged 580mm so far this year, our third wettest January to November on record."

Mr Saunders said the La Nina showed little sign of weakening, so above average summer rain should continue along the east coast. "With catchments saturated following the spring downpours, there is a serious risk of further flooding," he said.


No sign of summer in Queensland as 2011 draws near

They're dying of cold in the Northern winter at the moment and even in the Southern summer it is unusually cool. No matter how the Warmists try to explain it away, the cooling is GLOBAL!

As the holidays approach and the New Year inches closer, it is the question on many Queenslanders' lips: where is summer? With the state seeing its wettest spring in 111 years and no sign of clear skies, the normally hot and humid weather characteristic of a Queensland Christmas is yet to set in.

Information from the Bureau of Meteorology showed that in 2009, the average temperature for November and the dying weeks of spring was 29.5 degrees, with a top of 34.8. However, November 2010 saw an average of only 26.6 degrees and a top of 29.5; over five degrees cooler than this time last year.

And with showers predicted for the whole of next week and temperatures to remain in the mid to high 20s, it seems December is shaping up to be just as overcast.

Bureau of Meteorology climate meteorologist Xiankun Meng said the higher than average rainfall was causing the lower temperatures. “The increased rainfall causes more cloud cover. This means the average temperatures are decreased,” he said.

Mr Meng said the increased activity in the eastern regions of the Pacific due to El Nino effect was causing more weather activity and the excessive rainfall to southeast Queensland.

He said the Bureau predicted that the southern half of the state would experience below average temperatures over the summer period and a cooler minimum. And although some hot days are possible after the New Year, there were no available long-term predictions.


A private education has its awards

Non-disruptive classrooms give teachers time to teach

ONE of Melbourne's bastions of male privilege - Scotch College - has educated more of Australia's most honoured and influential citizens than any other school in the nation.

An analysis of the 435 people who have received the nation's top Order of Australia honours since they were first awarded in 1975, shows they disproportionately attended a handful of elite Victorian secondary schools.

Scotch College alumni blitzed the field, with 19 former students receiving Australia's highest honour, including former governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen, historian Hugh Stretton, High Court judge Kenneth Hayne, indigenous eye health pioneer Professor Hugh Taylor and former Tasmanian premier Jim Bacon.

The only school that comes close is Geelong Grammar, with former students, including Prince Charles and Rupert Murdoch, receiving 17 honours.

Alumni from the two schools have received more than 8 per cent of all the knight, dame or Companion of the Order of Australia honours - more than all the schools in each of Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory.

The analysis provides a fascinating insight into the transfer of social advantage through the school system, with independent schools dominating rankings in Victoria.

The only government school in Victoria to be ranked in the top 30 was the selective-entry Melbourne High School, whose alumni - including Nobel prizewinning neurophysiologist John Eccles and former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane - received six honours. However, study author Rohan Reid said outside of Victoria the dominant schools were not always private, with former students from the selective state schools Sydney Boys' High and Fort Street High receiving the third and equal fourth highest number of awards.

Professor Jack Keating from the University of Melbourne said that unlike Melbourne, Sydney had about 20 selective-entry high schools. "Sydney Boys and Fort Street are long-established, so the economic and social elite will be more inclined to send their kids there," Professor Keating said.

"The selective-entry high schools have been favoured by a certain middle class on the Labor side of politics. A lot of the lawyers' class and the professional class comes through these schools, whereas in Melbourne, the law and medical classes tend to come through the private schools."

He said the study mirrored the findings of Melbourne University researchers Mark Peel and Janet McCalman, who analysed the educational backgrounds of the people listed in the 1988 Who's Who. Again, Scotch College outranked all other schools.

Professor David Penington, an Old Scotch Collegian who was made a companion of the Order of Australia in 1988 for his service to medicine and the community, believes the school's Scottish Presbyterian background meant it has always placed a strong emphasis on community contribution.

It's a sentiment shared by former premier and old Scotch boy Jeff Kennett, AC, who still recalls the words of former headmaster Richard Selby Smith. "He used to say to us that we had an obligation to the college when we left school - it wasn't all about money, it was actually about service. It was something that stuck in my mind as a young boy."

Mr Kennett believes Order of Australia honours should reward what people do outside their jobs.

"I think there are so many people who consistently give to the community, who don't get the recognition they deserve," he said. Author Shane Maloney infamously described Scotch College as a "machine for the transmission of inherited privilege" during a creative writing seminar at the school nine years ago.

Asked whether the analysis of Order of Australia honours reinforced his view that Scotch was a factory of privilege, Mr Maloney said: "You could draw that conclusion. Alternatively, the argument could be put that it simply reinforces the value parents get for their money."


Labor party needs to stand up to the Greens

They could even become a working-class party again! The teachers and other "intellectuals" will probably all vote Green anyway

FROM carbon pricing to social values, Gillard must stay true to her party.

THE Labor Party is facing a crisis of values. This is highlighted by the struggle on the Left of politics between Labor and the Greens, where Labor needs to prevail this term in the coming battle of ideas.

Forget any notion that the Victorian election terminates the Greens' push. That's nonsense.

The setback the Greens experienced last weekend in Victoria has nothing to do with Labor's strength and everything to do with the Liberal Party's preference decision against them.

While the Greens failed to win lower house seats, they polled 10.9 per cent of the vote compared with Labor's 36.3 per cent.

The threat posed by the Greens to the Labor Party remains as potent as ever while senator Bob Brown stays federal leader.

The Greens are more formidable than the Australian Democrats were and represent deep cultural and ideological currents in Australian and Western society.

The Coalition, in broad terms, knows where it stands.

It rejects Greens values centred on prioritising environmental action over the economy, higher taxes, more government controls, permissive borders, severing the US alliance, curtailing overseas military deployments, social progressivism in sexual and lifestyle choices, and an assertive secularism that breaks from the religious tradition still underpinning Western institutions.

The Labor Party, by contrast, looks confused and divided in its response to the values represented by the Greens.

Early impressions are that Labor sentiment is moving to the Left to protect its progressive wing, but this is not necessarily Julia Gillard's own judgment.

Former NSW Labor treasurer Michael Costa offered the critical insight in The Australian Literary Review, saying that "Labor will never be able to match the Greens in a rhetorical battle on so-called social justice".

He's right. The Greens will outbid Labor on climate change action and any item in the progressive social agenda.

The coming Labor-Green contest will be dominated by two dimensions: climate change focused on pricing carbon and social libertarianism focused on the Greens-driven agenda of euthanasia and gay marriage.

In 2009 the Greens won the climate-change debate against Labor. Gillard's success as prime minister will hinge upon her ability to reverse this result. The Greens carried the view that Kevin Rudd's scheme, with its aid for electricity generators and trade, exposed industry, while Labor's 5 per cent emission reduction target was a sellout. Rudd's scheme was trashed in the media and dismissed by much of the climate-change lobby as the prelude to being sunk by Tony Abbott.

The second round is now occurring and this week Climate Change Minister Greg Combet spelt out Labor's approach. He sees pricing carbon as a reform that will strengthen, not weaken, our economy. He doubts a binding global agreement will be achieved any time soon.

He argues the 5 per cent reduction target (by 2020 off 2000 levels) is more ambitious in per capita terms than Europe's and the conditions are not met for Australia to lift this target.

Combet's argument is that Australia should move to price carbon next year and the Greens must be held to account for their decision.

The test he poses for the Greens is whether they "prove themselves capable of playing a constructive hand to achieve fundamental environmental and economic reform". And Combet keeps reminding the media that the Greens' torpedoing of Rudd's scheme last year "received surprisingly little analysis".

Gillard closed the circle this week. She announced, bluntly, ruthlessly, that 2011 "is the year Australia decides on carbon pricing". Blind Freddie can decode this. Gillard is naming 2011 as the year the Greens become either constructive collaborators or wreckers.

If they fail to negotiate Combet's bill then war between Labor and the Greens is inevitable.

In any such conflict Gillard must win the values debate. She needs to hold the voting majority behind her policy because Gillard cannot repeat Rudd's blunder last April of walking away from his commitment.

Gillard, in effect, is doing what Paul Keating advised on the ABC's Lateline on Thursday, when he said "the big parties do the big changes".

That is, Labor must operate from strength and live with the consequences. It is big picture politics. Having taken her stand, Gillard cannot retreat because of the skeleton in her cupboard.

That skeleton is the advice she gave Rudd earlier this year to abandon his climate change policy. Gillard told senior cabinet colleagues she would not and could not support Rudd's scheme, that is, the emissions trading scheme, going into the 2010 election. She was unequivocal.

She insisted upon this with the force of her office as Deputy Prime Minister, leaving Rudd little option. So her current position is a "road to Damascus" conversion meaning yet another reversal would be fatal for her.

If the bill fails next year Gillard and Combet must protect their left flank by arguing that the Greens have been utterly irresponsible, and protect their right flank against Abbott by arguing that pricing carbon is a national necessity.

In short, Labor needs to brand itself as the party of responsible climate change action. If it cannot win this battle of ideas then Labor will sink between the opposing assaults of the Greens and Coalition.

The parallel contest next year will be the Green-driven social engineering agenda. It starts with euthanasia, where Brown vows to resume debate to restore the powers of territory parliaments to legislate for euthanasia. In effect, this reverses the 1996 bill moved by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews and carried in the lower house on a 88-35 conscience vote (most dissenters being Labor MPs).

Despite its mechanics, the ultimate intent is to secure the introduction of euthanasia into Australia. This would constitute one of the most important social reforms in our history and crosses the threshold to a legal regime that sanctions killing, with little confidence that safeguards exist to reassure the sick, vulnerable, indigenous and invalid.

While a test for the entire parliament, it becomes a special test of Labor values, given Labor is in office. The question is whether Labor, as a party, has a pro-euthanasia majority in support of the Greens' campaign for a core change in Australia's values.

After euthanasia, comes the gay marriage debate. The Greens, again, have put this on the agenda and Labor has fallen into a protracted and divisive internal debate with emotions high on both sides. It is the last thing Gillard would have wanted.

For Labor's pro-gay marriage camp there is only one issue: removing another discrimination against gays. NSW senator Doug Cameron said this week the current marriage law was "wrong" and "crazy". He said Australia was a "socially progressive" nation and there would be no downside for Labor in legislating gay marriage.

However, gay marriage is not recognised as a universal human right. It involves not merely removal of a legal discrimination but changes the foundations of the most vital social institution.

This truth cannot be evaded and Labor should confront it. The point is recognised by Gillard in her election-eve interview with this newspaper.

Explaining her rejection of gay marriage, Gillard said: "For this nation, with our heritage as a Christian country, with what's defined us and continues to define us, the Marriage Act has a special status in our culture and for our community. My position appreciates that."

Her remarks, as an atheist Labor PM, are unremarkable. It is, however, a measure of how far Labor's values have changed that much of the party is now hostile to Gillard's position. This originates in two factors, tactics and values.

There is support within caucus to embrace gay marriage as a tactic to pre-empt the Greens. And the public isn't mug enough to miss this. The idea that Labor is ready to change the meaning of marriage to save its vote in inner-city seats will only invite public cynicism.

What other principle is Labor prepared to trade like a sack of potatoes?

The more substantial point relates to values. Here is the authentic commitment to gay rights that says marriage must be re-defined. Again, this would constitute one of the most pivotal changes in Labor belief since the party's inception.

And it assumes as Cameron says, that Australia is now a socially progressive country.

Indeed, it seems almost politically incorrect to even question this mantra. However, it is questioned at length in the just released John Howard memoirs. Howard explains that social conservatism was at the heart of his success as PM. Proud of what he stood for, Howard believes the social conservatism he radiated on a wide front almost daily helped him to penetrate and hold the Labor base vote and win four elections.

Now, perhaps Howard is utterly deluded. Or perhaps Labor is fooling itself, as it has done so often over the past 20 years. Labor has a history of embracing progressive causes beloved by educated activists but at odds with its working-class base, which either opposes such causes or dislikes the priority they are accorded.

Next year will see Australian households hurting and under pressure. Labor needs to consider whether this is the moment to embark upon a radical shift in its social beliefs to fit into the so-called new paradigm and astute Greens agenda-setting.


3 December, 2010

Watchdog urges Julia Gillard to reject NBN's monopoly plan

A cosy little government monopoly, where bad service and indifference to the public can be guaranteed -- every socialist's dream

THE competition regulator has punched a hole in the business case for the $36bn NBN by urging the government to reject a proposal to extend its monopoly. It is understood the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has told the government to discard the NBN Co's contentious plan to build only 14 points of interconnection - where retail service providers will hook into the fibre network to deliver broadband services to consumers - in five capital cities and require 200 points to be implemented. The rejection could slash the NBN Co's commercial returns from the services it plans to eventually sell and would curb its market dominance.

NBN Co expects to produce returns that will beat the long-term government bond rate, which is a modest 5.41 per cent - but this was predicated on its strategy of 14 interconnection points.

The heavily edited summary of its business case, released last week, argued that if the government's solution on interconnection points "does not promote the same intensity of retail competition", the company's internal rate of return could be 50 to 80 basis points lower. This would be because of a "slower take-up of broadband and slower introduction of retail services that require higher speeds". The ACCC's advice has been presented to the government and is awaiting delivery to cabinet next week for final consideration.

Critics had complained the NBN Co's plan was wasteful because it bypassed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of existing fibre-optic cable built by companies such as Telstra and Optus. Concerns were also raised that the plan would make the NBN Co too powerful and crowd out competition. "It was crazy of them to want to overbuild parts where there are functioning competitive markets," said one industry source. "It's a win for the industry and it will remind the NBN Co who is in charge here."

The NBN Co has been arguing its plan is the best way to deliver uniform national wholesale pricing. An NBN spokeswoman said last night the body had "said consistently that industry structure is a matter for government and that we will build whatever number of POIs they decide following consideration of the recommendations flowing from the ACCC's public consultation process". Julia Gillard promised a uniform national wholesale price as part of a policy aimed at maintaining the support of independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. There are now concerns about how the government will deliver on that promise.

It is understood the advice to government seeks to tackle the issue via other mechanisms, such as subsidies to regional and rural areas funded from the federal budget or an industry levy. The NBN Co's plans had infuriated major telecom companies, which said it would serve only to leave unused assets that could otherwise have been used to lower the costs paid by consumers. The telcos had warned that execution of the strategy would have resulted in compensation claims worth "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

Yesterday, the industry was relieved at suggestions the advice to government supported their position. "People seem to think we support an NBN under any circumstances, " said Optus director of government and corporate affairs Maha Krishnapillai. "There are a whole lot of decisions that make NBN borderline and this is one of them. One of the most important principles has been wholesale-only and maximum competition wherever possible, so it's a good thing we are now moving in that direction."


Queensland Health blocking hospital error reports from Right to Information access

Queensland's own world-class obnoxious bureaucracy

ERRORS in public hospitals are being hidden from Queenslanders under a secret Health Department scheme. The Courier-Mail can reveal Queensland Health chiefs told the department's independent Right to Information decision-makers to block access to so-called clinical incident data detailing health bungles at hospitals across the state. The errors censored can include reports about mix-ups of newborns, patients being wrongly medicated or surgery errors which shed light on the problems in the health system.

The revelations come as the Bligh Government lauds a new era of transparency five years after two commissions of inquiry uncovered a culture of secrecy within Queensland Health. The move by the department's executive management team was triggered late last year by an application by The Courier-Mail for information relating to deaths in emergency departments, which the department blocked.

Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid has defended the plans, insisting they were aimed at protecting the identities of people involved in the incidents after staff claimed they could still be identified despite their personal information being censored. But senior department sources said that was already occurring.

Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail under RTI laws reveal the lengths QH executives went to in order to hide the information, including an elaborate plan to exploit a legal loophole and shift the information into Quality Assurance Committees, the secretive groups where errors are discussed without access by courts or RTI. When the committee option was deemed "futile" and too secretive because patients would not have been able to access their own records, the department's management team proposed asking Premier Anna Bligh to wind back her new RTI laws to hide the data. But this was deemed too politically difficult and documents show the Queensland Health RTI unit agreed to draft a new set of guidelines to block access to similar applications targeting clinical incident data.

In a written statement, Mr Reid refused to answer several questions about the manoeuvring but insisted the options were aimed at protecting patient and staff confidentiality and ensuring incidents were reported. "Clinicians raised concerns that the new Act might cause clinical staff to hold back from reporting clinical incidents, if they felt their anonymity could be compromised," Mr Reid said. However, RTI decision-makers had long been legally obliged to consider privacy issues and censor information that could potentially identify people before releasing the rest of the documents.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the public had a right to know what was happening in hospitals. "It worries me data is being withheld which shows how hospitals are performing when RTI officers previously deemed it OK for release," he said.


Bureaucracy that it as obstructive as it is stupid holds back university research

A year ago I was introduced at a blue chip institute, owned by Sydney University, to an eminent professor leading an exciting research project. His team had (almost) isolated the scent molecule in cat fur that is recognised by and affects the behaviour of rodents. He can demonstrate that exposing rats to the critical molecule, in tiny concentrations, causes them to flee from the source, with great reluctance to return, and brief exposure appears to interrupt their prolific breeding cycle. Almost one-third of the Indonesian rice crop is lost to rats and mice each year. For a country trying to feed 240 million people, most of whom eat rice every day, this is a seriously interesting idea.

The professor needed $300,000 to fund three senior scientists and their equipment and materials for a year to take the final step in isolating the active molecule from a dozen alternatives. I offered to raise the money privately but he explained this was not possible, as any private investment had to be sanctioned and brokered by the university's commercialisation arm, Sydnovate. I was informed that his funding rounds take place at fixed intervals – miss one and you have to wait for the next – and that grants of $50,000 are hard to get. It was possible for a private investor to help but there were very strict rules. The last time his team had gone down this path, it took two years to consider the request and a competing university in Europe published the innovation in the interim.

The Commonwealth gave Sydney University $750 million in grants in 2009 – before you get to HECS payments and student fees. About $200 million a year goes to the faculty of medicine for research. Those funds employ a small army of very clever men and women in trying to solve human health-related problems. Sydnovate's sole purpose is to commercialise the good ideas that this army of researchers (and their colleagues in the faculties of engineering, chemistry, etc) create. So what is the royalty return that we taxpayers get for $750 million a year? It's $2.5 million in 2009 out of total university revenue of $1.4 billion – or one-third of 1 per cent. After 160 years of operation, Sydney University makes more money selling beer and hamburgers to students than it does licensing intellectual property.

Advertisement: Story continues below
Sydnovate employs 26 full-time staff including six lawyers and five PhDs. Like one hand clapping, they are expert at registering patents, hopeless at making money – all protection, no profit. They remind me of the Soviet shoe factory that suffered a failure of the left sole cutter and continued producing thousands of right shoes, knowing their quota in a command economy was measured by the number of shoes produced, rather than the number of pairs. There are partnerships, where industry has come to the university asking for help in a research task, but as far as I can tell, negligible revenue from faculty-created knowledge. Performance reporting is opaque; Sydnovate doesn't produce an annual report. If public company directors practised these levels of transparency with other people's money, they would be struck off.

It's unfair to pick on one institution when the story is repeated so consistently. The University of Queensland gets points for effort in its Uniseed collaboration with Melbourne University and UNSW, which has attracted $15 million in third-party superannuation investment.

That ray of hope is overshadowed by the most recent DEEWR data (2008) suggesting "royalties, trademarks and licences" generate 0.46 per cent of total university operating revenue. By contrast, one US listed therapeutics company, AmGen, has amassed $50 billion in 30 years, improving the prospects of 18 million patients, by commercialising three good ideas.

The cost of running a research-intensive university is rising twice as fast as government willingness to fund it. The most creative idea to fill the hole seems to be more full-fee-paying foreign students. We go through the motions of running commercialisation units but there is little conviction and fewer results – partly because the culture of the education unions is so anti-profit and anti-business. How can our universities credibly teach "entrepreneurship" when their own record on the subject is so bad?

There will always be a place for "pure" research but we must move beyond the infantilism of institutions addicted to the easy money of government grants and foreign students.

The relevant leading body of public institutions – Knowledge Commercialisation Australia (KCA) – appears to see its role as rationalising the failure of its members and organising further and deeper raids on commonwealth and state treasuries.

KCA's message is that Australian universities ought to expect to make much less than 1 per cent of revenue from commercialising ideas because "discoveries that produce financial bonanzas are so rare that policies designed to pursue them would almost always lead to failure".

How inspiring. Recurrent funding to public research institutes should include incentives and penalties. If they prove incapable of giving cartilage to ideas, we should contract the role to others. Researchers must be able to bypass the politburos masquerading as deal-brokers. We could create an annual "Australian Innovation Market", bringing together venture capitalists and the research community, allowing scientists to produce a simple prospectus and pitch deals to recruit capital in a global online IP auction.

Failure to act also involves risk. The rats will keep eating the rice and our best minds will emigrate, fondly recalling Australia as a nice place to retire.


Gillard charts course for workplace disaster

IRRESPONSIBLE union demands threaten to stall our economic growth and cost jobs

IN uncertain times a government should offer voters more than just words. Governments should provide a clear plan to steer the economy through uncharted waters. As interest rates rise in Australia and international economic conditions remain uncertain, a government should be able to steer a course through the minefield of treacherous economic conditions.

However, rather than steering a safe course through the minefield, Julia Gillard's re-regulation of the Australian workplace and the rapacious demands of an emboldened union movement threaten to blow a hole in Australia's economic growth and threaten Australian jobs.

There is no question that the removal of the no-disadvantage test by the Howard government in 2005 was a policy and political mistake. Tony Abbott is right to declare Work Choices dead, buried and cremated. There have been mistakes and they should not be repeated, but there were also successes. The reasons for those successes (the commitment to ongoing reform) should not be forgotten.

This is particularly the case as the warning bells of the economic dangers ahead ring out across the country. These include the Prime Minister's closest advisers, including the finance department, who warned the Labor government in the incoming briefing that "a new broad agenda for reform is needed to improve productivity and labour force participation". Ken Henry's Treasury department has also identified "capacity constraints, especially pricing pressures, as the economy presses up against full employment limits".

A recent survey by the Australian Institute of Human Resources belies the claim made by the Prime Minister, as a minister in the Rudd government responsible for the Fair Work Act, that she would make things simpler and fairer.

Respondents to the AHRI survey said of the provisions of the Fair Work Act: "This is an anti-employment provision. It is more prudent for us as the outsourcer to retrench the staff rather than look to negotiate transfer arrangements. Most significant changes are negative; providing unions with default bargaining status gives them a free ride into negotiations without regard to what level they actually understand the workplace and the employees they are negotiating on behalf of.

"This gives rise to template agreements that FWA [is] endorsing, discouraging agreements that are tailored to suit individual workplaces, and therefore gets close to what pattern bargaining actually is."

These warnings (of a return to the bad old days of industry-wide wage claims with the resultant inflationary effects) are not isolated.

Even the Labor Party's token employer representative of choice, Australian Industry Group, has warned its members of increasing claims under the Fair Work Act that impede competitiveness and efficiency, refusal by unions to allow individual flexibility arrangements to be made and rising wage expectations of employees and unions.

"Many employers are uneasy about the laws and ongoing union attempts to stretch its boundaries, while they are also finding compliance very challenging," the AI Group says.

The Prime Minister's workplace laws will put increased pressure on interest rates because the effect of the laws will generate upward pressure on wages from exaggerated union claims pursued across industries. This pressure will increase as agreements from the previous system end and unions engage in campaigns for their replacements.

Recent reports of claims by the communications union for 15 per cent wage rises for workers on the uncosted National Broadband Network rollout and the transport unions for 16 per cent provide further evidence that unions understand Labor can't be trusted with taxpayer money or to manage the economy and the alarm bells get louder.

The Gillard laws are a marked departure from the broad progress of economic reform during the past several decades. The Fair Work Act re-regulates the labour market and takes Australia back beyond the reforms introduced in 1993 by the Keating government.

The Fair Work Act has given unions a new array of weapons and a veto over what happens in any workplace and between any employer and employee whether they have members there or not. These so-called "good faith" bargaining provisions are the most insidious aspect of the new laws.

The effect of these laws on the mining industry, in particular, will be significant. They allow, and arguably have encouraged, unions to make wage claims not based on productivity but on the soaring commodity prices, which will not last. The union movement is sitting back licking its lips at the opportunities for increased membership that this largely non-unionised workforce presents under the Gillard laws.

This will drive increased wage pressures across the economy as unions use their powers to drive their agenda through the agreement-making process.

As interest rates rise and unions continue to push the boundaries of the Fair Work Act, the losers will be Australians who lose their jobs, those who can't even get that chance at a job and the small business operators desperately trying to keep their businesses afloat.

Where is the fairness, Julia? If the PM were serious about "walking the reform road" she would do something about the IR landmine before it's too late. This is a debate we must have. This is a reform road that must be travelled.


NOTE: My QANTAS/Jetstar and Australian police news blog are getting frequent updates

2 December, 2010

Ill baby passed around like a parcel. Dies

The NSW government hospital system, again

THE grieving parents of Elijah Slavkovic are demanding answers about a bungled 1500km, 33-hour journey through five hospitals that contributed to his death.

The three-month-old Melbourne baby became ill while on a family holiday on the NSW South Coast last year, but he might have been saved if given antibiotics within hours of becoming ill.

Instead, he was passed around the NSW health system for 33 hours through hospitals in Pambula, Bega, Canberra and Sydney before finally being flown to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, where he died six weeks later from bacterial meningitis.

His distraught parents, Bobby Slavkovic and Sandra Bernobic, are still battling to come to terms with the loss of their son. They are fighting to have his death investigated by Victorian and NSW coroners and the NSW Government.

"I feel that he was robbed of a chance," Ms Bernobic said. "He lost six hours of treatment and in a small baby that could have made all the difference, but he was never given the chance. "I want to know why they failed Elijah. Why he wasn't given antibiotics. I need someone to tell me why he wasn't given the help he needed when he first went to hospital. "We still wake up some nights terrified and worrying about him. I just need somebody to say sorry - not to me, but to Elijah."

After he became ill in April last year, Elijah was taken to Pambula Hospital. It does not have paediatric care, so he was transferred to Bega Hospital, which also has no paediatric facilities. Ms Bernobic says Bega doctors told her that Elijah was not sick and only needed burping.

As he deteriorated, they sent him to Canberra, even though they had been told the hospital did not have a paediatric intensive care unit. Elijah was finally given antibiotics more than six hours after arriving at his first hospital.

In Canberra he had to be resuscitated and placed on a ventilator before being flown to Sydney Children's Hospital. Medical records from the specialist Sydney hospital indicate despair that Elijah had not received antibiotics sooner, and by then he was too sick to be saved.

Elijah was flown to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital for his final care so his distraught parents could be closer to home.
Mr Slavkovic said staff at the Sydney and Melbourne hospitals did everything they could to help Elijah as well as comfort them. But he will never be able to understand why his son was sent around NSW instead of going directly to the specialist hospitals.

"I pleaded with them to send him to Melbourne or Sydney," he said. "If I had known what those hospitals were like, I would have jumped in the car and driven to Melbourne and he still would have got antibiotics sooner."

Because failures in Elijah's care took place in NSW, but he died in Victoria, the matter was not reported to either state's coroners. After being told of the details by the Herald Sun yesterday, the Victorian coroner's office said it would examine the case if asked by Elijah's parents.

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said it was outrageous that despite the damning findings in a report by NSW health authorities, the case was not referred to the coroner. Nine recommendations from the NSW probe have been implemented to make sure the same debacle doesn't happen again.


Racist political party planned

AUSTRALIA'S first indigenous political party will be officially registered early next year and could one day form government, the man behind the move says. Indigenous rights campaigner Maurie Ryan has applied to have the First Nations Political Party registered with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

The former Labor party member says the new party will eventually field candidates in federal, state and territory elections and "it will grow". "Political parties are created to govern and I hope one day this political party will be in power," Mr Ryan said today.

"There are first nations political parties all around the world. "But in Australia there hasn't been any representation of indigenous people except the times of Neville Bonner, Aden Ridgeway and now Ken Wyatt."

Mr Ryan said that fact was an indictment on mainstream politics. He ran as an Independent in the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari at the 2007 and 2010 federal elections. The seat is named after his grandfather, early land rights activist Vincent Lingiari, and presently held by Labor minister Warren Snowdon.

"Warren's been there 20 years and done nothing," Mr Ryan said. "I'll be contesting against him next time and I'll have a political party behind me."

Mr Ryan said First Nations was needed because both major parties proved they were racist by suspending the Racial Discrimination Act in order to roll out the NT intervention. The new party would be open to everyone and campaign on wider issues than simply indigenous rights.

To date First Nations had more than 2000 members, Mr Ryan said. The AEC advertised the party's application this week. Any objections have to be lodged by January 4. Mr Ryan hopes the party will then be officially registered in the following weeks.


The Leftist romance with bureaucracy never ceases

Queensland budget balloons with rising wages for bureaucrats

ANNA Bligh's administration has presided over the nation's fastest growing wages bill at the same time as being forced to sell state assets. National figures reveal the Bligh Government's wage costs have increased 5.4 per cent in the past 12 months - a growth rate exceeding all other states, as well as the private sector.

The figures come as the Government proceeds with its unpopular plan to sell $15 billion in state assets in an effort to fix its battered budget and reclaim a AAA credit rating.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Labour Price Index, pay rates in the Queensland public sector grew 5.4 per cent in the 12 months to September. This compared with 3 per cent in Victoria and 3.8 per cent in NSW. Private sector wages grew by 3.4 per cent in Queensland and New South Wales and 3.6 per cent in Victoria.

Treasurer Andrew Fraser yesterday said some of the additional wage costs stemmed from enterprise bargaining agreements that pre-dated the Government's 2.5 per cent wages policy. "These agreements included police, who received the equivalent of a 5 per cent increase on top of wage adjustments, nurses and teachers, which both received increases of 4.5 per cent, and allied health workers, who received 4 per cent plus re-classifications," he said.

"We know we have to responsibly manage wages growth as we rebuild the budget following the global financial crisis. That's why we have put in place a wages policy of 2.5 per cent for future EBAs." The Government recently side-stepped its own wages policy by handing thousands of public servants annual increases of 4.5 per cent, followed by two 4 per cent increases.

Premier Anna Bligh also recently gave politicians a wage increase of 3.1 per cent, although this came after a one-year freeze to their pay packets.


Bungling NSW Labor government blows $350m of taxpayers' money

That would hire a lot of doctors and nurses for their struggling hospitals

In a final and scathing rebuke of the Keneally government's handling of public transport, the NSW Auditor-General says the government wasted more than $350 million on the abandoned underground Metro project. Peter Achterstraat says in his report on transport projects: "Of the $412 million spent on the Sydney Metro, $356 million represents expenditure with no apparent benefit to the people of NSW."

His comments directly contradict the premier, Krstina Keneally, who, when she dumped the Metro in February, insisted the money had not been wasted. She said at the time: "In fact, the work we have done on CBD Metro has been very useful and it will continue to be so."

Mr Achterstraat, who is respected widely for his independence, also said the Metro debacle should serve as a lesson. "I recommend the NSW Government identify lessons learnt from the Sydney Metro experience and ensure the State never again expends such a large amount of scarce transport dollars and valuable time on a project that does not proceed."

The Metro - a seven-kilometre underground line between Rozelle and Central, with a budget of $5.3 billion -- came to symbolise the transport failures of the Carr, Iemma, Rees and Keneally Labor governments.

Mrs Keneally also promised to reserve the corridors for the Metro, including a corridor under Pitt Street in the CBD, which experts have identified as vital for the expansion of CityRail services, not metros.

Despite the Keneally government's repeated claims that CityRail is meeting its benchmark targets, the auditor-general's report also found complaints about CityRail had soared by 20 per cent. The complaints were mostly about the quality of the overall service, operations and reliability, and not about staff. In the past, some senior Railcorp managers have tried to shift blame to frontline staff. Mr Achterstraat said: "Complaints about service replaced complaints about staff as the major area of complaint."

In another sign of the limited effect motorways have on relieving congestion, the auditor-general also found that traffic speeds in the morning peak hour on the M5 and Eastern Distributor, fell from 41 km/h to 35 km/h.


A police attack on people's freedoms

A PERSON'S "right to remain silent" with impunity after being arrested will be effectively abolished under a police campaign to be taken to the next state election. Instead of what a person says being used against them in a court, police say a person's refusal to speak should also be able to be used against them in some circumstances.

The NSW Police Association will launch a campaign against the current laws in an effort to pressure both parties ahead of March's poll. Police say professional criminals are exploiting the right to silence, making it harder for police to obtain convictions.

However, civil libertarians said the move would result in more innocent people in jail.

Police association president Scott Weber said the changes would make it harder for criminals to dodge the law and protect innocent people.

He called on the State Government to adopt laws similar to those in the UK. "The British parliament changed the application of the right to silence over 15 years ago to combat the growing misuse of this right, and to deal with the rise of organised crime and terrorism," Mr Weber said. "The British model still gives people the right to stay silent but allows for courts to draw an inference of guilt from a person's silence in certain situations."

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said being pressured to answer questions that might incriminate them would result in countless innocent people going to jail. "It doesn't serve any benefit," he said.


1 December, 2010

The most crooked and inept "child protection" outfit in the country again: DOCS of NSW

Death covered up and attempt made to silence a whistleblower. The entire management team should be fired, if not prosecuted

A DOCS case worker says the department "covered up" information relating to a dead baby at the centre of a murder investigation. Whistleblower Wayne Lewis accused DOCS over the case of a baby boy found dead next to a motel on the Pacific Highway at Belmont, near Newcastle, on December 4, 2007. "They covered up the death of that child because of the publicity ... to avoid scrutiny of the death," said Mr Lewis, 54, who still works for the Department of Community Services.

After raising his concerns and threatening to make a submission to a special commission of inquiry, Mr Lewis was suspended for 12 months.

He said DOCS workers had a chance in August 2007 to save the then unborn boy but failed to act.

DOCS has admitted files from its KIDS database were never passed on to police. A murder investigation into the newborn's death collapsed, and the mother was later convicted of concealing a birth.

A DOCS spokeswoman said staff co-operated with police but officers had never asked for the file. However, Opposition community services spokeswoman Pru Goward also claimed there had been a cover-up.

"It [DOCS] is engaged in secrecy, cover-up and possibly deflection of a murder inquiry," she said.

Mr Lewis, a case worker with more than a decade's experience, took a call from the baby's mother on the DOCS helpline and found her children had previously been neglected and there were domestic violence issues.

She had called for motel accommodation but Mr Lewis told colleagues to see her for a risk assessment within 24 hours, but they dismissed a home visit and closed the case after a phone call.

Had they been to see her they would have seen she was heavily pregnant and, based on the family's history, they would have intervened, Mr Lewis said.

Between the mother's call and the baby's death he had raised with managers the systematic issue of parents known to DOCS simply being given hotel accommodation instead of a field visit.

"The issue that really gets me personally is I know they were covering up the involvement," he said. "The death review team was interviewing all the crisis response team regarding high-profile murders, I was making noise about this one saying, 'We knew this family'."

But he was never interviewed by the team or police after he was suspended in 2008, with DOCS managers saying Mr Lewis had acted inappropriately with information in 2002. He denied the claim and was later reinstated and given a promotion. A DOCS spokeswoman denied Mr Lewis was sidelined to silence him.


Support for nuclear power coming from the Australian Left

They are freaked by what the voters might do about the higher electricity bills that green power will necessitate. Electricity bills have already risen a lot and they know that cannot go on forever

FEDERAL Labor MPs are calling for Australia to embrace nuclear power, leaving Julia Gillard facing another damaging split in her Government. Ms Gillard is under pressure to put the divisive issue on next year's ALP national conference agenda - with MPs claiming voters care more about power bills than gay marriage.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson last night said those advocating nuclear power had as much right to have the issue debated at the showcase event as those backing changes to gay marriage laws.

Defying Labor's official ban on nuclear power, a number of MPs have gone public in their support for the low-carbon energy source. "My view is that all forms of energy supply should be under active consideration," former frontbencher Mark Bishop said. Senator Bishop said the "Government should give more active consideration to putting nuclear into the equation of all forms of energy supply, particularly those that are subsidised".

NSW Senator Steve Hutchins also wants nuclear power debated after Ms Gillard this week argued that a price on carbon would be a high priority for her Government. "In my opinion it should be part of the [energy] debate if we want to have a clean future," he said. "I cannot see us returning to living in the cave and burning fallen timber to keep us warm."

Privately a number of ministers support nuclear power being considered along with coal, solar and other energy sources as part of Australia's future energy mix.

The nuclear push will receive a boost today when Mr Ferguson releases a report by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. The study finds nuclear power will be cheaper than traditional coal-fired power stations and renewables such as solar - once Australia introduces a carbon tax.

Labor MP Chris Hayes said Australia would soon become the biggest exporter of uranium as he called for nuclear to be included in the energy debate. "Why would we simply reject it out of hand?" Mr Hayes said.

Senator Michael Forshaw said key regional players were rapidly embracing nuclear power. "I am not one who says we should never, ever contemplate the possibility of nuclear. It should be part of a broad debate about cleaner energy," he said.

Senator Hutchins wants the issue on the agenda for the ALP national conference. "It is more important for the country's future than gay marriage and it affects a lot more people," he said.

Mr Ferguson said he believed those advocating change should have the chance to state their case at Labor's showcase event. "They have as much right to discuss nuclear at the 2011 conference as other people have to debate the issue of gay and lesbian marriage," he said.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific lashed out at the ALP over the issue last night. Spokesman Stephen Campbell said nuclear power and its waste were a threat to people and the environment and "not a solution to climate change".

"It's also too expensive and too unsafe. If the ALP went down that road, they would be costing the taxpayers billions of dollars to establish the technology, while renewable energy is safer, cheaper and much easier to build," he said.


Australia dropping solar subsidy too

But it won't be remotely the disaster it was in Spain

THE Gillard government has moved to ease pressure on rising power prices by phasing out support for household rooftop solar panels from July next year, one year earlier than previously planned.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet announced the changes to the the government’s solar credits scheme today. "The cost to install solar panels has reduced substantially since the solar credits mechanism was first announced in December 2008, driven by a strong economy, a high dollar and falling technology costs," Mr Combet said.

"In this time, demand for solar installations has also increased rapidly, as the out-of-pocket cost to households has dropped and generous State and Territory feed-in tariffs have provided additional support to households."

The change would allow electricity retailers to reduce the proportion of renewable energy certificates they are required to purchase from small-scale systems including solar panels. Under the renewable energy target (RET), energy retailers are obliged to buy renewable energy certificates or RECS. The changes announced today mean that retailers will now be obliged to purchase fewer of the certificates and the flow on costs to consumers will not be as great.

Mr Combet said the measure was expected to save the average household $12 in electricity prices in 2011. But he stressed that systems installed before July 1, 2011 would "not be impacted by the changes, allowing industry and households time to adjust".

The program had previously been attacked as a middle class welfare measure because the subsidies tended to favour the well-off and had minimal impact in reducing Australia’s emissions.

Mr Combet said the government had always emphasised the importance of households carrying some of the costs of installing solar systems.


IQ test for politicians!

Long overdue

PROSPECTIVE Liberal National candidates are being forced to sit new-age intelligence tests to ensure they are smart enough to be politicians.

The Courier-Mail can reveal LNP candidates are being put through so-called "psychometric tests" in a bid to weed out the unworthy.

The tests used by the LNP hierarchy specifically measure a person's aptitude rather than concentrate on an individual's personality traits.

Only people seeking preselection in marginal seats have undergone the tests so far, but existing MPs may face the same probe into their intellects.

LNP state secretary Michael O'Dwyer said the testing was part of a new strict vetting process to ensure candidates were up to the rigours of being an MP.

"What we are trying to do is get a very stringent process in place so the best candidates are coming through," he said.

Mr O'Dwyer said he was unaware if such tests were used elsewhere in Australian politics, but they were introduced by the Conservatives in the UK. "It is certainly a process that is way more thorough than what we have had," he said. "It is good at identifying those people who are good to go to pre-selection and will be good representatives of their local communities."

He refused to reveal how many people seeking pre-selection had failed. However, Mr O'Dwyer insisted delays resolving some pre-selections had been caused by huge interest in representing the party. "We have been overwhelmed with the response we have had to nominations," he said.

The LNP had been seeking to pre-select candidates in 34 seats held by Labor or Independents but are now only likely to complete about 25 before the end of the year.

Psychometric tests have become popular among big businesses seeking the right candidates for positions.

According to the Institute of Psychometric Coaching, aptitude tests had only one correct answer to each question and people were timed on how quickly they responded.

The tests measure a person's "fluid and crystalised intelligence". Fluid intelligence refers to a person's ability to think quickly or use their "street smarts", while crystalised intelligence means their ability to employ their knowledge from past experiences.


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.

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.