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 October, 2010

NSW to review weak sentencing of criminals

SUSPENDED sentences could be scrapped by the State Government because of concerns courts allow too many serious offenders to escape jail. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has ordered a review of suspended sentences after the number handed out by judges and magistrates tripled over the past decade.

More than 6400 criminals convicted of assault, robbery and drug dealing last year received suspended sentences, in which a jail term is deferred on the condition there is no re-offending. The Government is looking to follow the lead of Victoria where the sentencing option is being abolished for all but the most serious of crimes.

The review will be carried out by the NSW Sentencing Council. It will be headed by council chair Jerrold Cripps, QC with advice from Justice James Wood, Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham and police Assistant Commissioner David Hudson.Mr Hatzistergos said suspended sentences were designed to denote the seriousness of the offence while giving offenders the chance to rehabilitate in the community.

"This review will determine whether suspended sentences are meeting these objectives," he said. "It will also examine the use of suspended sentences for offenders who would have otherwise been given a bond.

"Importantly, it will consider the views of victims of crime, for whom a suspended sentence can be a confusing outcome when they are expecting the offender to go to jail."Suspended sentences can be issued by the courts to people convicted of crimes that carry sentences of up to two years.

But evidence shows that instead of being issued as an alternative to jail, they are being handed down in place of periodic detention and community services.

Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show 5983 suspended sentences were handed down in the lower courts last year and 489 in the higher courts. Eleven people convicted of manslaughter and driving causing death were given suspended sentences. They were also handed down to 113 people convicted of sexual assault, eight who were involved in kidnapping, 334 for burglary, 301 for importing or exporting drugs and 1644 for traffic offences.

In about half the cases, offenders walked free from court without supervision orders.

Suspended sentences were scrapped in the mid-1970s but reintroduced under Bob Carr in 2000. Critics of the sentencing option claim suspended sentences were designed for "middle-class offenders" as the conditions simply required those being handed them to obey the law, as required by the rest of the community.

Victims of Crime Assistance League vice-president Howard Brown said suspended sentences had been handed out inconsistently by the courts and should not be given to perpetrators of violent crime. "There is a place for them, but they've been given inconsistently," Mr Brown said.


Failed NSW solar power scheme will burn a hole in every pocket

Households will pay an extra $600 on their electricity bill over six years to cover the $2 billion cost of the failure of the state government's overly generous solar power scheme.

If elected in March, the opposition will have the scheme, which runs to the end of 2016, reviewed by the auditor-general so that it can decide on its future.

From midnight last Wednesday, the government slashed from 60 to 20 per kilowatt hour the tariff paid to households installing solar panel systems because the surging number of applications has blown out the scheme's cost.

In reports tabled in Parliament last week, the government disclosed that it had been advised that even after slashing the tariff for solar panels, it anticipated 777 megawatts of solar panels would be installed by the time the scheme closed. Already, 200 megawatts of capacity has either been installed or ordered.

The reports detailed the total cost to households is forecast to reach $1975 million by 2017, placing a burden on homes at a time when power prices are rising sharply already.

The government refused to indicate when it first became aware that the initial 50-megawatt target had been breached, which triggered an automatic review of the scheme. The government began that review in August. However, Country Energy, one of the largest distributors in NSW, was informing solar industry officials as early as May that the target had already been reached.

Even so, the government "dithered until August" before holding its review, with the report only completed last week, opposition climate change spokeswoman Catherine Cusack said yesterday. "Labor's billion-dollar blowout will be passed on to families who will pay at least an extra $100 per year on their electricity bills every year until 2017," she said.

The total cost to families in some regional areas could be $1000.

A slump in the price of solar panels, to about $6000 per kilowatt from about $13,000 at the start of the year, prompted a surge in the number of households installing the systems. The price drop resulted in it taking only two years for some systems to pay for themselves, rather than six years. Cutting the tariff to 20 - what most households pay for their electricity - is expected to result in fewer orders for new systems.

Industry sources estimate a new system will take 5.4 years to pay for itself with a 20 tariff, making it hard to justify installing one. According to the government's figures, a 2.5-kilowatt system would bring a "windfall gain" of $4000 for the installer. The opposition said the total size of the subsidy was $10,000 per installed system.

Jon Dee, NSW Australian of the Year for 2010 and founder of advocacy organisation Do Something!, has added his voice to the condemnation of the government's decision. He has just installed solar panels on his Blue Mountains home and is on a lecture tour advising businesses how they can save money using sustainable initiatives.

"This is typical of our politicians, a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "Initially the tariff was too generous and now they have reduced it too heavily. What we need is a national approach where we look at what tariff will encourage sustainable growth [of the solar industry] and wean the public off … coal-fired power."

The NSW scheme paid existing solar clients 60 per kilowatt hour for all energy produced; other states have "net" schemes that pay for surplus power after domestic use is taken off. NSW had the most generous scheme - now the least. Victoria's net scheme pays 60 per kilowatt hour, Queensland pays 44 and Western Australia pays 40.

Mr Dee said a standard national rate would encourage banks to make green loans available. "The government has shown that it is incapable of running green loans schemes but that is the next step so that the average person can afford to get involved," he said.

A spokeswoman for SolarSwitch, one of the largest installers in the state, said: "[Premier Keneally] wanted to slow it down but she has slammed the brakes on and thrown us through the windscreen." She said the tighter margins would encourage consumers to look at cheaper, inferior panels with the risk of them delaminating or the glass turning milky after a few years of use.

The Clean Energy Council said the NSW government had effectively "shut down" the industry by setting the tariff at almost the same rate as the cost of electricity.

The state opposition wants the tariff reviewed. With the election imminent and the government insecure, it may get that opportunity.


Queensland Health erroneously pays millions to ex-employees

Even after many months, they cannot get their payroll system right. And that is symptomatic of how they run their hospitals

The Queensland Health payroll debacle has sunk to a new low as taxpayers fork out "wages" to people who do not even work for the organisation. The Sunday Mail can reveal that former employees of Queensland Health – even some who resigned more than 18 months ago – are receiving the payments. Highly placed sources have told of former staff having to ring repeatedly to ask for the payments to stop.

Others who have been overpaid could have the issue hanging over their head for up to six years and some will have to enter into long-term, fortnightly repayment plans.

Queensland Health deputy director-general of corporate services Michael Walsh confirmed former staff were being paid. "Queensland Health acknowledges that some former staff have received payments after their separation date," Mr Walsh said in a statement. "Some of these staff completed their employment with Queensland Health prior to March 8, 2010."

However, sources said some former staff who had received payments had quit up to two years ago. It has been reported that at least $38 million has been incorrectly doled out.

But section 396 of the Industrial Relations Act means employees cannot be forced to pay back the amount in one lump sum. Mr Walsh said Queensland Health would "sit down with each employee to help them understand their pay situation and develop an appropriate repayment plan".

Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Communication Technology Robert Schwarten dismissed Opposition criticism in Question Time this week about the hiring of consultants to fix the problem. "If you do not know that much, I do not know what sort of a government you will make," Mr Schwarten said.


Great education available outside the mainstream

HOME schooling and private and selective schools give kids the best chance at learning

JULIA Gillard often tells us that Labor proposes to give every young Australian a great education. The phrase is a mantra, of course, but I wonder if there is anything remotely approaching a consensus about what constitutes a great education.

Being something of a traditionalist, when I hear those words my mind turns to the sort of elite schooling that Eton offers its boys and Geelong Grammar provides for both sexes. Although I would have hated being a boarder myself, I'm now inclining to the view that many - perhaps even most - adolescents benefit from longish spells away from the comforts and distractions of family life, in an ordered existence concentrated on study.

Schools like these offer the best of several worlds. Because they cater for grandees and rich people, many of whose children aren't especially bright, they're a model of flexibility in encouraging the extracurricular and sporting interests of pupils who aren't academically inclined. At the same time, they give everyone a good grounding in the basics and attend assiduously to anyone displaying any scholarly inclinations.

At the opposite end of the scale is private tuition at home. The days when rich people in Australia thought nothing of hiring a full-time tutor to teach their children are almost gone, except in the case of invalids and infant prodigies.

However, there is a thriving home-schooling movement, delivering most of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost and producing more than its share of outstanding students.

It was born of a warranted mistrust of the ideological baggage of the state system and, increasingly, of the Catholic parochial and independent systems.

Parents tend to rely on unfashionable textbooks that teach you how to parse a sentence, to construct a paragraph and to mount an argument in 500 words. They do not pander to the fads for dumbed-down literary studies but offer English as we once knew it.

Similarly, the maths and science books are usually at least 20 years old and quaintly insistent on the difference between a right answer and a wrong one. Because the parents learned from similar texts, they find them relatively easy to teach from.

Home-schooling parents enjoy an unenviable reputation in official educational circles as a current equivalent to the American Amish. In my experience this is seldom warranted because most of them believe in the value of a rigorous education that will let their offspring think for themselves and free them from enslavement to the zeitgeist.

Home-schooling parents include blue-collar social conservatives and middle-class people who set great store in education. Quite a lot are disenchanted former teachers who tend to pool their expertise and hold group tutorials for students in their area. This has the added advantages of getting the kids out of the house and into the company of their age-mates.

Retired Latin, French and music teachers can earn a modest supplement to the pension, instructing small groups of highly motivated youngsters. Old maths teachers are also much sought-after.

I should declare an interest here. I've found teaching English and history to individual home-schoolers one of the most rewarding experiences of recent years.

In between what many would regard as the two extremes, another example of an education that could plausibly be called great is the kind provided by NSW's James Ruse Agricultural High School. It's a selective co-ed school with a catchment area including a lot of poorer suburbs. Nonetheless, in exams its students regularly outperform every other secondary school, public or private, in the state and they excel in the arts and sport as well.

By virtue of its dedicated staff and track record of academic performance, James Ruse has broken down what's probably the biggest barrier to equality of opportunity in schooling. It has overcome the habitual under-valuing of education by generations of working-class Australian parents.

There are a few groups that have been notable exceptions to that rule: the Lutherans and the remnants of the old-fashioned Presbyterian and Methodist cultures (which maintain a strong ethos of self-help) and the Jews, known from the earliest times as "the people of the book".

Among the crucial reasons for the inequality of educational outcomes in Australia - which Gillard often conflates with the separate question of educational opportunity - is that middle-class parents tend to value schooling highly and reward good results.

The fact their children are over-represented in the professions is less a function of the advantages of their class than because those are the careers to which they and their families have historically aspired and so many of them are over-achievers.

Considering the three models of an excellent education canvassed here and the shape of a consensus that might emerge on the subject, there are a few points that can be made.

The successes of home-schooling suggest it's the quality of teaching and parental support, rather than the amount of money expended, that is critical.

In contrast, vast amounts of public funding underpinned the fad for "whole word" reading programs in primary schools that have wasted years of everyone's time and left many thousands of younger Australians functionally illiterate.

All three models assume that schooling should be a demanding exercise as well as a rewarding one and that this applies to the slow learners and the disengaged as much as the gifted and the keen.

Unless schools expect the best their pupils can achieve, they'll seldom see it and the young may never get a good grounding in the basics, let alone find out what they're capable of doing.

The surest way to avoid institutional dumbing-down is by streaming all students according to ability, as measured by IQ tests and annual exams.

However, it's well documented that the British model of an all-important 11 Plus hurdle has discriminated against late developers and bright kids from backgrounds of complex disadvantage, so there needs to be periodic opportunities to change stream.

Not everyone belongs in the top streams and not everyone belongs in their local secondary school. Selective schools with competitive entry may offend the politically correct pieties of the teachers unions, which say they want every school to be a centre of excellence.

But in the meantime, until that happy day dawns, selective schools are the best chance of a great education for students in the public system. They are the leaven in the lump.

There should be more of them and they should encourage their youngsters in academic competition as fierce as the kind we take for granted in sport.


30 October, 2010

Where’s the fire?

According to a most intrusive and misguided piece of strata legislation, occupants in NSW units apparently do not have the right to install a security chain on their front doors, irrespective of need. This is to ensure that, in the unlikely event of a fire, residents do not have trouble with the simple task of slipping the chain off the latch. A deadlock, however, with its confusing and complicated mechanisms and the need for an easily misplaced key, is apparently quite safe. Huh?

This is yet another example of the nanny state and illogical bureaucracy intruding into so many areas of our lives. Fire prevention and safety laws are valuable, and undoubtedly have a place in society, but restricting the right of individuals to secure their home against intruders is a ridiculous and unnecessary bureaucratic invasion.

The destruction of Australian civil liberties might not yet rage with the intensity of a burning building, but is nonetheless quietly smouldering away. So what can we do about it?

On the other side of the world, in a heartening admission of the massive problems the United Kingdom faces with state interventionism and bossy-booting, a community consultation was launched in July by the David Cameron/Nick Clegg coalition. The initiative Your Freedom invites Britons to suggest which aspects of their lives are being restricted by government and which laws or regulations need amending or tossing onto a bonfire. Cynicism about PR campaigning aside, the idea has merit.

Freedom of speech, freedom to organise, and freedom to act are all fundamental human rights, but ones that must constantly be fought for even in democratic societies. Isn’t it time we shouted ‘fire!’ in the crowded cinema of Australian civil life?

What illiberal laws should Australia remove? What individual rights and liberties have we restricted in the name of security or political correctness? In this age of terrorism and global economic uncertainty, do we value the illusion of safety and ‘benevolent’ pseudo-parental concern more than our freedom?

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated October 29. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Why graduates lean to the Green/Left

A correlation between degrees and voting Green reflects poorly on our academics, says a conservative student

SOME have attributed the increasing levels of support for the Greens to centrist policies adopted by the Labor Party on climate change, refugees and gay marriage that offend its progressive base. Others argue the rising Greens vote is due to a failure by the main parties and the media to apply appropriate scrutiny to Greens policies, which they say are far more radical than many realise.

Former finance minister Lindsay Tanner, whose seat of Melbourne was lost to the Greens' Adam Bandt, has a different view. In his 2009 John Button Memorial Lecture, Tanner attributed the rise of the Greens to the expansion of higher education.

"Voting behaviour is increasingly defined as much by education as by income level. The Greens are, first and last, a product of higher education. Greens voters are overwhelmingly people with a tertiary education . . . 20 years ago this group was modest in size and overwhelmingly Labor in adherence. Now their numbers are growing rapidly and many support the Greens," he said.

Tanner went on to say this growing group had a "profound commitment to multiculturalism, gender equity and higher learning" and that this was a product of their education.

There is some empirical evidence to support Tanner's thesis. Data from the 2007 Australian Election Study, collected by the Australian National University, showed voters with higher education qualifications were much likelier than the general population to identify with the Greens.

In the overall population, the study found just 5.8 per cent of voters identified with the Greens. But among those with a bachelor's degree, that rose to 11.1 per cent, and 12.9 per cent among those with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduates also were twice as likely to state they "strongly liked" the Greens.

The study also asked participants to rank themselves on a left-right matrix. Among the general population, about one-third of respondents identified with the broad Right, while 27.7 per cent identified with the broad Left. Yet significantly more people with university-level education self-identified as left-wing, including 42.4 per cent of people with a bachelor's degree and 44.6 per cent of postgraduate qualification holders.

So, what explains the higher levels of support for the Greens? It should not necessarily follow that more education equates to more left-wing views. After all, what does a bachelor of engineering, science or commerce teach students about gay marriage or refugees?

It is a damning indictment of the higher education system that Tanner, from the left faction of the ALP, admits our universities are churning out increasing numbers of Greens voters. It is no coincidence the institutions that churn out these graduates are dominated by left-wing academics.

There are limited studies of academic bias in Australian universities, and most of the evidence to support the notion of widespread bias is anecdotal, but that does not mean it is not a problem.

In 2008 the Senate inquired into the issue and, despite the overwhelming majority of individual submissions reporting instances of academic bias, the Labor-Greens majority on the committee dismissed the idea that bias was a problem in Australian universities.

The Liberal minority report, however, argued the evidence presented at the hearings by students and representative organisations suggested it was a problem. Students complained they were treated as pariahs if they expressed centre-right views and felt excluded and vilified because of their politics.

Studies in the US make it clear that academe is almost exclusively dominated by the Left. One, published by The New York Times in 2004, showed registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in humanities departments seven to one.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne during the past five years, I've witnessed and been subject to multiple instances of academic bias. One of the worst examples was presented to the Senate inquiry in 2008.

An introductory politics subject, Contemporary Ideologies and Movements, devoted one week to liberalism and conservatism. For the following 11 weeks, it examined different variants of socialism and green ideology as well as feminist and lesbian political movements.

Worse, the required reading on liberalism was not John Stuart Mill or Friedrich Hayek but an expose on the social lives of Young Liberals published in The Monthly magazine. Following the inquiry the subject was abolished and replaced with a subject that, in the words of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, would have a broader focus and include readings from Milton Friedman.

Critics note few conservatives aspire to careers in academe, preferring to enter the private sector in search of higher earnings. They argue it is only from self-selection that university faculties tilt left, not sinister design.

That may be true, but many conservatives are discouraged from seeking careers in universities because faculties appear monolithic and unwelcoming for those on the Centre-Right. And it does not absolve universities from their responsibility to teach in a non-partisan manner.

Having left-wing views or political affiliations does not automatically make an academic biased. Excellent teachers are able to put their own views aside and present a balanced appraisal of contentious issues. But many professors are not able to put their politics aside, and the lack of intellectual pluralism at many universities means academics work and socialise mostly among those who share their left-wing views.

Of course, academic bias has a more immediate effect than its capacity to skew the electorate: on the quality of education students receive. For this reason alone, it deserves much greater public scrutiny.


Thousands dying waiting for surgery in Victoria

MORE than 6300 people - almost two a day - have died waiting for surgery in Victoria in the past nine years. The revelation comes as the length of time patients spend on elective surgery waiting lists continues to grow.

Figures obtained under Fredom of Information by the Liberal Party show almost 600 people died on hospital waiting lists in 2009-10, taking the total for the past nine years to 6381.

Almost 1000 of those who died waiting were under the age of 60, including up to 41 infants and up to 52 children. Men outnumbered women almost two to one.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said the Brumby Government had ignored thousands of desperately ill Victorians needing surgery and often forced to live in pain and discomfort. "It is clear that thousands are dying while on the Brumby Government's waiting lists, and the numbers may actually be far greater given John Brumby's hidden massive surgery waiting lists," he said.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said there was no suggestion that the procedure for which these patients were listed contributed in any way to their death. "These statistics show the people who have been taken off the surgery waiting list because the hospital has been notified that they have passed away," his spokeswoman said.

Urology patients - those needing surgery for prostate, kidney and bladder illnesses - and those with eye diseases were among the highest death rates.

Documents released under FoI show 77 Victorians died waiting for urgent elective surgery in the past year. Hospital admission is desired within 30 days. Over nine years, 877 people in the "urgent" category died before making it into the operating theatre.

In the past decade the wait for urgent surgery has blown out from a median seven days to 10 days. The wait for semi-urgent surgery has ballooned from 35 days to 51. For other operations, it's out from 52 to 89.

Most waiting-list deaths were recorded by Southern Health, which runs Monash Medical Centre. It had 66 deaths in the past year and 790 since 2001.

Austin Health reported 48 deaths last year and 698 since 2001. Austin CEO Dr Brendan Murphy said most waiting list deaths were not associated with the condition for which patients were awaiting treatment. "If you've got a life threatening condition you don't even go on the waiting list," he said. "Certainly you might find someone, for example, who was waiting for a heart operation, who dies of a heat attack and that might be because the condition suddenly changed."

Mr Murphy said checks on a sample of 50 patients who died while on waiting lists at the Austin two years ago found all the result of unrelated causes.


Bid to lift choice for university students

VICTORIA yesterday called for more student choice and new private providers in university education.

The Brumby government is urging the Gillard government to extend commonwealth undergraduate funding to TAFEs and other approved providers.

In its Tertiary Education Access Plan to be announced today, the government says increased choice is needed to meet skill shortages and demand for more applied-focused degrees.

From 2012, the federal government is uncapping the supply of commonwealth-supported undergraduate places that universities can offer to increase participation. But Victoria wants commonwealth places to be allocated as an "entitlement" to eligible students to study at the provider of their choice.

Philip Clarke, head of tertiary education policy at Skills Victoria, said: "Victoria believes that shifting the focus of a demand-driven model to a student entitlement that can be met by a wider range of providers that have met national quality assurance and regulatory standards is a key element of growing higher education participation and completion."

The Victorian proposal comes as the Group of Eight sandstone universities lobby for significant student fee deregulation to drive choice, and also argue for commonwealth funding for TAFEs.

The Council of Private Higher Education welcomed the proposals but warned that commonwealth funding, plus the student contribution, did not cover the cost of delivery of many courses.

TAFE Directors Australia backed the proposal, noting that TAFE students doing degrees had to pay full fees without commonwealth supported places. But Universities Australia said that while it wasn't opposed in principle the commonwealth first needed to ensure new national quality regulators were in place.

RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said universities were already well placed to deliver on the government's expansion targets and that a wide range of courses were available to students.

Kwong Lee Dow, former Melbourne University vice-chancellor and an adviser to the government on the plan, said he was disappointed the plan didn't include significant new spending measures beyond a previously announced $104 million for boosting tertiary access in rural areas.

The plan, worth $7m, details priorities for fostering school, TAFE and university partnerships to boost participation, and includes a government internship program for the disadvantaged.


Fibre network a waste of money, says Japanese expert

ONE of Japan's richest men has labelled Australia's $43 billion National Broadband Network a stupid waste of taxpayers' money. Masayoshi Son, who heads Japanese internet and mobile giant Softbank and counts Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates among his friends, attacked the Gillard government's signature project yesterday.

Quizzed about the NBN by The Weekend Australian after delivering a speech in Tokyo, Mr Son said it was completely unnecessary to spend so much taxpayers' money. "It's a waste; it's a stupid solution," he said. "Without using taxpayers' money you can get 21st-century infrastructure."

Mr Son had just finished delivering his own vision of how to deliver fibre-to-the-home connections throughout Japan without any taxpayer contribution. He claimed that his solution, recently put to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and several members of his cabinet, would deliver basic fibre connections for just 1150 yen ($15) a month, far cheaper than what is envisaged under the NBN. That is also far cheaper than the current typical monthly price of Y5000 ($63) for cable in Japan.

Mr Son's proposal involves splitting the part-government-owned NTT into telco services and fibre network businesses and rolling out cable to all homes within five years. Softbank and fellow carrier KDDI would fold their fibre cable infrastructure into the merged network business, which would then be 40 per cent owned by the government and 60 per cent by NTT, Softbank and KDDI.

Mr Son said that a one-time rollout of fibre -- similar to the NBN proposal -- would cost just one-third as much as cabling individual homes on an on-demand basis. "My advice is forget about the demand basis installation, just do it with a plan. Replace whole cities: this month Hiroshima City, next month another city, and so on," he said. "Replace entire cities with a plan and remove metal and replace with fibre. That way the installation cost is one-third and the installation speed is much quicker."

He believes that no new capital investment would be required from taxpayers and that the network business would soon become profitable because of lower maintenance costs stemming from the replacement of the decaying copper network. "After five years it (the network business) would generate very profitable free cash flow. If that company generates profitable free cash flow over the next 20 years, then it can get all the money from banks, not depending on taxpayers' money.

In a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, he acknowledged Softbank would benefit from the plan, but said so would the country and potentially the world.

Mr Son said that while Australia faced obvious technical challenges in terms of distances and sparse population, Japan's mountainous terrain and thousands of islands posed challenges, too.


29 October, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is suspicious about the attention-seeking Leftist who threw his shoes in the direction of John Howard during an ABC TV show. Zeg thinks the ABC knew in advance that it was going to happen

Leftists are not nice people

Mirko Bagaric

LOOK left, look right, then watch for the shoe from the left. John Howard was entitled to throw his shoes with gusto at the leftist fanatic Q & A shoe-thrower. The fact Howard laughed off the bitter, violent stunt underlies the moral gulf between most conservatives and the hypocritical Left, who self-select when it comes to occupying seats at the hopelessly biased ABC studios.

Without knowing it, I've been doing a wide-ranging social experiment on this exact issue during the past few years. It turns out that the supposedly warm and fuzzy Left is anything but that. Intoxicated by self-righteous irrelevance it has developed an addiction to anger pills and suffers from a hyperventilation disorder.

Before I disclose my data nailing the Left, first a little bit about how I acquired it. I regularly make wide-ranging comments that conflict with policies of the Left and Right. I'm apolitical; the policies of Labor and Liberal are so similar to make the debate almost irrelevant. Most of my writing is informed by one underlying principle. It's called utilitarianism. It is the theory that when you are faced with a moral or political choice you should make the decision that will maximise human flourishing, where each person's interest counts equally.

The Left doesn't like me because I'm a fan of tough counter-terrorism laws and harsher sentences for sex and violent offenders. I also oppose euthanasia, abortion and dispute the desperate need for a reduction in greenhouse gases. I often upset the Right because I push for gay marriages, animal rights, no tax for the poor and mega taxes for the rich, multiculturalism and tolerance towards Muslim values.

So what is the conclusive evidence I have that shows the Left has mutated into a hysterical, hypocritical - albeit well-intentioned - bunch? It comes in the form of thousands of abusive emails, an endless array of insulting (albeit sometimes witty and amusing) grossly misinformed blog comments, demands to my employers to sack me for saying what I think and even the occasional demonstration by some time-rich, agenda-poor anti-moralisers who are defeated by the practical ramifications of the concept of free speech.

This is nearly the sum total of responses to my comments in the past couple of years. The striking aspect of this is that nearly all of the besmirching and attempts to stereotype and censure me have come from the supposedly tolerant, libertarian Left, even though the Right has just as much reason to be jacked off at me.

What about the Right? I was raised to think that it was raised to be mean. But even this building block of social discourse has disintegrated. The Right doesn't have any more smarts than its opponents but certainly is nicer. It rarely throws hissy fits and seems to have a deficient vocabulary when it comes to name calling. Some members even show embryonic signs of a sense of humour. That's not to say that they always fail to live up to expectations. The anger meter on my email occasionally goes into overdrive when I write a piece suggesting that Muslims are being vilified in Australia. Still, on numbers alone this is negligible compared with the extremist torrent from the Left.

So why is it that the Left has become much of what it despises? Well, that's easy. History teaches us that rebellions without causes can be nothing other than character-destroying. The Left has fought a good fight. The right to life, liberty, property, equal access to high-quality health care, education and the professions; they're all now an entrenched part of the Australian landscape. Its job is pretty much done - at home. There's no scope for acquiring a sense of genuine purpose pursuing the current leftist agenda in the form of promoting anti-Americanism and salvaging the reputation of convicted terrorists.

Life can be nothing other than miserable for people with a warped sense of moral priorities and who spend their spare time pursuing meaningless causes. That's why the Left has mutated into such an embittered and angry tribe. Its only redemption is to reconnect with its historical roots and start fighting worthwhile causes that have some prospect of enhancing human flourishing.


Disastrous Green energy policies in NSW

YET again, the Australian Labor Party is demonstrating that, when it comes to effective policy on green energy, it resembles the benighted fellow who, in a version of the vernacular, couldn't organise himself service in a house of ill repute with a fistful of $50 notes.

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally's pratfall on solar photovoltaic subsidies may be added to the Rudd government's failures on household insulation, green loans, encouraging wind farm development through the renewable energy scheme (because it allowed it to be glutted with solar subsidies) and then the abandonment of the emissions trading scheme.

The Greens, the environmental movement and their fellow travellers do not come out of the NSW fiasco with much credit, either.

Confronted with the NSW government's decision to slash the subsidy for residential rooftop solar systems by two-thirds, state Greens MP John Kaye has cheerfully, and shamelessly, said that his party would settle for a tariff scheme that was half the value of the initial program. So he, and it, knew the original arrangements were well over the top.

The Clean Energy Council also is now happy to settle for a 45c a kilowatt hour feed-in tariff where it welcomed the initial 60c scheme as an example for the rest of the country.

Most of the mud, however, rightly must stick to Keneally and her government, notwithstanding a spin 101 media statement in which she lauded the "solar bonus scheme" as "an incredible success" on one hand and knifed it with the other, acknowledging that the "most generous scheme in Australia" at its original level would whack residential customers, already faced with their bills doubling for other reasons, with an extra $2.5 billion in costs over five years if allowed to continue.

The "generous" initial tariff enabled NSW householders swooping on the opportunity to earn 60c a kilowatt hour compared with 45.7c in the next-best program in the ACT.

As Keneally's media statement indicates, the amended NSW scheme will still sting the state's residential customers for $1.5bn over and above other higher charges by 2016.

There is no acknowledgment in Keneally's retreat that her government had created greenhouse gas abatement costing $640 a tonne under the initial scheme, according to the National Generators Forum, compared with $15 a tonne for the state's longstanding greenhouse gas reduction scheme aimed at other areas of supply and consumption.

Her government is not the first to cut and run from populist rooftop solar programs.

As the government's own review committee reports, Spain managed to bring on an almost seven-fold increase in orders for the PV systems in one year by its too-generous arrangements and then had to slash feed-in tariffs 30 per cent and impose a cap on the annual volume of installations to under one-fifth of the level they hit in 2008-09.

What made the NSW scheme so attractive to householders who were fast on their feet, and now have gold-plated subsidies locked in until the middle of the decade, was that a combination of the far too high feed-in tariff, a reduction in solar installation costs and the impact of a higher Australian dollar delivered them a pay-back period for their investment of less than three years, compared with the government's intention of 10 years.

The report indicates that the fast-footed 50,000 who got in before Keneally stopped the initial program will get a bonus of $4000 in net present value terms on their investment. Nice work, that.

The bad news for the rest of NSW's residential consumers is that the additional costs of the Keneally scheme will not show up on their bills until July next year. By then, in the view of most political analysts, her government will have been swept away in the March state election.

Her taskforce has estimated that NSW electricity consumers, including business users, collectively representing one-third of all the power account holders in the country, will get a regulator-approved rise of 11 per cent next July and another 8 per cent in July 2012, mostly as a result of much higher network costs - before the solar support bill is taken into account and before, of course, any carbon tax that the Gillard government may have put in place by then.

For the Nature Conservation Foundation of NSW, reacting to Keneally's announcement, there is no doubt where this leaves the state's consumers: "back in the dark ages of over-reliance on coal", it declaims.

I suspect they actually would be quite pleased to be back in the so-called dark ages of paying $130 a megawatt hour for their household electricity instead of the $195 that the charge has now reached, and the $250 to $300 that it is suggested the power bills will bear by 2015.

Meanwhile, it bears reporting that in the years that NSW was governed by Bob Carr, Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees - the available industry data covers only the period to mid-2009 at present - the state's government-owned power plants increased their consumption of black coal from 21 million tonnes a year to almost 30 million tonnes annually.

Not so much the premier state as the watermelon state: green on the outside, but red on the inside from burning coal.


Victoria's woeful ambulance service again

No GPS: Lost paramedics told to find their way by torchlight

Two whistleblower paramedics told the Herald Sun that sick Victorians were waiting longer because ambulances didn't have a GPS, which cost as little as $96.

"Sometimes even on code one, where it is an emergency, drivers have had to pull over on the side of the road to look at a Melway [street atlas]," said one paramedic, who refused to be named for fear of being sacked. "It's time-consuming. Every second counts. "Everyone comments about it. It's stupid. "Taxis have a GPS as standard. We don't."

One paramedic told of using a GPS on a personal smartphone to find the way to emergencies. "If we had GPS devices it would be quicker. Sometimes at night ambulances drive up and down streets trying to find house numbers," one paramedic said.

In June there were calls for all ambulances to be fitted with GPS devices after an ambulance service in Kyneton took 3 1/2 hours to get a patient to hospital. It was also revealed this month that ambulance response times had hit a five-year low.

Steve McGhie, of the Ambulance Employees Association, called for all ambulances to get a GPS. "They are an essential piece of equipment. A paramedic can be sent anywhere in the state. Sometimes they are in places with no local knowledge," he said. "And we know paramedics have raised issues over not having them. "It's a cost issue. It's not funded for. It's only an issue for Ambulance Victoria if they think they require them."

Ambulance Victoria said it did prefer that paramedics relied on local knowledge to overcome traffic problems.

General manager of specialist services, Mark Rogers, said Ambulance Victoria had assessed several GPS models and was not opposed to them. "But (we) will not embrace it until it can cover all of our needs," he said.

"For paramedics driving in emergency conditions, it is safer for them to identify a route themselves through mapping rather than relying on directions from a GPS system while travelling at speed."


International Monetary Fund says Australian banking system survived the GFC in good shape because of pro-competition regulatory policies

They were operating under the policies of the conservative Howard government

AUSTRALIA'S banking policies helped major lenders survive the global financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says. A staff report, to be released today, credits existing banking regulations for keeping banks profitable.

It also calls on the Reserve Bank (RBA) to leave interest rates on hold, at least for now.

The endorsement of Australia's lending laws comes only a day after the Senate voted to hold an inquiry into banking competition.

The IMF appears to have slapped down shadow treasurer Joe Hockey's call for the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to investigate whether or not the banks are taking unnecessary risks.

In its report, the IMF credits the "four pillars" policy, which prevents the major banks from merging, for limiting risky behaviour before the financial crisis and helping to maintain stability.

The Washington-based organisation has also called on the RBA keep the cash rate at 4.5 per cent. "Keeping policy rates on hold since May 2010 was appropriate, in light of increased uncertainty about prospects for the recovery," it said. "With lending rates in Australia close to 10-year averages and economic activity responding quickly to cash rate adjustments, the RBA has scope to wait for the outlook to become clearer."

But it noted that rates would eventually have to rise to contain inflationary pressures generated by the mining boom, which has produced elevated coal and iron ore prices.

Private-sector investment in mining and commodity exports were expected to replace public demand as the main driver of growth.

Household consumption, too, was tipped to be strong as a rebounding labour market helped drive income growth.

Australia's terms of trade - the ratio of export to import prices - was expected to rise to historic highs in late 2010, driving a long-lasting resources boom tied with fast-growing economies in Asia. But the report noted the terms of trade could fall sharply if Chinese demand for commodities declined. It also pointed to fiscal instability in Europe which could push up the cost of capital for Australian borrowers.

Treasurer Wayne Swan seized on this prediction to endorse the Government's stimulus spending. "The IMF also points to the challenges that lie ahead for Australia relating to the patchy global economic recovery, from which we are not immune," he said in a statement.

The Australian economy is expected to grow by 3 per cent in 2010 and 3.5 per cent in 2011.


28 October, 2010

Australian troops in Afghanistan exposed as costs blow out

ALMOST a third of the weaponry, armour, system and support upgrades promised to Australian troops in Afghanistan have encountered problems. The Gillard government has been warned that these issues could result in delays or cost blowouts.

As parliament continues to debate Australia's role in Afghanistan, amid expectations of a greater number of casualties, it appears those on the front line remain dangerously over-exposed. In the middle of last year, after visiting Afghanistan for the first time, then defence minister John Faulkner ordered a force protection review, which was completed later last year and led to a $1.1 billion package of budget initiatives.

They included counter-IED and counter-rocket equipment, increased armour and firepower for vehicles, improved surveillance, reinforced buildings, better personal equipment, training and health services. "I am satisfied that we are doing all we can to protect our troops," Senator Faulkner said at the time.

"Even so, as the threats to our soldiers evolve, so too must our force protection arrangements." But the incoming government briefs from Defence - obtained by The Australian yesterday after a Freedom of Information search - show the new minister, Stephen Smith, was advised that only 10 of the 48 recommendations had been implemented, with 17 encountering problems. Labor promised during the election campaign that any remaining initiatives would be "progressed as a priority".

By yesterday, there had been a slight improvement, with 15 initiatives delivered and 21 on track to be delivered within the agreed timeframe. But 11 initiatives were still at risk because of schedule, technical or scope issues, and one initiative had not started, because of "significant technical issues". The department - which is under significant strain from a high operational tempo and massive reform effort - would not detail the initiatives at risk.

New force protection systems for vehicles have been delivered, however, with additional bomb-detection and disposal robots and training systems scheduled to be delivered this financial year.

The department told Mr Smith that "the national interests underlying our Afghan commitment remain compelling" and, while most of its advice was censored in the documents released to The Australian, it did not want to see "the return to Afghanistan of terrorists with the freedom to organise, plan and train for attacks on us and our friends and allies".

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott agree Australia must stay the course in Afghanistan, despite the likelihood of more casualties.

In building up its model force, outlined in the 2009 white paper, Defence has unexpectedly over-recruited and retained personnel, according to its funding schedule, but still has 20 "critical and perilous employment categories".

The department will continue to recruit to achieve the Force 2030 targets but will focus on in-demand specialties, and may cut funding to other programs to compete in another mining boom.

"Defence does not have any funding contingency to enable it to adjust its employment offer if the impact of economic resurgence produces a significant need to meet the market on remuneration or benefits," the briefs state.

Defence is working to improve its beleaguered pay system and continues to roll out major health, housing, and family support initiatives. The posting cycle for personnel is also being reviewed in a bid to "increase the length of back-to-back postings in the same area".

The Australian has previously used FOI laws to shed light on the impact of the high operational tempo on troops, revealing: the number left injured or ill as a result of their deployment; the extent of mental illness and other conditions across the services; the strain of repeat and extended deployments; and ongoing capacity and capability challenges for the department.

Most recently, The Australian revealed that Middle East veterans participating in a landmark health study had described pilots becoming addicted to Stilnox and other prescription drugs, an underground trade in illicit substances and sex, their concerns over a lack of support, poor leadership and a shortage of equipment, including bomb robots.


Court delays mean more jail time for innocent

Prisoners on remand should have top priority for their cases to be heard

More than 1400 adults and children who were never convicted of a crime were imprisoned last year, some for months, and the time people spend behind bars before being cleared by the courts is getting longer.

While court delays overall have fallen in most categories, this is not the case for those waiting in jail for their day in court, says a report by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

"We should be concerned about holding people in custody unnecessarily," said Julie Stubbs, a law professor at the University of NSW and a spokeswoman for the Crime and Justice Reform Committee. "We have the presumption of innocence; they should await trial in the community, wherever that is safe to occur."

The report showed that 205 juveniles who were refused bail last year - more than 11 per cent - were cleared of charges. Adults awaiting trial in the Supreme Court waited in custody for a median 619 days from the date of the alleged offence until they were cleared.

More than 1200 people in jail who were later acquitted of all charges were dealt with in the Local Court, where the median delay increased from 53 days in 2008 to 79 days last year from the first court appearance until charges were dismissed at a hearing. Others whose charges were dismissed without a hearing spent a median of more than 16 weeks in custody.

The report showed that the state government's proposed bail reforms did not go far enough, said Professor Stubbs.

The report also showed that last year the proportion of guilty pleas in the Supreme Court rose from 40 per cent to 50.5 per cent.

The number of appeals rose slightly last year compared with 2008. More than 60 per cent of District Court appeals against the severity of a sentence succeeded, but the Crown increased its success rate, with 74 per cent of appeals against the inadequacy of sentences granted, compared with 26 per cent in 2008.


NSW High School curriculum fails students

BUSINESS experts have slammed the HSC curriculum for failing to provide skills where they're needed. NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said schools were ignoring demand for trade qualifications. "The HSC is focused on university outcomes more than trades and apprenticeships, areas in which we face a skills shortage," he said. "It's important that HSC students are encouraged to take up a trade, especially in those areas facing a skills shortage like construction."

Mr Cartwright called for an urgent review of the HSC curriculum to ensure vocational education students don't miss out on crucial skills. "Young people who do not enter university after they leave school need to be supported in their preparation for adult life, including their life at work," he said.

This year about 19,000 students were enrolled in a vocational education and training course, but not all choose to take the written HSC exam that goes toward their Australian Tertiary Admissions rank. There are 2724 Year 12 students enrolled in construction this year - up 8.4 per cent from 2009 - but only 80 per cent of them will sit tomorrow's test


Contractor left unpaid for work at NSW hospital

Tell us something new

The NSW Health Department has been accused of not paying its bills just months after the Health Minister assured Parliament there were no outstanding debts to contractors.

A small business owner, Phil Clare, says he is a week away from bankruptcy, being owed $1.7 million by NSW Health, much of it for work he did at Royal North Shore Hospital in 2008. "For two years we tried to get them to pay without taking legal action because we are doing so much with the other area health services."

He had been arguing with Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service since January last year over a bill for work that it had said was "exemplary". He submitted invoices four months ago for his work, which involves finding, valuing and selling assets.

Steve Cansdell, the MP for Clarence, where Mr Clare's business is based, said: "The department should have sorted out whether the disputed claim was relevant."

In April it was revealed that more than 20 firms had suspended supply to the health service because of unpaid debts. Last year bills totalling $117.5 million went unpaid. The opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said: "There can be no excuse for the Keneally Labor Government not to pay its bills on time."

A spokeswoman for the northern Sydney health service said the service disputed Mr Clare's invoices, only submitted "recently". "It is entirely appropriate that taxpayers' funds are protected by ensuring that goods and services being paid for have actually been delivered."

A NSW Health spokesman said there was $100,000 owing to contractors last month. A spokeswoman for the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said she stood by her claim that there were no overdue creditors at the end of June.


27 October, 2010

Most Australians want an end to population growth

I do myself. I am sick of having to dodge around roadworks for all my life. But a growing population requires roadworks to accomodate more and more cars. And the Australian birthrate is below replacement anyway so it is immigration that is the problem. An immigration program that focused only on highly desirable immigrants and excluded parasitic "refugees" would help solve the problem

FAMILIES should have no more than two children to limit their environmental impact, one in three Australians say. Almost half say families should consider having three or fewer children, a survey shows.

The Australian National University survey found most Australians want the population to stay at or below current levels, suggesting Julia Gillard hit the right note by rejecting Kevin Rudd's "big Australia" push.

ANU political scientist Professor Ian McAllister, who led the survey, said people opposed population growth for a variety of reasons, including the cost to the environment, urban overcrowding and a lack of housing and transport. The phone poll found just 44 per cent of respondents favoured population growth.

About 52 per cent said Australia had enough people already, and further population growth would harm the environment, push up house prices and place pressure on water resources.

But there were also concerns that skills shortages could hold back the economy, with 83 per cent of respondents calling for more skilled migrants to be allowed into Australia.

And two thirds of respondents were concerned about the impact of the ageing population, with the majority opposed to tax rises to support the elderly.

About 59 per cent of Australians supported an emissions trading scheme to curb carbon pollution. But when asked to rank the nation's most pressing problems, the environment and global warming were ranked only fourth after the economy, health care and education.

Mr Rudd, as prime minister, argued for population growth, suggesting the continent could support 36 million people by 2050. Ms Gillard changed course sharply when she became Prime Minister, arguing for a "sustainable population" in an election pitch to the crowded outer suburbs.

She said Population Minister Tony Burke would deliver a sustainable population strategy. "We made an election promise about a sustainable population policy and we'll deliver it," she said.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said something had to be done to limit population growth or the planet was in trouble. "When I came on to the planet there were 2 1/2 billion human beings, there are now seven billion. We are using more than 100 per cent of the renewable living resources at the moment. Something is going to give."

The ANU poll is a quarterly survey and compares Australian results to international opinion polls.


Julia's talk about economic reform seems likely to be just empty politicking

The gap between Labor's promises of reform and delivery seems entrenched

Julia Gillard is right to warn of economic Hansonism and the political risk to reform measures, yet this seems more an exercise in political spin to de-legitimise the Tony Abbott Liberal Party.

There is only one relevant question from Gillard's new position: is this a declaration of how she will govern or an electoral tactic to save Labor from its deepening mire of minority government now reflected in the alarming fall in its primary vote?

The language of "economic Hansonism" is indelible rhetoric. These are words that stick. They are designed to derail and discredit Abbott before he can ruin Gillard with the same political steamroller that crushed Kevin Rudd. On cue, this week's polls show Labor in trouble: the ACNielsen poll has Labor's primary vote at 34 per cent and Newspoll at 33 per cent compared with a dismal 38 per cent at the August election that cost Labor majority government.

Beyond tactics, if Gillard's latest speech on economic reform is an accurate guide to her vision, strategy and values as Prime Minister then it deserves full support. She has made some defining statements: that minority government does not terminate economic reform; that leaders must lead and "my voice will be loudly heard"; and that her government will walk "the reform road every day".

Does Gillard grasp the meaning and impact of such declarations? The problem is obvious: Labor's credentials on economic reform are flawed and the gap between its promise and delivery seems entrenched. Since 2007 Labor's message has been its fidelity to Hawke-Keating pro-market reformism yet this is more a ritualistic slogan reflecting the party's pride in its history than a serious platform for action.

Gillard's statement that she believes "the reform consensus is now under serious threat" because of a few comments from Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb cannot be taken seriously. The reform consensus, in fact, has been unravelling for years and this has been the subject of an intense political and policy debate that, among other things, has dominated The Australian's coverage of national events for some time.

The irony is that Gillard's attack coincided with John Howard's book. At the launch yesterday Howard nailed Labor, lamenting "when we were in government we received no support at all" from Labor on economic reform. Howard won in 1996 on a mandate for industrial relations reform but as early as May 1996 his government's bills were being fought by Labor.

This story was repeated for 11 years, election after election. Labor opposed the GST-led tax reform after Howard's 1998 election victory and took its "rollback" policy to the 2001 poll. Its tactic was to return to power off the destruction of the GST.

Labor opposed most of the Howard government's privatisations; it was consistently hostile to measures designed to return the budget to surplus; it initially opposed the independence of the Reserve Bank; it won in 2007 by rejection of Work Choices reform and by depicting Howard as weak on climate change action.

But Gillard's position is loaded with risk. Consider the $43 billion National Broadband Network, a government-owned monopoly that is the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history, a venture that Treasury says has financial risks for the public balance sheet, for competition policy and for efficiency in telecommunications. This government, so dedicated to economic reform, refuses to have the Productivity Commission conduct a cost-benefit analysis for a project that Malcolm Turnbull correctly says has no precedent in this country or abroad. The point, of course, is that Labor has no confidence the Productivity Commission would deliver a favourable report.

Gillard's problem is Labor's abject weakness on pro-market reforms, a point hammered by Ross Garnaut. Consider the record: Labor has partially re-regulated the labour market, walked away from carbon pricing in its first term, mismanaged its mining tax, backed a government monopoly in telecommunications, staged a historic retreat on immigration at a time of low unemployment, left the university sector increasingly uncompetitive and falls short on supply side reforms at a time of capacity constraints.

If Gillard's reform pledges are serious, she must review and re-shape how Labor governs. Hopefully, improvements will come, yet Gillard has deep commitments to many of the reform retreats and rollbacks.


Toxic suspicion of men

When did we start to dislike men so much that we're happy for them not to be part of our children's lives? That's the question posed by the latest ridiculous assault on the integrity of all males. It comes in the form of a ban on schoolboys using a public pool change room after swimming lessons because men fear they will be falsely accused of pedophilia.

Of course, the fact that many men support that decision is understandable; any man now knows he is automatically viewed with suspicion. That's why our children might sneak through the entire education system now without a male teacher. It's why men stopped jogging along bike tracks, when the city was on the lookout for the bikeway rapist. It's why airline staff try not to seat adult males next to children. And it's why most fathers I know won't supervise their young daughters' play dates, unless there is a female adult present.

The distrust of males has been creeping up on us, fanned by the sick minds of a few who have stolen the innocence of children, and left heartache in their wake. But can you now be guilty simply by gender?

Alan from Brisbane has this story: he was at South Bank when he saw a small girl, about four years old, wandering along the river's edge and crying. He watched as more than 30 people walked by without helping. He stopped one of them, a woman, and asked her to help him help the child. "I told her why - I'd be accused of being a pedophile," he said. "If that little girl had fallen into the river and I dived in after her I'd be on the front page as a hero; but when she was only 30cm from falling in I'd be called a pedophile." How did we allow ourselves to get to the point, he wrote on a Daily Telegraph blog, where caring people are considered pedophiles?

Just stop reading this, and ask the man sitting nearest to you. His reaction would probably mirror Alan's - because society has made men feel that way. This is another Brisbane man on the same blog: "I know a teacher who was accused of rape by a schoolgirl because he refused her advances, and he lost his job, his wife, his kids and his life. Never mind that she admitted it and cleared him. This culture has to change, or this sort of rule will become more common."

It seems it already has. After revelations of the Sydney pool decision, several people joined the debate, saying it had become standard practice in Brisbane. Rory said it was happening at his children's school: "The poor little buggers were freezing coming home from the pool - about 10 minutes drive - and had to change into their dry clothes at school. "It's ridiculous! If society keeps running on fear, its going to become a pretty hollow environment to live in."

Ann of Brisbane: "Our school has been doing this for years. The kids wrap themselves in towels and sit on the bus for 20 minutes in wet togs." These are boys made to feel bad because of their gender.

Allan, from the Gold Coast, explains it this way: "Why would a male teacher want to put himself in that position? All it takes is for some smart-alec kid to joke about a male teacher perving on him and (his) professional life is over . . ."

Matt of Perth: "I like this rule. You're in more danger of being falsely accused than you are of actually being a victim."

Aaron: "The last thing you want to be doing is changing from your swimming gear to work clothes or vice versa and find out a couple days later you've been accused of exposing yourself or something of the kind."

The Doc of Sydney: "I cannot get out of the pool change room fast enough if children are there as I have no defence against a false allegation."

Clancy: "I would have thought banning parents from taking pictures of their children at the beach would have been enough to wake people up from this insane pedophile mania . . . but apparently not."

Someone else: "Why don't you just stop males from being teachers to protect the student, or just stop fathers from being parents to their sons, in case they get branded a pedophile."

John from Alice Springs calls it "pedophobia", but its consequences are bigger than that. We're creating a generation of young boys who don't have confidence in their own sexuality; sons who think their gender marks them as bad; and daughters who grow up with few, if any, male role models. And in that scenario, men and women lose out.


Victorian grandmother, 91, in hospital bed crisis

A 91-year-old great-grandmother who gave 50 years of service to a Melbourne hospital waited almost 21 hours on one of its emergency department hospital trolleys, desperate for a bed.

Daphne Pollock's case is a shocking example of Victoria's hospital bed crisis, where in the past year more than 1200 people languished in emergency departments for more than 24 hours.

Doctors have pleaded for more money for beds. They also say new services are needed for aged care so even more beds can be freed.

Mrs Pollock, who has dementia, arrived at William Angliss Hospital on October 6 after becoming immobile. Her GP had called an ambulance so the emergency department could assess her for aged-care entry. Her son David said she arrived at 5.30pm but did not get a bed until 2pm the next day.

She is still in hospital after failing to be assessed and is blocking a bed for others - another problem for over-burdened hospitals.

Mr Pollock said the situation had shocked his family. "She doesn't quite understand what's happening and the situation around her," he said. "She wanted to go home but she needed assistance."

Mrs Pollock did volunteer work for the hospital's auxiliary for 50 years. And Mr Pollock said his father was on the hospital's board for 15 years.

Mrs Pollock's case is far from isolated. Hospitals' annual reports show 1211 people waited longer than an entire day and night for a bed in 2009-10. Frankston hospital struggled most, with 707 people - almost two a day - in emergency departments for more than 24 hours. Hospitals in the western suburbs also struggled, stranding dozens of patients. The Australian Medical Association and state Opposition warn the system is in crisis.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said Premier John Brumby had promised to fix the health system. "Leaving an older and frail patient for almost a day in emergency is not paying attention to the basics," he said.

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said there weren't enough beds.

Chief of clinical and site operations at Angliss Hospital, Anthony Black, said the incident was "regrettable" and increased demand in October was taking a toll. "At all times Mrs Pollock was being cared for by committed and professional staff," he said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said under COAG funding, Angliss Hospital would get 10 sub-acute beds and Frankston Hospital would get 24 acute and short-stay beds.


Ignorant history examiners in NSW

ANCIENT history students are the victims of a Higher School Certificate exam mistake, aptly - and literally - known as Herculaneum Gate.

In 2008 HSC examiners in their annual post-mortem upbraided students who confused the two towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Two years later the examiners are accused of making the same error in a compulsory question posed to 12,269 students.

In last Friday's exam, students were asked about inscriptions from a cemetery excavated at Herculaneum. But a cemetery has never been found at the Herculaneum archaeological site. The inscriptions come from tombs at Pompeii, near the town's Herculaneum Gate.

Kathryn Welch, a senior lecturer in the department of classics and ancient history at the University of Sydney, said the mistake would have limited answers on one aspect in particular. It describes a public official with a career that was perfectly normal in Pompeii, but not in Herculaneum.

"This will have impeded the students' realisation that they could have talked about politics in Pompeii on which they were probably better prepared," Dr Welch said. "And, sadly, the better prepared the student was on Pompeii, the more they will have hesitated to apply their information to Herculaneum."

Brian Brennan, an ancient historian who has led school tours to both sites, said angry teachers had contacted him over the mistake. Both Roman towns were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

"To the outsiders it may appear insignificant," he said. "However, we wouldn't accept such mistakes in other papers like English or maths. "It's a question about the credibility of the HSC paper and the board which oversees it. This mistake is basic. The teachers deserve better and they complain and complain and get rebuffed each time."

Jennifer Lawless, the NSW Board of Studies inspector for history, said yesterday the Herculaneum reference was a factual error. But she said the incorrect location would have little impact on the students, who were asked to deal with evidence within the inscriptions. She denied there had been errors in papers for the past three years, saying some facts presented were the subject of academic dispute known to students.

A Board of Studies spokeswoman said one complaint had been received about the ancient history paper this year. She said neither students nor teachers had made complaints about the 2009 or 2008 papers. The spokeswoman said the mistake was unfortunate after an eight-month checking process.

"With all those processes there are sometimes errors," she said. "When we find an error, the chief examiner is contacted and we evaluate how it might affect student responses. "Markers are briefed so they are aware of it and gauge whether student responses have been affected. The bottom line is we want to make sure students aren't disadvantaged."


Qld. Government announces new laws that mean all serious offenders will serve jail time

About time

ALL serious offenders are set to serve minimum jail time under tough new sentencing laws announced by the Bligh Government today. Standard non parole jail periods will be set in legislation for all serious offences from next year. A review is yet to determine what crimes and what non parole periods will be involved.

Currently the law only provides for a maximum sentence.

The changed laws will have some scope for courts to vary minimum jail time, based on strict conditions in the Act. Crimes flagged by Attorney General Cameron Dick to possibly fall under the new laws included murder, rape and sexual assault of a child.


26 October, 2010

Police misbehaviour

As most regular readers here will know, police misbehaviour in Queensland is so great that I have created a dedicated blog to keep track of it. And it gets frequent updates.

Such a lot of news about police misbehaviour in other States -- particularly NSW and Victoria -- has been coming in, however, that I have created a new blog to keep track of police misbehaviour Australia-wide. See Australian Police News. There are THREE updates there just today.

Federal Government to take over Australia's public health system

This is the British disaster all over again. Leftists never learn. Tony Blair DOUBLED the amount BritGov spent on the NHS but it is still chaotic with widespread denial of services and waiting list blowouts. Most of the extra money went on more bureaucracy -- as it will undoubtedly do here

THE federal government will introduce legislation to parliament this week that aims to reform the nation's health system, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says. For the first time, the commonwealth will take majority funding responsibility - 60 per cent - for public hospitals and full responsibility for primary care.

The share of commonwealth funding had dropped to as low as 38 per cent during the Howard government years, Ms Gillard said. "Australia's health system has suffered from inadequate funding arrangements and unclear accountability for too long," she told reporters in Canberra.

The new funding arrangements would ensure that federal governments properly funded Australia's public hospitals, Ms Gillard said. The commonwealth would fund hospitals for each service they provided, rather than through block grants. Doing so would meet increases in demand and help take pressure off hospital waiting lists.

New national standards for public hospital services are to be introduced, ensuring all patients receive timely and high quality services. "The legislation reflects the historic agreement to reform Australia's health and hospital system signed by the commonwealth and seven states and territories," Ms Gillard said.

The West Australia Liberal government has yet to sign up to the deal. Ms Gillard said she spoke with WA Premier Colin Barnett last week. "We are prepared to continue the conversation in good faith," she said.

Under the agreement, the commonwealth will relieve the states and territories of $15.6 billion in growth of health costs from 2014/15 to 2019/20, allowing them to invest in other essential services.

In return, the states and territories have agreed to hand over up to a third of their GST revenue. "The efficient pricing arrangements will mean that Australia gets value for money from our health dollars to deliver services as effectively and efficiently as possible," Ms Gillard said.

The prime minister called on the opposition to support the legislation through parliament.

Obstruction would only exacerbate funding squabbles between different levels of government, leading to longer waiting times in emergency departments and further elective surgery delays, Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard said she would be talking with crossbenchers on Monday about support for the legislation. But she was also quick to turn the pressure back on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. "First and foremost we need an answer from Mr Abbott about whether or not he will support these reforms."

Health Minister Nicola Roxon, standing alongside the prime minister, said the plan was to deliver a long-term "cure" to hospitals across the country. "The doctors and the nurses and the other clinicians in each local hospital will have more say about the problems that need to be fixed, the investments that need to be made."


Gillard defends economic rationality against populism

Good to hear that from ANY PM. The term "Hansonism" is snide however. Pauline Hanson was primarily against racial preferences

JULIA Gillard has warned of the emergence of "a strain of economic Hansonism" linked to economic populism. The Prime Minister has appealed to industry to help her protect "the post-1983 reform consensus".

Accusing the Coalition and sections of her own Labor Party of backsliding on economic liberalisation, Ms Gillard told a business dinner in Canberra last night she would be "loudly heard" promoting reform, which would sit "at the centre" of all of her government's decisions.

Ms Gillard's comments were designed to skewer recent Coalition discussion of intervention in the banking sector and repudiate a push from unions and the NSW Labor government to renege on a deal to reduce costs for businesses by harmonising workplace law across the nation.

"The reform consensus is now under serious threat," Ms Gillard told the Australian Industry Group dinner. "If a strain of economic Hansonism takes hold on the conservative side of politics in a parliament which is so finely balanced, our long-term prosperity is at real risk. Leaders must lead, and my voice will be loudly heard."

The interventionist political mood was reflected yesterday as several opposition frontbenchers used a shadow cabinet meeting to express reservations about the proposed takeover of the Australian Securities Exchange by the Singapore Exchange. "We'll be keen to hear how this could possibly enhance our position as a regional financial centre," opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey told The Australian later. Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter described the takeover as lunacy, likening it to "selling the arbitration commission".

Since ousting Kevin Rudd from the Labor leadership in June, Ms Gillard has pressed hard to shrug off her Left-faction background and underline her commitment to economic reform.

Her task has become more complicated since her post-election deal to govern in minority with the support of the Greens, who advocate trade and economic and trade policies to the Left of Labor.

Two weeks ago, Ms Gillard told the Queensland Media Club she would pursue tax and superannuation reform as well as development of infrastructure and skills and the application of market-based reforms to areas such as health, education, climate change and water. Last night, she hardened her rhetoric, warning that she would fight the "rising voices against reform" within the community and major political parties.

"I never thought in the 21st century I would hear a shadow finance minister debate the need to allow our dollar to float," the Prime Minister said. "I never thought that in the 21st century I would hear a shadow treasurer debate the need to allow a competitive market for interest rates."

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb and Mr Hockey said last night Ms Gillard's attack was "pathetic".

They issued a statement saying that telling blatant lies about political opponents was no substitute for taking hard reform decisions and engaging in a mature debate. "Sadly, we have an economically illiterate Prime Minister, who resorts to diversions to deflect from her government's appalling record of waste and mismanagement," they said.

Ms Gillard, referring to NSW Premier Kristina Keneally's attempt to renege on the workplace safety law harmonisation deal sealed last year at the Council of Australian Governments, said: "Equally, I never thought I would hear a NSW premier deny that a deal is a deal and a signature means you agree.

"And I never thought, following a legislated reform direction, I would hear a NSW opposition leader threaten a reform of a river that belongs to the nation," she said, referring to plans to reduce water use in the Murray-Darling Basin to protect the environment.

Ms Gillard described reform as "a seamless robe" that could not be divided to suit sectional interest. "I can guarantee we will not unilaterally withdraw from the post-1983 reform consensus."

Ms Gillard appealed to business leaders for backing, saying industry had a stake in reform. She also said it was vital the nation move to put a price on carbon as quickly as possible.

She said increases in electricity prices were caused by historical under-investment in the sector and it was important to deliver certainty to prevent a continuation of under-investment and a fresh outbreak of the problem in a decade. "That is one reason why I am so committed to deliver a carbon price," she said. "Obviously, the fundamental motivation for our carbon price policy is pollution reduction. However, the industry consequences are then immediate. Delaying a carbon price makes the eventual adjustment sharper and more costly."

She also warned that the absence of a carbon price could force power companies to make "stop-gap" investments in technologies such as open-cycle gas turbines to meet immediate increases in demand, rather than making long-term investment decisions. And revenue from putting a price on carbon could be used to deliver transition support to householders. "No such revenue is available to assist with the costs of the current price rises around the country' - nor for future rises from an ongoing investment strike."


Censorship the real sleeper in the Labor government's $43bn fibre network chaos

THE political row over the future of the federal government's $43 billion National Broadband Network has been dominated by the cost issue.

Responding to calls, particularly from The Australian, for more financial accountability from what is the biggest and most expensive infrastructure project in the country's history, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has attacked suggestions that consumers may have to pay thousands of dollars to have their homes rewired to gain maximum advantage from NBN's high-speed fibre cable.

Neither Conroy nor the head of the government-owned NBN Co, Mike Quigley, who has also pooh-poohed these claims, will say what the extent and cost of rewiring will be. But this debate over cost is masking the sleeper in this project: the degree of control this government-owned monopoly will be able to exercise on the flow of information into the homes of all Australians.

After all, if things go according to plan, NBN Co will be Australia's communications gatekeeper, owned and driven by a government that favours internet censorship.

The consequences of this in a democracy raise potentially disturbing issues affecting the free flow of information that go well beyond dollars and cents. In effect, the NBN rollout gives the government the ability to determine what content is suitable for delivery into the home -- a situation not dissimilar from that which operates in China.

In the face of mounting hostility as the government headed towards August's federal election, Conroy announced he was deferring the introduction of a mandatory internet filtering regime pending a review of refused classification guidelines.

This took some of the heat out of this issue that has seen the government criticised by the US administration and Google, which has been involved in its own battles with the Chinese government over internet censorship. Earlier this year, the Obama administration said the Rudd government's plans to introduce the internet filter ran contrary to official US foreign policy that encouraged an open internet.

Conroy has built his case for mandatory internet filtering on the need to stamp out child sexual abuse material. But Google has argued the scope of the proposed filter goes far beyond this and could be used to block access to important online information.

While Conroy's review into the filter regime brought a supporting response from internet service providers, and even Google, there is no indication he has lost his enthusiasm for this form of censorship.

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the election, the government also announced it would extend NBN's high-speed fibre-optic broadband cable to an additional 300,000 homes. If successful, this would mean 93 per cent of homes would be connected exclusively to the NBN communications pipe. Initially, the government had stated that the NBN cable would be connected to 90 per cent of homes with the remainder being serviced by a mixture of wireless and satellite delivery.

Under this revised rollout, announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, satellite will account for 3 per cent of the new high-speed broadband connection, with the balance being delivered by wireless services. These will provide "fixed", not mobile, services designed to be used in and around the home.

And in another pre-election move, Labor deferred the start-up date requiring all new premises to be "fibre ready" from July 1 this year to January 1 next year.

This legislation, which is yet to pass through the Senate, makes it an offence to install copper cabling in future and provides hefty penalties for tradesmen or body corporates by-passing the fibre optic cable in favour of copper. And under a yet-to-be-approved $11bn deal, Telstra will migrate its copper and cable broadband networks into the NBN fibre backbone. It is anticipated Optus and Foxtel will also transfer their services to the NBN.

In Tasmania, where the NBN national cable rollout is in its embryonic stages, the state Labor government has responded to a lukewarm take-up rate by deciding homes and businesses will automatically be connected to the network unless they opt out.

The decision by the Rudd government last year to dramatically up the ante for the NBN project from a $4.7bn fibre-to-the-node scheme to a $43bn rollout going directly into the home requires connection to be effectively mandatory in order to find some way to justify the massive cost.

Even though NBN will be restricted to being a wholesale information carrier, it will assume enormous power in the distribution of data and voice services, particularly as the copper network is decommissioned.


Female health worker 'bullied' after rape claim

QUEENSLAND Health staff have been accused of bullying a female worker after she complained to police about being raped by a colleague. A 33-year-old doctor was charged last month with the alleged sexual assault of a staffer and provided bail at a hearing at the Southport Magistrates Court on the condition he have no contact with the Queensland Health employee or other witnesses.

The Sunday Mail understands the alleged victim has since made an official grievance and a Workcover Claim, where she accuses Queensland Health of failing to provide her with a proper return-to-work plan and being more concerned about adverse publicity from the incident. The worker alleged Queensland Health should have allowed her temporary secondment or to be stood down with full pay but instead continued to bully her under a performance improvement plan.

Queensland Health has responded by strongly denying the claims and defended its handling of the incident by arguing it occurred outside the workplace and was subject to a police investigation "with an unresolved outcome".

Queensland Nurses Union representatives have been involved in negotiations between both parties and concluded the start of the performance plan was premature and did not follow policy.

Mudgeeraba MP Ros Bates, a registered nurse, said the latest incident added to several complaints made to her office by Gold Coast Queensland Health employees about bullying in the workplace.

She told State Parliament the performance management policy was being used to humiliate, punish and belittle an employee so Queensland Health could avoid addressing a serious issue. "Queensland Health's treatment of this employee is nothing short of negligent when the hierarchy has known of this assault allegation for three months and done nothing," Ms Bates said.

Ms Bates said the initial request by the employee to take on less stressful duties was rejected and she was advised to "hurry up and get over it".

In a letter written on behalf of the employee, Ms Bates last month asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate what she called serious allegations of misconduct by Queensland Health. A CMC spokesman said the complaint had been assessed and judged not to amount to official misconduct.

A Queensland Health spokesman said the performance management system was one of several staff support processes which allowed employees to seek feedback and guidance from managers. "Queensland Health strives to provide a supportive workplace for its staff," the spokesman said. [That'a laugh!]


Labor support in the bush dries up as anger over water wastage proposals runs deep: Newspoll

Under Greenie influence, Gillard wants to let dammed water run out to sea rather than give it to farmers for use in irrigation

ANGER about the Gillard government's handling of proposed cuts in water use appears to have helped the Coalition overtake Labor in the latest Newspoll.

The weekend survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian, found the opposition ahead of Labor for the first time since before the August 21 election, by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent in two-party-preferred terms.

The increase followed two dead-even results in previous post-election Newspolls. On election day, Labor won 50.1 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote to the Coalition's 49.9 per cent.

Although the poll shows only small movements in the primary vote since the previous survey, which was taken between October 8 and 10, Newspoll chief executive Martin O'Shannessy said last night that Labor had suffered a six-point plunge in primary support outside cities.

He linked the decline to the release of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's draft recommendation of large cuts in water usage, which have sparked angry protests in rural areas in the past fortnight.

"A deeper analysis of this poll shows a potential backlash against the Murray-Darling plan," Mr O'Shannassy said. "Comparisons between this Newspoll and the one of two weeks ago show a collapse of the Labor vote outside the five main capital cities. " Regional and country voters have punished Labor with a primary vote fall of just over six points to 31 per cent, down from 37 per cent just two weeks ago."

The Newspoll was based on 1150 interviews and the results include a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

It found Labor's primary vote was on 33 per cent - down two percentage points from the October 8-10 survey and five points down from election day. The Coalition was on 43 per cent in primary terms - down from 43.6 per cent on election day - with the Greens on 14 per cent.

An AC Nielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers published yesterday delivered almost identical results, with the Greens on 14 per cent - up two points. The Sydney Morning Herald reported this as an indication that Labor was continuing to lose support to the Greens.

However, the Newspoll - conducted more frequently than the Nielsen survey - has recorded support for the Greens steady at 14 per cent since the September 10-12 survey - up from 11.8 per cent recorded at the election.

Mr O'Shannessy said the fact that Greens support had not changed while Labor's had fallen indicated Labor's real losses were to the Coalition in rural and regional Australia. The Newspoll also identified a four-percentage-point reduction in voter satisfaction with Julia Gillard's performance, to 44 per cent, and a corresponding four-point increase in the dissatisfaction rate.

Voter satisfaction with Tony Abbott climbed two points to 41 per cent, while dissatisfaction with the Opposition Leader fell a point to 46 per cent, with 13 per cent uncommitted.

Ms Gillard remained favoured prime minister by a rate of 53 per cent to 32 per cent, with 15 per cent expressing no preference.


25 October, 2010

The Australian gets it wrong

More precisely, John Lyons, their Middle East Correspondent did. Below is what he wrote this morning:

The Vatican has issued one of its strongest condemnations yet of Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank. It has rejected the use of biblical texts by Jewish settlers to justify "injustices".

Releasing a strongly worded document by the synod of bishops for the Middle East, a senior Archbishop also challenged the notion of Jews as "the chosen people", saying such a concept no longer existed.

After a two-week conference, which ended with a meeting with the Pope, the bishops called on the international community to pressure Israel to end the occupation. "Recourse to theological and biblical positions, which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices, is not acceptable," the statement said.


One has to wonder if the opening words are the work of Lyons or the work of a sub-editor. Lyons has been prominent in Australian journalism for some time so I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and blame a sub-editor for the clanger.

The problem is, you see, that the Vatican issued NO statement about Israel whatsoever. The statement was issued by a clutch of Middle-Eastern bishops with a vested interest in protecting their people from Muslim attacks. Being pro-Israel would be fatal to them. Their only connection to the Vatican is that they held their conference there. Israel's reply is here

WHAAAT?? This is disgraceful!

New law means arrests for 'minor' crimes not worth the effort, say Qld. police. Another case of do-gooder legislation doing more harm than good

Hundreds of offenders could soon escape prosecution by police who say new laws will make arrests for minor crimes not worth the effort. From November 1, police will be required to present more material at an offender's first court appearance, including witness and complainant statements, pictures, CCTV footage and a list of exhibits.

Under reforms adopted by the State Government, officers who fail to fulfil the requirements face the prospect of being charged with contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail.

Queensland Police Union official Tony Collins said many minor offences would be detected but not acted upon because of the threat of police themselves being charged. "How many arrests are you going to make knowing that this sword of Damocles is hanging over your head?" Senior-Sergeant Collins said.

The sort of offences likely to be ignored by police included shoplifting and break and entering where a small amount of property was involved, as well as some domestic violence incidents and minor assaults.

A senior officer, who did not want to be named, said that in the case of assaults, police would be less inclined to encourage victims to make a complaint because it would not be worth the effort. "It's not worth our while to gather all this material then put it before the courts where you get nothing," the senior officer said. "Arrests will dry up and police will start ignoring stuff, but not serious stuff."

The reforms flow from a 2008 review of Queensland's criminal justice system by former judge Martin Moynihan, now the head of the CMC. They are intended to improve disclosure by police to give the accused a better understanding of the case against them from the outset. In his report, Mr Moynihan found there was an attitude among police that it was "not their job to help the defence".

The Queensland Police Service never responded to the report and as a result Sen-Sgt Collins said they were left with laws that would see officers spending more time desk-bound.

"If Moynihan truly wanted to improve the justice system, he would've required full disclosure from both sides of the table. Instead what we've got is a card game where you have to show your opponent all your cards, and they don't have to show you anything."

The QPS would not respond to questions about the changes yesterday but Brisbane criminal defence lawyer Ken Mackenzie said they would foster an efficient justice system. "It's about disclosing (evidence) to the defence early so informed decisions can be made, and the lawyer can advise the client of the case against them and an appropriate plea," he said.

QPU president Ian Leavers said police were concerned about the implications of the reforms.


Greenie superstition masquerading as agricultural science

The angst in Murray-Darling Basin communities about proposed water regime changes belies Australian farmers' record in adopting research.

Both rain-fed and irrigation farmers have a proud record of steadily increasing sustainable productivity. The adoption of practices such as zero-till and hugely improved output per unit of winter rainfall by rain-fed farmers have resulted in grain yields doubling in the past 30 years. Irrigators have maintained the value of outputs despite using only half as much water during the drought. Both efficiencies were achieved by committed farmers backed by strong research performance from supporting agencies. There is no place for the amateur.

Michael Jeffery and Julian Cribb ("Water is the key to sustainability", The Australian, October 15) give us an interesting drop-by-drop analysis of our water resources.

They very crisply identify the challenge: minimise evaporation, recycle city waste water, don't "over-engineer" streams, preserve prime land from urban sprawls, encourage give-it-a-go farmers, maintain supporting scientific research and ensure supply of skilled personnel.

A useful definition of sustainable agriculture is that to which society has committed enough resources to identify problems, to have solutions adequately researched and to ensure adoption of the solutions: never arrive, but eternally strive! It takes time and solid support for adoption of technology: time to consider the whole impact, to change equipment, arrange finance, and make arrangements with input suppliers and product buyers. In the Murray-Darling Basin it is a whole-of-community adaptation process.

A scientific base for this development is essential but beware of false prophets! Unfortunately, Jeffrey and Cribb have been taken in by one such, Peter Andrews, of ABC TV's Australian Story fame, who scorns agricultural science in his book, Back from the Brink. He insults the rural agencies and scientists with such absurd assertions as: "In my experience most scientists are hamstrung by a fear of change", and "I know several who had an opportunity to initiate change . . . but shied away". He alleges total failure by agricultural scientists to work together on land and water management, gives no credit to the effective efforts of Landcare, state departments of agriculture-primary industries, soil conservation agencies and catchment management authorities.

Andrew's work, described as (undefined) natural sequence farming, is disconnected from the past 50 years of science which gave this country substantial increased food and fibre production and better land management. On pastures he states: "Ten per cent coverage of thistles . . . enough to maintain the fertility". Then, "grass will accumulate fertility . . . a lot slower than weeds do" and, "there isn't a pasture anywhere in Australia today . . . more productive if it had weeds growing in the grass. So it isn't just a case of weeds not being harmful; it's a case of weeds being essential."

Then again, he posits that fertilisers are not needed: "Chemical fertilisers do not really fertilise the soil; a feedback loop tells the plants to stop growing when there is not enough fertility . . . This correlation disappears as soon as you apply a chemical fertiliser. Then the plant will keep growing willy-nilly, exhausting and weakening the soil, which is then less able to cope with erosion, extremes of climate and other stressful conditions. Chemical fertilisers stimulate grass to keep growing regardless."

Surely, few readers can take such nonsense seriously? Nearly a century of scientific research and farming experience have clearly demonstrated that fertilised leguminous plants in balance with others will produce nutritious feed at the same time raising the organic matter level of the soil and protecting it from erosion.

The water conservation and food production scenario identified by Jeffrey and Cribb, and the underlying the plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, need the best trained scientific brains, well-funded for their research, capable of passing on evidence-based advice to well-trained, intelligent, adaptive farmers, who respect sound science and analysis and are capable of carrying further the successful agricultural research and development of recent decades.


Pupils once had access to life's poetry

Not all education needs to be utilitarian. An introduction to the beautiful and the inspiring is important too

Christopher Pearson

One of the cornerstones of Western civilisation is the proposition that the growth of human understanding is an intrinsic good. This stands regardless of whether it's of practical use or economic benefit and even when -- for example, in the case of research into lethal variants of viruses -- the new knowledge has potentially catastrophic consequences.

Some kinds of new knowledge are obviously far more important than others; some that at first seemed so trivial as to be barely worth recording lead to wonderful drugs such as penicillin. Many of the rankings on what's worth knowing are far more provisional than is commonly supposed and most are subject to revision over time.

For many revisionist educational theorists, truth and beauty are corny abstractions with resonances of the poetry of Keats and Matthew Arnold's late Victorian text Culture and Anarchy.

Others, not least of them Pope Benedict XVI, insist that the experience of the beautiful and developing the ability to discern the true are the foundation of any education worthy of the name. They further argue that it is the intrinsic value of the arts, the social and the natural sciences -- rather than preparing job-ready pupils -- that should shape the content of any curriculum and its priorities.

The philistines in charge of state education, and many of their colleagues in the private schools, have triumphed to the point where concrete examples of the kind of policy I'm talking about may be scarcely imaginable for readers in their 30s and 40s. Let me sketch it out, with reassurances that 40 years ago it was the norm for most Year 10 kids.

At school, in Year 8 and above, students would at least be expected to have mastered arithmetic and be able to read, more or less under their own steam, two novels suitable to their age. They were still taught the rudiments of grammar and spelling, and expected to commit to memory 40 or 50 lines of verse, or perhaps some of Shakespeare's speeches, in any given year. In independent and Catholic schools the emphasis on memorising was stronger, leaving kids an enduring legacy of "the best that's been thought and said" in their mother tongue.

From Year 8 there was a general introduction to maths, physics and chemistry for all but the slowest, and most had at least one year, often three, of French, German or Latin, the great literary languages. Most studied history and/or geography, and had at least one lesson a week of art, music and physical education.

By that time sport was an optional extra, along with participating in the choir or school band and putting on a play each year.

By the end of Year 10 the average pupil would have been no less job-ready than his contemporary counterparts, but would have had a broader and deeper general education.

The class of 1970 would have had a fair range of options and been able to compensate with extracurricular activities if the core wasn't very appealing. They'd have been able to read a newspaper and, when necessary, most would have known how to use a library. Even if their English teachers had been remiss on the subject of grammar, studying another language would have helped many to grasp the fundamentals of their own.

The general assumption was that everybody, including the plodders in the technical schools, was entitled to experience music and poetry and fiction that spoke to "the higher things". The task was to give them a preliminary introduction to the riches of the culture or, in F.R. Leavis's phrase, "a greater sense of life's possibilities". The Left and the Right of the teachers' unions in those days tended to agree that their responsibility was to help prepare kids for life, not just ready them to acquire a meal ticket or turn them into factory fodder.

None of this is to disparage vocational education per se; merely to put it in proper perspective.

The broader and better the education, the less likely that kids will specialise too soon, foreclosing other options, and the more adaptable to the increasing vagaries of the jobs market. Let me end with a proposition that in 1970 would have been a commonplace and now seems almost scandalous.

Suppose you had taught a pupil to sing and follow a score, or play a musical instrument. Whether anyone else got to hear the person sing or play, or whether performing became a source of income, was entirely up to the individual. You had given that person a great gift: a measure of access to the canon and a grounding in technique. That was all that mattered.

From an educational perspective, the fact that it might never be shared, let alone monetised, as accountants say these days, or that it might never be captured in measured productivity or the gross domestic product, was of no consequence whatsoever. I trust that, for the best of the rising generation of teachers, it still doesn't matter.


Australia's Leftist policy on illegals will both encourage more to come and stoke opposition to them

IT has taken less than a week for political reality to get in the way of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's policy response to the ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers.

On Monday, Mr Bowen announced a major modification to the policy of mandatory detention, perhaps the biggest change since it was introduced by the Keating government in 1992. Children and at least one parent will now be allowed to live in community housing, run by churches and charities, while their refugee claims are considered. The decision will be welcomed not just by the government's Green allies in the parliament but also by everybody in the community uncomfortable with locking children up. It is hard to imagine anything more unsettling for Australians than the sight of children playing behind razor wire.

But Mr Bowen's compassion comes at a price, and the minister should not underestimate the pitfalls. Too many Labor policies have come to grief at the intersection with the point of delivery.

The minister must start by listening to community concerns in Northam in Western Australia, where single male asylum-seekers will be housed, and Woodside in the Adelaide Hills, where 400 refugees will be housed. While it is easy for politically correct commentators to brush off opposition as unenlightened bigotry, the truth is residents have legitimate questions about what the impact of asylum-seekers' children will be on the local schools and how their health needs, and those of their parents, will be met.

The heavy-handed announcement of the Woodside decision without discussing it with anybody in South Australia, including Premier Mike Rann, will not create confidence. Mr Bowen owes a duty of care to the asylum-seekers he will send into these communities to ensure they stay safe and healthy and that their claims are processed as quickly as possible. But he must also start talking to Mr Rann and Western Australia's Premier, Colin Barnett, to ensure the communities of Woodside and Northam know they will not be overwhelmed.

Before the election, the Gillard government went out of its way to assure the electorate it would not encourage more asylum-seekers, and on ABC TV's Q&A, Mr Bowen acknowledged that detention centres existed for legitimate reasons when he took over the portfolio last month. He also told the network's Lateline he wanted to destroy the "people-smugglers business model".

While a regional processing centre in East Timor was one of the government's original schemes to destroy their industry, his new plan could easily have the opposite outcome. People-smugglers will work hard to argue that it is only a short step from being housed by a church or community group, with children free to attend school, to being accepted as a permanent resident. And if the smugglers make a convincing case, the boats will keep coming.

That Mr Bowen wants to be as kind as he can to the passengers of those that have already arrived is understandable. But releasing children and their parents into Australian communities is not a policy that can easily accommodate the right of asylum-seekers to fair process while respecting community concerns and tempting more people to take their chances on the cruel seas.


Lack of good roads shafts farmers

It should be a time for celebration in southwestem Queens- land, Seven months after drought-breaking floods devastated the region, farmers are finally being rewarded for their grit and hard graft with a bumper wheat crop. But while Mother Nature is at last showing some generosity, bureaucrats and politicians threaten to give growers yet another brutal kick -- with infrastructure delays and water restrictions.

Above-average rainfall this year has meant under-resourced local councils have struggled to perform crucial repairs to many rural stock routes heavily damaged during the March floods. The mostly gravel roads are the lifeblood of the region and used to transport millions of tonnes of grain and more than 500,000 head of cattle.

Balonne Sire chief exceutive Scott Norman said the condition of some stock routes and rural roads was so bad-that individual grain crops may be abandoned if farmers have no on-site storage facilities. ""We just haven’t been able to put a grader through any of these roads because it's just too wet", he said. "We have been seeing more road trains getting bogged, which means we have to damage the roads even more to get them out. It's going to add huge costs to farmers trying to get their grain to the two grain depots in the area.... some crops may be dumped"

St George Cotton Association president and wheat and cattle farmer Ed Willis said he may be unable to transport his wheat crop the l0km to the state’s biggest grain depot at Thallon. "With everything going on with the (Murray-Darling Basin Authority report) we need every single dollar that we can get out of this crop," he said.

Constant rain in the southwest has reduced the quality of many wheat crops. Degraded stock routes could increase freight costs by up to 40 per cent, making profits marginal.

Some locals have also queried the quality of State Government repairs to sections of the Carnarvon and Castlereagh highways. A section of the Castlereagh Highway about 25km south of St George has been filled with gravel and not resealed with bitumen; while a section of the Carnarvon Highway, about l0krn south of Thallon, has not been restored to its previous condition.

A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesman said both were repaired to a safe standard. Thallon farmer Andrew Earle disagrees, saying the frequency of road lrains using the Camarvon Highway will increase over the coming weeks and seriously damage the road surface. "You can see where the bitumen is bubbling up because they didn’t patch the road properly," he said.

The condition of the two regional highways is more crucial than ever since Queensland Rail decided to permanently close the Thallon to Dirranbandi line in July this year, after it had not been in operation since the middle of 2009.

Cattle and wheat farmer Kerry O’Sullivan has lived off the land west of Thallon for more than four decades and believes the rain and poor quality of roads could increase his freight bill by between 20 and 30 per cent "I don’t like to whinge. After all the years of drought, it is fantastic to finally get rain, but we just need a couple of dry weeks," he said.

The damage to the stock routes and rural roads has forced many in the Murweh Shire to get their cattle to bitumen roads before they are taken to the ahattoir. Mayor Mark O’Brien said some graziers in the area were doing it tough because of the condition of the roads since the flooding. "Because of the poor quality of these rural roads, graziers have had to battle to get their stock out of their property," he said. "It means having to get the cattle out to the bitumen, which could be miles away from where the road trains would normally pick them up."

Mr O’Brien said constant rain since the floods had made it impossible to seal a 7km secuon of Adavale Rd. He said about half the shire’s 2000km of gravel road should be sealed but at nearly $50,000 a kilometre, the expense was beyond the scope of the council’s ability to pay.

The article above appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 24 October, 2010

Petty bureaucratic nastiness in Australia too: Man fined $300 after saving a life

Britain is the world HQ for this sort of thing but there is always some nasty little bureaucratic prick everywhere who needs to use his powers to hurt rather than help people

A MAN who saved his mate's life after a jetski accident at Caloundra is outraged that he has now been hit with a $300 fine by authorities. Brisbane man Dave Burke suffered the hit to the hip pocket by Maritime Safety Queensland for "failing to report an incident".

The "incident" happened near the Caloundra Bar on Easter Sunday when a large wave knocked the 30-year-old and his 29-year-old friend off Mr Burke's jetski. The jetski sank and Mr Burke was picked up by an onlooker and taken back to the beach.

"I've then borrowed a jetski and gone out to get my mate," he said. "He was wearing a vest but he was pretty frightened. "He kept getting hit with some pretty heavy waves and because he had the vest on he wasn't able to get away from them."

Both men made it safely on to the sand of Bribie Island, where a female sunbather alerted the nearest life guard. Mr Burke said his friend was uninjured and had walked about 200 metres by the time the life guard and Coastguard arrived on the scene. "He told them he didn't need any transport but the Coastguard have insisted. "Now, because they've insisted on a transport that we didn't want, I've had to pay a $300 fine."

Mr Burke said the life guard advised him he would take care of any required paperwork and he retrieved his jetski with the help of another jetski rider.

Several weeks after the incident he was contacted by Maritime Queensland, who requested he make an incident report. He claims he did that but officials say it never arrived and he received his $300 fine in the mail last Monday.

Mr Burke said Maritime Safety Queensland viewed the incident as a "man overboard" that required reporting. "It's a jetski. If that is a man overboard, then Maritime should be chasing up the other 200 of these that happen every day," he said.

But Caloundra Coastguard Commander Bill Rowland said he did not recall the incident but the law was very clear. "He has to understand that as the skipper of a vessel... he has responsibility under the Marine Act to report an incident to a shipping inspector within 24 hours," he said. "The law is very clear on that. There is no ambiguity. "He obviously didn't do that and he got fined.

"I imagine there will be more to the situation than he is saying. "He would not be fined for falling off a jetski, he would be fined for not reporting an incident which the MSQ determined was a reportable marine incident."

Mr Burke said he had paid the $300 and while he would save his friend again if he had to, the fine had left a sour taste in his mouth. "When you've busted your arse to get to someone and also risked your own life – this is the thanks you get," Mr Burke said.


24 October, 2010

Bloated and useless water bureaucracy in Qld.

Typical Leftist plundering of the good old taxpayer

WATER bosses are pocketing $100,000 salary increases as Queenslanders are hit with soaring utility bills. Bosses at the state water bodies have been criticised over their "excessive" pay rises while consumers are being gouged every time they turn on a tap.

The best rain in a decade has ended the drought and filled the state's dams, but critics say the State Government reforms aimed at securing future water supplies have created a bureaucratic monster with a financial appetite to match. Now households are paying the price, with water bill increases of up to $300 a year to pay for the army of new water administrators.

Four separate State Government agencies, three council-owned retailers and a Government department are now involved in water delivery. Annual reports reveal the vast cost of the agencies, with executive salaries one of the biggest expenses.

"They were supposed to build a water grid, but instead Labor has built its very own millionaire's row by paying these excessive salaries and perks," Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said. "Southeast Queenslanders are paying for it through massive increases in their water bills."

SEQ Water Grid Manager chief executive Barry Dennien, who oversees water flows and projects, has been a big winner, with a pay increase of about $120,000 to a whopping $460,000 a year. A Government spokesman said the rise came when Mr Dennien was promoted from "acting CEO" to "CEO".

Seqwater chief executive Peter Borrows, responsible for providing bulk water from dams and weirs, received a rise of about $80,000 - including a performance bonus to a total of almost $500,000 a year.

LinkWater, responsible for the pipe network that transports water, has concealed the salary of chief executive Peter McManamon in consecutive annual reports by using a broad salary range. But a Government spokesman said the package was close to $400,000, a rise of up to $100,000.

WaterSecure chief executive Keith Davies, responsible for recycling and desalination, earns a massive $540,000. Mr Davies' generous salary comes despite WaterSecure struggling to find industries to take up expensive recycled water, and ongoing problems with the Gold Coast desalination plant. Premier Anna Bligh retreated on a plan to add recycled water to the region's drinking supply, and millions of litres are being flushed down the Brisbane River.

The Water Commission, set up in the worst days of drought, appointed new chief executive Karen Waldman in May. A Government spokesman said Ms Waldman was on $230,000 a year. The commission, which critics want disbanded now that dams are overflowing, has reduced costs but has an annual $1.1 million executive salaries bill.

Taxpayers are also funding hefty pay rises for numerous other executives in the various bodies, and generous remuneration for board members.

The Government's spokesman said: "Salaries paid to executives are competitive with those paid in similar roles interstate and overseas".

However the Local Government Association blasted the new water grid network for forcing up costs. "The architecture is not ideal and certainly costs a lot of money," said executive director Greg Hallam.

The bosses of southeast Queensland's three new council-owned water retailers responsible for water billing - Unitywater's Jon Black, Allconnex Water boss Kim Wood and Queensland Urban Utilities chief executive Noel Faulkner - are also on lucrative salaries.

Gold Coast-based Allconnex's annual report indicates Mr Wood, who took up his post in January, is paid about $350,000. Other retailers are yet to release their annual reports, but are certain to be on a similar scale and sources say the real figure could be closer to $400,000. Allconnex managers were treating salary details with such secrecy that when The Sunday Mail found their annual report on their website it was immediately pulled down.

In a worrying sign about the accountability of the new retailers, all declined to comment on salaries and have refused to provide any details about the number of households struggling to pay bills.


Plenty of money for bureaucracy but too bad about public safety

Typical Leftist priorities

Just one cyclone shelter has been built since the State Government promised four years ago to provide safe havens in every community from Cooktown to Bundaberg.

With Queensland facing the worst cyclone season in 40 years, The Sunday Mail can reveal that only Innisfail will have a shelter to house evacuees during a Category 5 storm.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the cyclone shelters were proving to be another "hollow promise" by the Government.

"It seems nothing has been done since (former premier) Peter Beattie stood amongst the devastation at Innisfail in 2006 and promised to deliver a major facility in every community between Cooktown and Bundaberg that could withstand a Category 5 cyclone," Mr Malone said.

The finished shelter at Innisfail State College, which doubles as a performing arts centre, was opened by Premier Anna Bligh in February, almost four years after Category 4 Cyclone Larry hit north Queensland. It is built to withstand Category 5 wind gusts over 280km/h.

The Queensland Home Building Code mandates that houses and buildings built after 1982 meet cyclonic wind standards up to Category 4.

A list provided by the Department of Public Works shows a further three locations earmarked as public cyclone shelters are still being completed or stuck in the planning stages:

* Kowanyama Multi-purpose Sport and Recreation Centre nearing completion.

* The new Community Events Centre in Cooktown still in the planning stages.

* Redlynch State College near Cairns work under way to reinforce the hall.

The revelation comes as Queensland prepares for the start of cyclone season on November 1.

Bureau of Meteorology regional director Jim Davidson last week warned Cabinet that six cyclones and monsoonal rain were likely to lash the Queensland coast during the cyclone season - a prediction not seen since the 1970s.

After Cyclone Larry, the most severe cyclone to strike the state in a century, former premier Peter Beattie promised to build cyclone shelters in every major community along the Queensland coast.

On August 22, 2006, Mr Beattie said Labor would equip communities from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait, and on western Cape York Peninsula, with shelters able to withstand winds of up to 306km/h.


Druggie abortionist infects 41 women with the druggies' disease

Why was a known druggie allowed to continue in practice?

STATE Health Minister Daniel Andrews has backed his chief health officer over waiting six months to screen more than 1000 patients exposed to a doctor suspected of spreading hepatitis C.

Dr John Carnie revealed on Saturday that the health department had expanded screening to three more clinics as police raided five Melbourne properties, including the Hawthorn home of anaesthetist James Latham Peters.

The broadened screening comes more than six months after a hepatitis C cluster was discovered among patients at Croydon Day Surgery - now called Marie Stopes Maroondah. Forty-one patients at the abortion clinic are suspected of contracting the same strain of hepatitis C as Dr Peters. The affected women were exposed to Dr Peters between January 2008 and December 2009.

Mr Andrews said Dr Carnie was appropriately exercising an "abundance of caution" in moving to screen patients at Dr Peters' former workplaces. He said there were no known cases of hepatitis C at any of the three clinics but could not rule out the possibility other patients had been infected.

"There's no suggestion that anybody that's been treated at those three clinics is hep C positive but in order to be absolutely certain ... he is extending that look back into those three clinics. I think that's an entirely appropriate thing for him to do," Mr Andrews told reporters today.

He said it was appropriate that early investigation focused on known, high risk cases before moving to precautionary screening. "I fully support the approach that the chief health officer has taken. He has dealt appropriately where he has known there is a high risk. "He is now appropriately moving to provide support and reassurance where there is a much, much lower risk ... in order to be safe rather than sorry."

The department has tested more than 3000 patients treated between 2006 and 2009 at the Croydon Day Surgery and is still tracing a further 300 women. Staff are now trying to contact another 1066 female and male patients at three other clinics.

They include 900 patients who attended Fertility Control in East Melbourne between January 2008 and November 2009, 150 from St Albans Endoscopy who were treated between February and September 2008, and 16 who attended the Western Day Surgery in Sunshine in March 2008. No charges have been laid over the infections.

The case is unprecedented in Victoria, presenting challenges for police working out if and how to lay charges related to spreading a disease and for the Department of Health in working out how many patients are affected. Detective Sen-Sgt Paul Robotham said the police were looking for evidence on how the outbreak occurred.

It remains unclear why police waited until yesterday to raid the Croydon clinic. "It's just the nature of the investigation and the appropriate time to conduct those searches," Det Sen-Sgt Robotham said. "I'm not going to make any comment either way as to why it's done now. It's just a tactical decision that it was done today."

Articles including a computer were seized from the Hawthorn home of Dr Peters. Dr Peters reportedly had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, a conviction for forging prescriptions for pethidine and a charge of possessing child pornography.

"This whole thing has been extremely distressing for the patients concerned, the other doctors concerned, the clinics and the department," Dr Carnie said.


Another slack NSW hospital

Baby was given to the wrong mother. Careful attention to baby ID is routine -- but not in NSW, apparently

A HOSPITAL has apologised to a mother after giving her baby to the wrong woman for breastfeeding.

Newborn Hunter-Joe Harris has undergone emergency tests for HIV, hepatitis and other infections after being handed to the wrong woman for a 4am feed.

Last night Hawkesbury Hospital admitted the mistake, saying the baby was feeding from the wrong mother for about 20 seconds before midwives realised. The hospital has conducted health tests on the woman and has assured Hunter-Joe's mother, Danielle, that they came back clear. The Harris family will have to wait five months for tests on Hunter-Joe to come back. In the meantime, the month-old baby is at home and seemingly in good health.

Ms Harris wants a written apology, saying she felt "sick and angry" when she found out about the mix-up.

"The nurses said: 'Oh it's funny how there's two Hunters in the hospital.' And she [the other mother] turned around and said: 'My baby's name's not Hunter,"' Ms Harris told Channel Nine. "If she didn't say that, he could have fed for the whole half an hour and [gone] to sleep next to her."

David Maher, the general manager of Hawkesbury District Health Service, said "human error" was to blame and that staff had been counselled on proper procedures. He said no one would be sacked as a result of the incident but that identification systems would be reviewed. "This is something that is not designed to occur, it was an error. There are systems in place for checking identifications of babies … but something has gone wrong in this case," Mr Maher said. He spoke to the Harris family last week and offered the hospital's apologies.

The Harris family is not alone. Babies were handed to the wrong mother for feeding on at least 26 occasions between 2006 and 2009, government figures show. In most cases, overworked staff failing to check identification tags were to blame.

In one case a newborn had to have its stomach pumped after being given month-old breast milk from a woman who was not the child's mother. At Blacktown Hospital a baby was given unnecessary medication because of incorrect identification tags.

After a spate of mix-ups, midwifery expert Robyn Thompson said the psychological trauma to women could be devastating.


Pressures forcing teachers to quit Queensland schools

"Behaviour-management issues" is code for lack of discipline

CLASSROOM sizes and behaviour-management issues are driving teachers out of the workforce. Almost three quarters of Queensland teachers say it is difficult to retain staff because morale is so low.

Teachers and parents are compensating for a lack of government funds by working longer hours and fundraising for school essentials, the State of our Schools survey by the Australian Education Union released exclusively to The Sunday Mail reveals.

Last year, parents and teachers dug deep raising $15 million through fetes, uniform sales and voluntary contributions, with funds going towards classroom essentials and new facilities. More than 60 per cent of Queensland respondents said this fundraising was "very important" in keeping the school running, with most of the money going to fund classroom equipment, library resources and sporting goods.

Other results include 44 per cent of Queensland teachers saying student outcomes would improve with smaller class sizes, 18 per cent calling for more support for students with disabilities and behaviour-management issues and 68 per cent saying reduced workloads and help with troubled kids would ease the pressure.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said while teachers and principals were "the glue that held schools together", the public deserved better. "Ultimately our public schools are great schools and doing a great job by international comparisons," Mr Gavrielatos said. "But what we need to do is put in place resources to ensure the needs of every child can be met."

The survey was released to coincide with the union's national campaign launch around the Review of Funding for Schooling. The union is calling for more equity between the amount of funding given to government and private schools, saying two thirds of federal government funding goes to private schools, which educate just one third of students.

But Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said while this claim was strictly correct, it was misleading because government schools received 96 per cent of their funding from the states. He said he welcomed the review which was the first analysis of funding in 35 years.

Currently funding for non-government schools is calculated using the SES model (socio-economic status). This measures the income profile of students' parents through cross-matching postcode and census data. "It's a transparent funding model . . . the Government says these non-government schools whose parents can afford it, should receive less," Mr Robertson said.


Protests in Australian towns over plans to hold illegals there

Many of the illegals are fundamentalist Muslims from Afghanistan and fundamentalist Muslims deliberately killed a lot of Australians in Bali. Certainly not ideal neighbours

SENIOR government ministers have warned against public hysteria following an angry backlash against plans to move asylum-seekers.

Immigration officials were jeered as they tried to reassure residents at a public meeting in the Adelaide Hills that having the asylum-seekers in their communities would be a positive and rewarding experience.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson warned against public hysteria over the government's plan to build centres in the two states to handle rising numbers of boat arrivals. "Let's not start this sort of hysteria that they're somehow horrible, dangerous people," he said. "These are people who will be assessed using the normal checks that were put in place many, many years ago."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen assured residents that resources would not be stripped from local communities, and extra resources for the centres would be provided by the government.

Residents of Woodside in the Adelaide Hills reacted angrily to plans to house up to 400 asylum-seekers on the nearby Inverbrackie defence estate.

At a meeting on Thursday night, many said they were concerned schools could be overwhelmed and crime could rise.

The Coalition leapt on the issue, vowing to push for a parliamentary inquiry to examine the plans for the centres.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the government had created a "rolling detention crisis".

"There are just so many people now that they're trying to accommodate, that the community of Inverbrackie, without any consultation, without any forewarning, has had this forced upon them.

"I'm just amazed that the government is surprised that there would be some reaction from the community when they haven't even been talked to." Mr Bowen "should front up to the community and answer the questions", Mr Morrison said. "He shouldn't be shielding himself behind Immigration officials who too often have to do the dirty work of this government."

Mr Morrison's comments drew criticism from Liberal Bruce Baird, an outspoken critic of John Howard's hard line on immigration, who held the seat of Cook before him. "They're creating myths and scaremongering, and I think that's unfortunate," Mr Baird said. "They're very vulnerable people."

Mr Baird, who is chairman of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council, said there was no reason for residents to be concerned. "When we released children and their families in 2005 there was concern that they would abscond and cause problems in the community, and neither of that happened. . . . They would probably be model citizens."

Mr Bowen said health services for asylum-seekers would be provided on-site. "Any additional teaching resources required will be paid for by the commonwealth, as they always are."

Mr Bowen said the residents' concerns about pressure on health facilities and schools were understandable and it was appropriate that the government respond to them. "We are working closely with the Department of Education and schools to ensure that families are accommodated at this centre with no adverse impact on local communities."

The Department of Immigration and service provider Serco would bring in medical experts to the Inverbrackie facility to care for detainees, he said. "There will be no impact on local facilities."

Federal Liberal MP Jamie Briggs wants to introduce a private member's bill establishing a parliamentary inquiry to hear the residents' views.

Mr Morrison said people were rightly upset. "These are not refugees who have been settled into the community, who have had their asylum claims proved. They are people who are maybe there for six months, three months."


23 October, 2010

Bureaucratic strangulation of Australian public hospitals set to get worse

Dr Jeremy Sammut

The key insight into the hospital crisis is that the public hospital system exhibits all the systemic failures typically experienced by stultifying Soviet-style monopolistic, central plan bureaucracies.

So-called reforms that tinker with the scale of the bureaucracy will never fix the fundamental problem, which is the faulty way state governments have chosen to run public hospitals.

The federal government’s National Health and Hospitals Networks Plan will not devolve operational management to the local level as promised because the state bureaucracies are still in control of the overall management and funding of the system.

Creating ‘local hospital networks’ staffed by seconded state bureaucrats will only impose an additional layer of bureaucracy. Bribing the states with billions of extra taxpayers’ dollars to sign up to a national agreement that does not significantly alter the existing administrative arrangements, other than making them more complex and confused, is a betrayal of hospital staff, patients and voters, who deserve and expect better.

The only way forward is to unshackle public hospitals from the bureaucracies that otherwise will continue to restrict the hospital system’s ability to meet the health needs of the community.

Abolition of the bureaucracy can only be accomplished if administrative responsibility for each public hospital is devolved to autonomous boards of directors.

But hospital boards are only the first step. It is not a quick fix.

Genuine hospital reform requires genuinely responsible federalism and genuine local autonomy and accountability. Judicious use of financial levers and competitive pressures, combined with managerial flexibility, must drive improved performance and the return on each health dollar spent on public hospitals.

Administrative reform must therefore occur in tandem with comprehensive structural and funding reform to transform public hospitals into what they are not: independent, competing, consumer-oriented, and financially accountable.

Rather than be mired in the usual political wrangling about the problems in the health system, policymakers must focus on policy details that all credible reform plans must contain.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 22 October. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Bible ban 'political correctness gone mad'

AN unholy row has erupted over the hand-out of Bibles at citizenship ceremonies. Hobart and Clarence councils this year stopped handing out Bibles after they were told by immigration officials they were no longer needed, The Mercury reports.

Liberal senator Guy Barnett said the move was "political correctness gone mad".

Clarence mayor Jock Campbell said his council had been told by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship that if citizenship candidates wanted to swear an oath on a holy book, they needed to bring their own.

Hobart Lord Mayor Rob Valentine said his council began advising candidates this year they needed to bring their own. "We were told by immigration, quite some time ago, not to give Bibles out anymore," Ald Valentine said.

Ald Campbell said until this year Bibles supplied by the Bible Society of Australia had been handed out to participants who opted for the Christian oath. "I'd see it as an unnecessary change," he said.

Ald Campbell said the council had contacted the Bible Society for advice on what to do with 72 spare Bibles.

A Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokesman said last night it was not appropriate for organisations hosting citizenship ceremonies to give holy books as gifts and this had been the position of the department since 2003.


More computer mayhem in Queensland

This comes on top of Queensland Health still not being able to get its payroll software working properly -- after MONTHS of trying

QUEENSLAND police are spending almost $6 million on a new computer package to process gun licences after a report found their own $100 million system was too slow and a similar program used by Queensland Transport was not secure.

The confidential report, obtained under Right to Information laws, investigated several options to replace the current licensing system that requires gun owners to go into a police station and fill out paperwork.

The options included the extension of the police computer program QPRIME and the system Queensland Transport uses for driver licensing, known as TRAILS.

But project manager Trevor Holmstrom found QPRIME had increased data entry times for police by 115 per cent since its introduction in 2006 as a replacement for a number of other systems.

If the same system were used for weapons licensing, another 61 staff would be needed and applications would take 85 per cent longer to process, the report said.

Queensland Transport fared no better with Mr Holmstrom finding the department had "no pre-existing good record of looking after customers" and no experience dealing with security-sensitive information. A lack of a 24/7 culture at QT was also an issue, he said.

Instead, his 67-page report recommended police adopt a new computer program known as Sword Ciboodle at a cost of $5.8 million – despite it having no Queensland support office.

Opposition leader John-Paul Langbroek said the fact two existing systems were ruled out was further evidence the Government "could not get the basics right". "The problems with QPRIME and the length of time it takes police now to fill in crime reports and process warrants have been concerns the Opposition and police have been raising for years, but Labor has been in denial," he said. "This review further confirms the rollout of QPRIME has been a debacle."

Mr Langbroek said the review's finding that Queensland Transport was dogged by "poor customer service and responsiveness" was a further wake-up call to the agency.

But a spokesman for Transport and Main Roads said the department had maintained a score of 7.7 out of 10 in customer satisfaction over the past two years in surveys conducted by ACNielsen.

The new computerised system for gun licensing is expected to be up and running by December, coinciding with an increase in the cost of a firearms' licence. The State Government hopes the switch to an online service will save about $7.5 million over five years in staff "efficiencies" and processing improvements. [Joke! Joke!]


Striking a balance in Australia's immigration future

By Pallavi Jain (Ms Jain is of Indian origin)

German chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken the unspeakable. In a brutally honest statement she has said that multiculturalism has failed in Germany. This statement comes close on the heels of the recently held elections in Sweden where the far right party, Sweden Democrats, won as many as 20 parliamentary seats, making a significant dent for the first time in mainstream Swedish politics. These developments reiterate the fact that immigration remains a hot button topic in most western democracies. But for all the rhetoric, how does Australia fare when it comes to immigration?

According to the Australian Bureau of statistics in the past year net immigration contributed 64 per cent to population growth while natural growth accounted for 36 per cent. Over the past five years there has been a substantial increase in immigration owing to government policy. It is not surprising then that in the recently held elections, immigration was often discussed in conjunction with increasing population. However, one wonders whether population growth itself would be an issue if it was not associated with a high rate of immigration and was just a result of natural increase.

Over recent decades Australia's per capita income has risen even as its population has increased including a huge influx of immigrants. Moreover given that Australia is ranked second on the UN's Human Development Index which assesses education, health and life expectancy as well as economic factors it is not hard to believe that by global standards Australia is doing well on almost all counts. But is there more here than meets the eye? Are the old and new members of this remarkable country really at ease with each other?

It is perhaps as unwise to criticise immigration altogether and paint all immigrants with the same brush as it would be imprudent not to express apprehension about increased immigration out of political correctness. While a gradual influx of immigrants of all hues and cultures may be tolerated at the worst and welcomed at the best, substantial increases in immigrant population, coming in sudden spurts, may lead to social tensions. Such is human nature.

Every country has a right to decide who should enter their country. In fact extra care should be taken when deciding who can come in, to ensure that a few bad apples don't give all immigrants a bad name. And while it might be difficult, the government must make a thorough assessment of aspiring immigrants. In addition to skills, it is important to establish what they think and feel about the value system that prevails in Australia.

If there is a conflict of interest cultural or otherwise that cannot be resolved, then it may even be better for the person not to immigrate, since there is a high probability of disappointment and alienation. At a macro-level such feelings of discontent could be a recipe for social friction. Last but not the least, there is one important reason why immigrants from all over the world often want to come here. It is not just about the money (immigrants to countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya or Kenya can also make money). It is at least for some about the life choices that Australia offers. It is about fundamental human rights like dignity of life, freedom or a certain level of security.

I have personally been at the receiving end of tough immigration policies when I could not gain full time employment in the UK due to visa restrictions. But even after being denied that opportunity, I did not change my views on immigration into the developed world.

I firmly believe that every nation has a right to decide who can and should stay in their country. In some cases countries may miss out on an outstanding talent because of an error in judgement, or they may sometimes allow in people who perhaps should not have been given entry. But even though one can doubt the wisdom of a specific immigration policy, a nation cannot be denied the right to make that choice.

Yes Australia is not perfect, but by many standards it is one of the best places to live on the planet. You can eat or wear anything, practise your religion, speak your mind without fear — choices that are a luxury in many parts of the world. Moreover in my opinion the task of assimilating into Australian society rests with the immigrant who has made a choice to come here. Assimilation here does not require compromising your identity in any way but rather offers a chance to expand it, making you part of the global narrative. On the other side though, it is important that Australia lives up to the immigrant's expectations of being a fair, egalitarian and free society.

Australia is one of the most developed countries in the world but to maintain that in an increasingly globalised world, it is imperative that it manages its immigration policy well. Very low immigration will deny Australia the benefits of the best minds in the world. Too much immigration may give rise to unforseen social unrest, apart from being a huge burden on the infrastructure and the environment. Striking this balance will be a key to Australia's future.


22 October, 2010

The "all males are potential rapists" scare now hits swimming pool changerooms

Feminist man-hatred has largely chased men out of primary school teaching -- as men rightly fear being exposed to suspicion and false accusations. Now that fear has spread

SCHOOLBOYS have been banned from a pool changeroom because adult male swimmers are afraid they'll be falsely labelled paedophiles.

Angry parents described the decision as political correctness gone mad after boys were forced to sit in wet swimmers on the bus back to school from the Hornsby Aquatic Centre in north Sydney. The rule, imposed this week, initially forced male students from six schools to huddle behind a stack of plastic chairs to get changed. They were later provided with access to an unused clubhouse.

When The Daily Telegraph visited the pool yesterday, two female Berowra Public School teachers guarded the door as a group of boys changed clothes.

A Hornsby Shire Council spokesman said the ban protected members of the public from facing false accusations and to protect the boys from any undesirables who could be in the change rooms.

"Hornsby pool received several complaints last week from members of the public with regards to schoolboys in the male change rooms," the council spokesman said. "The boys were unsupervised and the members of the public felt very uncomfortable changing in front of the boys. "One stated that he had an untrue allegation made against him several years ago in a similar environment."

Schools teaching students to swim have been ordered to have at least two male chaperones to look after children while they change.

Some of the school students are ignoring the new rules and using the male changeroom without an adult.

"The measures were put in place to protect the male students, members of the public and staff," the council spokesman said.

Alistair Hookway said he had no problem with his son Oliver, 7, using the pool facilities, calling the new rule an over-reaction. "I can't see any problem with a young boy using the change room like any adult can under proper supervision," Mr Hookway said.

Michael Rees, who has swum at the pool since 2006, said it was a smart move. "I have no problem with the decision. The kids make a lot of noise," Mr Rees said.

Local Government Association of NSW president Cr Genia McCaffrey described the case as "unique". "It is up to the individual council to resolve this issue based on their own unique community needs and circumstances," Cr McCaffrey said.


Farmers to get a reprieve from Greenie wreckers

The Water Minister, Tony Burke, has enraged environmentalists by saying he could amend the Howard government's Water Act if it prevents him from protecting rural economies in the Murray-Darling Basin.

"I am determined to get … a healthy river, protect our food production and keep strong rural communities," Mr Burke told the Herald. "I am seeking legal advice as to whether or not I can deliver that under the current act and I am not ruling in or out what action I then take when I get the advice."

Irrigators have argued the 2007 act should be amended because it draws its constitutional power from an international environmental treaty and requires the government to give environmental concerns precedence.

The chief executive of NSW Irrigators, Andrew Gregson, said he was "very happy Mr Burke has taken this positive step". "It would never have happened under the previous minister [Penny Wong] but this minister is making all the right noises," said Mr Gregson, who attended a crisis meeting with Mr Burke last night.

Environmentalists said the government was panicking because of the fierce demonstrations in rural towns against water cuts of between 27 and 37 per cent suggested in a preliminary plan released by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

"The whole point of having an independent authority was to take the politics and the state parochialism out of the water reform process … The unfortunate outcome of the shenanigans in Griffith and the other towns seems to be that the politicians are pulling the process back in-house and that raises the real risk that politics will hijack it again," said Arlene Buchan, the healthy rivers campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Mr Burke told Parliament the government's election promise to buy back however much environmental water was recommended by the authority applied only to the final plan - after it had been amended at the direction of the minister.

"What the Prime Minister said was that we would … implement the Murray-Darling Basin Authority plan. That … is the final document that comes out at the end of next year after there has been an opportunity for ministerial intervention, to either ask them to reconsider aspects of it or specifically to demand that they change aspects of it. That is the document the Prime Minister quite rightly committed to implementing," Mr Burke said.

The opposition spokesman on the Murray-Darling Basin, Simon Birmingham, accused Mr Burke of "rewriting history", citing Senator Wong's comment during the election campaign that "this government is prepared to back the independent authority in its determination on what the rivers need".

At a Canberra water forum yesterday a leading water economist said farm groups were "grossly exaggerating" and making "false claims" about job losses and the death of rural towns.

The Australian National University economics professor Quentin Grafton said the proposed water buybacks were far less than communities had endured during the drought. They were taking place when the value of production and total employment in the basin had risen. He also said the water reform process had $9 billion to spend on infrastructure and buybacks.

The chief executive of the National Farmers' Federation, Ben Fargher, said the authority was losing the trust of communities in the basin.


Ambulance managers finally do something useful

AMBULANCE Service managers have been forced to return to the front line as the service struggles with record emergency callouts and chronic staff shortages.

An internal South Australian Ambulance Service memo obtained by The Advertiser reveals unbearable workloads are forcing staff to skip scheduled rest breaks. The memo also reveals management staff, including training and strategic planning officers, are being indefinitely returned to ambulances to attend emergency jobs.

The memo, from executive director metropolitan patient services Keith Driscoll, states a group of managers will be required to cover a total of 200 hours per week on the frontline. "We have experienced an increase in crew utilisation and some poor crib break performance in many crews late or no crib break at all on some occasions," it states. "Given the severity of some late-crib episodes, sometimes across an entire region, the decision was taken to assist with peak workload with temporary increased crewing.

"A group of metro managers have committed their time to provide approximately 200 hours of crewing per week in total." The stop-gap measure will be reviewed in January.

The SAAS annual report, tabled recently in Parliament, showed there were an extra 20,000 calls for help in the 12 months to July compared to the previous year. The report also noted an increase in non-emergency calls despite a public campaign to deter people from calling 000 unless they need immediate help.

Health Minister John Hill's office yesterday said the State Government was involved in a pay dispute with the ambulance union and deflected a request for comment to Mr Driscoll. "These managers are highly trained paramedics and intensive-care paramedics who are normally required to perform on road shifts in an ambulance to maintain their accreditation," Mr Driscoll said.

Ambulance Employees Association secretary Phil Palmer said officers could "only do one job" and diverting staff from administration to the frontline would cause a decline in the quality of performance management and long-term planning. "Clearly it needs more resources and there's a major problem going on." he said.

Doctors and ambulance officers are discussing strike action over conditions and cuts to entitlements.


How many politicians does it take to fix a lightbulb? None, they're not allowed to

POLITICIANS reckon they and their staff are quite capable of climbing a ladder to replace a blown lightbulb. But occupational health and safety requirements say that should be left to a qualified electrician.

The issue surfaced during a Senate estimates hearing when Liberal Eric Abetz told upper house colleagues he was prevented recently from changing a lightbulb in his electorate office. He was told that the rules meant an electrician had to be called.

"It is just impractical, it's stupid," Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday. "Most Australians would say if a person is not capable of changing a light globe, chances are they are not capable of running an electorate office."

Senator Abetz said he had been told changing a bulb could require climbing a ladder which was a safety risk.

Australians managed to change bulbs in their own homes every day of the week without getting electrocuted. "It's bureaucracy gone mad, it's a waste of money and the minister should intervene to stop it," he said.

Nationals senator Fiona Nash said she was quite capable of changing a lightbulb. "I would certainly be able to get up a ladder as a farm girl and change a light globe," she said.

But Labor senator Doug Cameron [a union diehard of Scottish origin] was more cautious. "I have never even thought about changing a lightbulb in my office," he said. "If someone ended up being electrocuted with a faulty wire, then you wouldn't be asking these questions."

Independent MP Bob Katter said it was a story for the times. "PJ O'Rourke said `the safety Nazis are going to get us' and they really have," he told.

Opposition frontbencher Ian Macfarlane suggested changing a lightbulb was something for which he did not necessarily seek bureaucratic confirmation. "As the old saying goes, don't seek permission, seek forgiveness," he said.

Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said he may have changed lightbulbs in his office in contravention of the rules. "I didn't realise were an enormous breach of any type of laws," he said, adding a bit of common sense had to apply.


21 October, 2010

Public hospital poisons tot with an overdose of morphine -- but not even an apology forthcoming

Lies and coverups instead. Ain't government medicine grand?

Luckily for Owen, he will never remember his near-death experience at Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital. But for his mother Rebecca Hughes it was a harrowing time she can never forget, one which has only been compounded by the reaction and inaction of health authorities.

Recovering from an operation late last year, two-year-old Owen was given an overdose of morphine so toxic that it would have been lethal for almost any other child his age. Only his well-worn experience with such drugs from repeated hospital procedures probably saved him.

However, Ms Hughes's horror at her son's treatment was made worse when a senior hospital official compared the overdose to a worker leaving their mobile phone at home. Since then she has battled hospital administrators and investigating authorities in an attempt to get answers and an apology.

"Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how they have handled it," Ms Hughes told The Courier-Mail yesterday. "There are no other words for it but disgusting."

The incident occurred in November when Owen, 18 months old at the time, was recovering in the RCH's intensive care unit from another operation. He was born with a diaphragmatic hernia, a condition that effectively allows the contents of his abdomen to move into the chest cavity.

A nurse, believed to have been a recent graduate, administered a morphine drip but it wasn't until almost eight hours later that it was discovered the dose pumping through Owen's small frame was four times that required.

Owen turned blue and stopped breathing before the potentially lethal dose of the drug was discovered. He spent a week on life support. "The only reason Owen survived is because he has a high tolerance for narcotics because of all his previous surgery," Ms Hughes said.

"If that was any other kid he wouldn't have survived, and they have admitted to that in writing." However, further admissions from the hospital have been hard to come by, or non-existent.

In a meeting with senior hospital staff shortly after the incident, RCH's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit head Tony Slater attempted to dismiss Owen's brush with death. "He said: 'It is like this Rebecca, when I leave for work in the morning I have to remember to bring my mobile phone but sometimes I forget because I am human'," Ms Hughes said. "At that stage I got up and walked out, I was disgusted."

A report on Owen's treatment was subsequently undertaken but in another meeting with hospital authorities, Ms Hughes said they admitted it was flawed. The report claimed Owen was given extra morphine because he was at risk of waking and attempting to remove his intubation tube. He did not have a tube in at the time.

Only this month Dr Slater wrote to Ms Hughes apologising for his mobile phone gaffe. But attempts to get investigating authorities, including Queensland's Health Quality Complaints Commission and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, to seek answers to her son's overdose have failed. But after going public with her case on ABC Radio yesterday, Ms Hughes received an email from AHPRA promising to investigate.

Health Minister Paul Lucas has also committed to look into Owen's treatment and apologised on behalf of Queensland Health and clinical staff. "I have indicated that I am happy to meet with her to hear her story in person and the CEO of the Children's Health Service is also available to discuss clinical issues with her."


Note that it was a graduate nurse involved. They have only a fraction of the experience and on-job training that nurses had under the old in-house system. Credentialism very nearly killed this time

Nurse tells of threats, cover-ups in Queensland public hospital emergency department

A LOGAN Hospital emergency department nurse has spoken out about the lack of patient care and staff treatment at the hospital.

In an article in The Albert & Logan News the nurse, who did not wish to be named, was working the same day Springwood mother Renee Jack was left in the Emergency Department waiting room for more than nine hours without pain medication or treatment while suffering a miscarriage.

She said the department conditions that day (Tuesday, September 28) were horrendous. "It was one of the busiest shifts I had ever worked in ED," she said. "The waiting room was absolutely horrendous. I think the reason people were standing is because a lot of them should have been in ED beds, but all the beds were taken up."

She said she could not understand why Mrs Jack had not been administered pain relief or at least given a heat pack as all nurses are authorised to do. "It's just diabolical what happens with patient care and the way staff are treated. If you speak out, you are known as a trouble maker," she said.

"We have so many stories it would curl your hair," she said. "Problems like losing patient information and making mistakes all get swept under the carpet. It's totally awful. "If you talk about it, you get threats made, so you keep your mouth shut because you have families to feed and just get on with it," she said.

Dr Michael Daly, the Acting Executive Director of Logan-Beaudesert Hospitals said in a statement that communication problems had led to complaints and patient harm, but denied any cover-up about patient care or staff conditions. "The Logan Hospital Emergency Department (ED) is the third busiest ED in the state and all staff perform their duties to a very high standard while working in an extremely demanding environment," he said. "At no stage are mistakes or errors relating to patient care or staff conditions covered up, that we are aware of.

"We acknowledge there will always be staffing issues in a workforce the size of Logan Hospital and the Logan-Beaudesert Executive's doors are always open to staff." [But what happens when they walk through that door?]


Red faces all round as Australian airports ask visitors to declare pornography

A policy which means visitors to Australia have to declare any porn at the airport gates is causing embarrassment. The policy, thought to have been implemented to keep the Christian population happy, features landing cards which demand to know if tourists or travelers are carrying any porn on their computer, camera or phone. Any undeclared images or film could result in on-the-spot fines or even deportation, reported.

According to Robbie Swan of the Australian Sex Party, one case involved a couple on their honeymoon, who declared nude pictures of themselves on their iPhone. The pair were left embarrassed after they were asked to display the photos in an immigration queue.

Now Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor has asked Customs and Border Protection to change the wording of the declaration cards.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘The previous card stated that travelers needed to disclose any “pornography” they were carrying.’ It is believed the cards will now ask if anyone is carrying any ‘illegal’ pornography.

According to Australian law, illegal pornography includes images of children and material depicting bestiality, explicit sexual violence, degradation and non-consensual sex.


Another "child protection" failure

Ward of the State prostituted

A plea for donations to help a 12-year-old girl who was prostituted while a ward of the state has received worldwide attention. Hobart lawyer Roland Browne launched the appeal yesterday so the now 13-year-old can sue the Tasmanian government.

The girl's mother and mother's partner, Gary John Devine, sold her for sex in Hobart to more than 100 men last year when she was subject to a care and protection order, making the state her guardian. Mr Browne said the girl intended to sue the state and others, including the Human Services Department secretary, for failure of care.

Tasmanian education minister Lin Thorp has already admitted the state's protection system had failed the girl.

But the case has stalled because the girl cannot afford the psychiatric and medical reports needed to prove the extent of her suffering.

Mr Browne said it could cost up to $10,000 for the expert examinations. After just one day, Mr Browne said the public appeal had received a "fantastic and wonderful response". "We've had a large number of phone calls and emails from around Australia and there's potentially one donation from overseas," Mr Browne said. "There's a couple of people who have made very big donations and one person is going to donate a percentage of all tickets sold at their musical performance over the weekend." Any excess would be secured in a trust fund for the girl, Mr Browne said.

In his report into the case - which outlined the government had systematically failed the child - outgoing Children's Commissioner Paul Mason suggested the girl wait until she was 18 before launching legal action. Yesterday, Mr Browne, who is working pro-bono, said it was an absurd idea.


Another "Green jobs" bungle hurts those who took a Green/Left government at its word

A BRISBANE war veteran has been forced to sell his service medals after almost losing his livelihood in the Federal Government's bungled Green Loans Program.

Robert Rice, who served in Afghanistan and Bougainville, received his Green Loans assessors' accreditation two days before the scheme was radically altered before finally being axed.

"The Government was crapping on about how we've got to get it sorted out, so I basically waited like all the other assessors and later on they came back and said all the Green Loans (were) gone," he told The Courier-Mail.

Mr Rice, 44, said the debacle cost him the $3000 training fee and an estimated $45,000 in lost wages because he rejected other work in anticipation of the scheme taking off. He sold his service medals to help recover some of his losses. "It was really tough," Mr Rice said.

The troubled $174.4 million rollout was shut down in July but no compensation has been provided for the thousands of assessors left out of pocket. "The way the Government handled it was absolutely disgraceful," Mr Rice said.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt has written to Climate Change Minister Greg Combet seeking "justice" for Mr Rice, saying he was a "casualty of Labor's incompetence".

"He's been forced into a fire-sale of his service medals after the Government's bungling of the Green Loans scheme," he said. "In the very week Parliament is debating the importance of the work of our soldiers in Afghanistan, the treatment of Mr Rice is just inexcusable."

The Auditor-General last month found "significant failings" in the scheme, set up to provide free energy assessments, and loans to encourage homeowners to install energy-efficient products. A Senate inquiry into the scheme is due to report next week.



Three articles below

The Gillard administration is rolling back the reforms of previous Labor governments in pursuit of its obsession with fibre

Henry Ergas

YESTERDAY, the Gillard government became the first government in decades to seek to exempt a significant industry from the competition provisions of the Trade Practices Act.

The industry is telecommunications; the exemption is for the agreements between NBN Co, Telstra and potentially other industry players. The National Broadband Network, we were told, was needed to save competition; clearly, so as to save competition, the government has decided it must be destroyed.

That it has come to this is readily understood. The NBN was never viable without Telstra's agreement. But the agreement that was struck is profoundly anti-competitive. Under that agreement, Telstra would not only sell its customers to NBN Co: it would also scrap its hybrid fibre coax network, which would otherwise have many years life ahead of it.

As the chief executive of NBN Co, Mike Quigley, recognised in giving evidence to a Senate committee, HFC networks are fully capable of competing with the fibre-optic network NBN Co proposes to deploy. Indeed, in countries as diverse as the US, Canada, Britain, France and Switzerland, it is HFC networks that have set the pace in ensuring consumers benefit from ever higher speeds at ever lower prices.

To scrap so valuable an asset, Telstra obviously requires compensation. And that compensation will be provided with taxpayers picking up the tab. Taxpayers, in other words, are being forced to pay to destroy existing, perfectly serviceable, capital and drastically limit the choices consumers are free to make. This is unprecedented in Australian economic history.

But it gets worse. For it has now been disclosed (not by NBN Co or the government, which are refusing to disclose information, but by Telstra) that the agreement also hobbles wireless competition, including by prohibiting Telstra from encouraging customers who might move to NBN Co to choose high-speed wireless services instead.

Yet both Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy and Quigley have claimed time and again that wireless is not a serious rival to the NBN. If so, why prevent it from competing as best it can? And how can it possibly be justified for the government to deprive consumers of options that are available to them, on an unimpeded basis, in virtually every country worldwide?

Those questions have not been answered. But without the exemption the government is proposing, they would have to be. This is because the act does not prohibit agreements (such as this one) that are likely to substantially reduce competition. Rather, it requires that they be authorised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

That authorisation can be obtained only if the parties demonstrate that the public benefits from the agreement outweigh its competitive harm. Moreover, the parties need to make their case in a public, transparent process, where their claims are subject to rebuttal and, crucially, where the outcome can be appealed to an independent tribunal. In contrast, under the government's legislation, the minister can effectively direct the ACCC to approve the agreement.

It follows that the exemption the government is seeking is not needed for the agreement to proceed. Rather, it is needed for the government to escape the process that would test, openly and subject to tribunal review, the public benefits the NBN is claimed to bring. The exemption has, in other words, one aim and one aim only: to avoid public scrutiny.

Ensuring that scrutiny applies every bit as much to proposals coming from governments as to those coming from the private sector was at the heart of the 1993 Hilmer report. The subsequent reforms, initiated by the Keating government under the rubric of national competition policy, set a crucial precedent: that the commonwealth government would scrupulously respect the disciplines it wanted the states and territories to accept. Plainly, if the commonwealth exempted itself, it would be only a matter of time before other jurisdictions followed; equally plainly, the result would be a return to the pervasive inefficiencies that for decades plagued our economy.

That is the precedent the government is trashing. There is no parallel to this internationally. Rather, broadband programs in the US, Canada and Europe are required to meet the full requirements of competition laws no less stringent than those in force here.

But it doesn't end there. The government has also moved to ensure the NBN will not be subject to scrutiny by the parliamentary standing committee on public works, which would otherwise review the project's progress.

So much for full disclosure. And so much, too, for the parallels to the Snowy scheme, which the Chifley government ensured was subject to extensive and effective parliamentary scrutiny, including by that very standing committee, both before it proceeded and throughout its implementation. Plainly, this is one area on which Julia Gillard does not want the light on the hill to shine.

Here, too, the government is destroying an important precedent. The requirement that significant government projects be subject to ongoing control by a parliamentary standing committee on public works goes back to the great reforms Henry Parkes introduced into the governance of NSW in 1888. In the previous decade, easy access to foreign loans had led to the abandonment of the longstanding criterion that public works be of "manifest utility". The result was pervasive waste and pork-barrelling. Parkes sought to bring a return to effective fiscal disciplines, not least through the glare of publicity.

These are precedents that are easily discarded but only painfully retrieved. That the government places great importance on the NBN is obvious. But that cannot justify undermining the immense effort successive governments have had to put into improving public decision-making. That the independents and Greens care little for rigour in public expenditure is disappointing but not surprising. That Labor, which did so much to put that framework in place, should be willing to squander years of hard work is tragic.

"Transparency and competitive neutrality, ensured by a regime of competition and consumer-protection law, are essential", Kevin Rudd wrote last year in his essay in The Monthly. Delivering on these, in his words, was integral to "social democracy's continuing philosophical claim to political legitimacy". That claim is now being tested. So far, it doesn't stack up.


Minister threatens to use law to force people onto fibre if states revolt

There is a very high likelihood that such an attempt would fail under Section 92 of the constitution

Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy says he will wield federal law as a weapon to force people on to the national broadband network (NBN) if the states and territories don't make connections mandatory.

Some consumers are opposed to the NBN because they fear the costs of their phone lines and broadband will increase.

Because of misreporting in the media, some also fear they will lose their fixed-line phone services, according to Conroy. Others are opposed to the $43 billion cost of building the network, of which up to $27 billion will be footed by taxpayers.

Conroy has said that the current copper service will be turned off as each home and business is connected to the NBN. He has reassured consumers that they will not be worse off by connecting to the NBN. But he said that, if they do not switch, then they will not have a phone line or access to ADSL broadband.

The NBN is being rolled out in Tasmania first. Connecting to the network there is optional and free initially. It is expected that there will be no cost to connect to the NBN initially when it is rolled out nationally.

But Senator Conroy has reiterated the government's intention to make it compulsory to connect to the NBN as it is being rolled out. "We are working our way through the issues with the states and ... we ultimately would consider, if we can't reach settlement, mandating it through the Federal Parliament. But we prefer to be engaged with the states," Senator Conroy said, speaking to this website at Parliament House yesterday.

He added that the federal government had not "exhausted those conversations yet". He also said that the matter of a connection being mandated was "not a new issue".

"[We've been] having a conversation with the states for over 12 months on this very issue," he said. "This is not a new issue. Malcolm Turnbull might have discovered it recently but it has actually been on the agenda. And we've actually been saying for quite some considerable time: as we disconnect the copper we'll be connecting the fibre."

Last Friday, this website reported that it would cost up to $300 to connect to the NBN if a house or business did not consent to connecting to it as it was rolled out initially. Connecting to the NBN is optional and free while it is being rolled out now in Tasmania. It is unclear if a cost will be involved in the initial roll-out in other states and territories.

Conroy confirmed yesterday that a cost would be involved later if one did not consent to connect to the network initially. "If it remains optional and people ... sell the house and someone else moves in, then it's like any other business where they say 'Hey, come and connect me to this' - then there's a connection fee to get it connected," he said.

But if the network were to be mandatory to connect to then there would be no charge at a later date. "The question of what happens if someone decides not to take it up now and then we come back to do them and it becomes mandated then I don't believe there would be a charge," he said. "But the key is to get it attached to the side of the house so the costs are reduced for everybody involved."

Speaking to the ABC's Lateline program last night Conroy said: "There's this furphy that Malcolm Turnbull and others have been spreading recently that [when the NBN is rolled out] people are going lose their fixed line, [that] they're ... not [going to] be able to make a phone call. "[But] it's as complicated as you take the little jack at the end of the cord out of one hole and you plug it in to a different hole and you keep making your phone calls."

He believed that if consumers only wanted a phone line, the costs on the NBN would be the same as they were on the current copper network, although he could not give a guarantee.

"Well the final retail prices that are being offered are ultimately the retail service providers'. But the wholesale prices that are being negotiated with Telstra and are going to become part of the business case ... will be available in a few short weeks."

He said there should be no increase in price to a person "who's sitting there, they don't have broadband, all they want to do is pick up the phone and make a phone call. So there should be no change in their circumstances."

Asked by Lateline presenter Tony Jones if he could guarantee that, Conroy said: "Well I believe that the pricing which we'll see in a few weeks will demonstrate that that is absolutely going to be the case."

Jones also raised this website's report that it would cost up to $300 to connect if one did not connect initially. Jones said to Conroy: "You might think your old fixed-line telephone is good enough and you don't think you want an NBN computer access." Senator Conroy said "some" had suggested that it could be $300, "but that has not been a final decision made".

"Now, in the case of where it becomes mandatory to make your phone call on the fibre because the copper's been disconnected, I can't imagine there's a case where you could say you should have to pay now to come and make the connection. The purpose of the roll-out is to ensure that people, if they have to make a phone call and it's only got the fibre available, I can't imagine there is any case to be made for there being that charge."

State governments will have to change trespass or property laws to ensure households are not left without fixed telephone connections, following the Tasmanian government's move to introduce legislation for property owners to opt out of the government's fibre network.

NSW and Victoria have said they have no plans to introduce opt-out laws. "NSW currently has no plans to legislate an opt-out model for the NBN and will determine a final position following discussions with other jurisdictions," said a spokesman for the NSW Commerce Minister, Paul Lynch.


Fibre laws may not pass the Senate

The government has launched its second attempt to pass legislation crucial to the construction of the national broadband network, through a bill it says will lead to lower prices and better service for consumers.

But while the opposition has revealed it is edging towards a policy that could see it support some aspects of the plan, the bill is expected to face delays in a Senate controlled by minor parties.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yesterday reintroduced legislation designed to separate Telstra into wholesale and retail arms, paving the way for the creation of the broadband network.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Breaking up the telco giant would lead to better service and more competitive prices, especially in country areas where customers have limited choice, the government says.

The government could face an uphill battle in securing support for the bill, after the opposition's communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, said the Coalition was opposed to the manner in which the government had pressured Telstra to agree to ''structural separation''.

Despite this, Mr Turnbull said there were good reasons for separating Telstra's retail and wholesale businesses, a move likely to indicate a looming change of Coalition policy on the national broadband network.

''We believe that there are strong arguments for separating the network business from the retail business but it should not be achieved by holding a gun to Telstra's head,'' Mr Turnbull said.

The bill, first introduced in September last year, is necessary for the broadband network because it allows NBN Co, owned by the government, access to Telstra's pits and ducts, saving construction costs.

The Broadband Minister, Stephen Conroy, has said the deal with Telstra could cut the network's cost by between $4 billion and $6 billion. Telstra - which this year agreed to help the government build the network in exchange for $11 billion - yesterday also called for speedy passage of the bill.

Uncertainty over the government's plans briefly dragged its share price to a record low of $2.58. If the opposition does not back the legislation, the government will need to rely on support from the Family First senator, Steve Fielding.

Senator Fielding was previously undecided on the bill, and a spokesman said the senator would meet the government and opposition next week before making up his mind.

In arguing its case for the changes, the government claims the bill will also strengthen industry competition by breaking Telstra's dominance in the wholesale market.

Instead of the current arrangement under which Telstra charges its competitors for access to its national network, the government-owned NBN Co would act as a monopoly telecommunications provider, charging all retailers the same rate.


20 October, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is critical of Sydney's Lord Mayor for focusing on arty-farty projects rather than working to alleviate traffic congestion

Four years in jail without trial!

Soviet NSW. Justice delayed is justice denied

A MAN accused over a multi-million dollar cocaine syndicate will finally stand trial almost four years after he was charged, a Supreme Court judge today resoundingly criticising the delays in his case as "significant" and "oppressive".

Justice Stephen Rothman today refused bail for Luke John Sparos, but said there were a number of "troubling" aspects to his decision. One was the delay, he said, and leant his judicial weight to comments by a local court magistrate Geoff Bradd that the case led by the NSW Crime Commission had long been in disarray.

He endorsed the comments made by Magistrate Bradd, who accused the DPP and the Crime Commission of trying to "have it both ways." "(Magistrate Bradd said) you either prosecute this matter or you don’t - to say this is a fishing expedition … well it is just beyond the pale."

Had it not been for the seriousness of the charges and the risk of flight if given his freedom, Justice Rothman said bail would likely have been granted.

"Fatboy" Sparos was allegedly one of two principals to an international cocaine cartel responsible for the importation of around 200kg of cocaine. He was charged in early 2007 with offences relating to alleged proceeds of crime funds, but later charged along with a number of others with a long-running conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of cocaine in July of that year.

Justice Rothman described the Crown case as being strong, but said unacceptable that Sparos had been unable to adequately prepare for his trial due to his lengthy and restrictive situation in custody.

The court even heard how some of the brief provided to Sparos in custody had been "lost" as Department of Corrective Services officials moved him around the prison system.

"It’s inappropriate for a person to be unduly delayed on remand while the Crown get’s its act together," Justice Rothman said. "Of course not all time spent is a delay … but in this case there (have been) significant delays."

Justice Rothman directed the Crown and Corrective Services "to take all steps" necessary to provide Sparos or his legal team with the documents that were originally in his possession.

The District Court registry had notified the Crown prosecutor that Sparos’ trial could begin by the end of February.


ALP suspends NSW upper house president Amanda Fazio over censorship row

Good for her!

NSW upper house president Amanda Fazio has been suspended from the Labor Party for crossing the floor last night over censorship legislation.

The Australian today exclusively revealed Ms Fazio's objections to a new bill that will give police the quasi power to classify material in adult shops as x-rated, and prosecute retailers on that basis.

Ms Fazio, a leading member of the NSW Right but a long-time supporter of libertarian causes, said the legislation was a “joke” and police should spend their time solving crimes with victims.

A senior NSW Labor source said this morning the rules on breaking ranks with caucus were “crystal clear” and Ms Fazio's party membership would be “in limbo” while a party disputes committee deals with the matter.

Caucus convenor Robert Coombs is expected to issue a statement shortly.


The moronic NSW Labor government again

They just won't listen to advice. In typical Leftist fashion, they think they know it all

CAR insurance premiums are set to rise by up to $100 a year because of a bungling attempt by the State Government to crack down on car rebirthing. Cars previously classified as "repairable write-offs" will be prevented from being re-registered in NSW.

Insurance sources said the losses would result in premiums rising between $50 and $100 a year, while car thieves could simply take the cars to other states.

Previously, insurance companies had paid out owners when the cost of repairing a damaged vehicle was more than it was insured for. The insurer would sell the damaged car and, after repairs, a new owner could apply to the RTA for registration. But the Government said thieves were buying "repairable write-offs" at auction and using stolen parts to rebirth and register the vehicles.

Roads Minister David Borger admitted last night he was told by insurers that premiums could rise by 3 per cent. For a Parramatta driver with a Toyota Corolla the increase would be almost $35 a year.

"A measure like this, which is in isolation to other measures and what is happening in other states, is going to be totally ineffective," a spokesman for Allianz said yesterday. "It will only put upward pressure on insurance premiums. Customers are going to be paying more for no benefit."

The NRMA yesterday told the Government its legislation, before Parliament this week, would "have serious adverse impacts for consumers".

Opposition Roads spokesman Andrew Stoner said insurance customers should not be fleeced to pay for a bungled attempt at cracking down on thieves.


Results from school-building "stimulus" vary wildly in two nearby Qld. schools

THEY are both in the same electorate, both have about the same number of students and both have been given $3 million to spend under the Building the Education Revolution.

But the startling difference between what Mount Crosby and Moggill state schools can afford to build under BER has sparked further outrage over the controversial program, which continues to be dogged by claims of wastage.

At Mount Crosby State School, the centre of one of 21 complaints lodged in Queensland against BER, $3 million is not enough to put four walls around an 831sq m hall and to add a 273sq m library and resource centre to the school's existing 111sq m library.

But Moggill State School, which fought to have its own project manager and won, is building a hall of almost 1500sq m and a library and 458sq m resource centre for the same price.

Alarmed by the differences, Moggill State School P&C Association president Scott Meehan says schools that are still to build under BER should be allowed to choose their own project manager, with the rush to roll out the stimulus program no longer needed because the economy had improved.

"DETA (the Department of Education and Training) is administering our project and Mount Crosby – they know what sort of value for money we got for ours," he said. "How could they be comfortable with the value for money that Mount Crosby is getting?" He said Moggill had ended up expanding its hall by another 200sq m when the P&C realised they had change left from the $3 million.

Opposition education spokesman Bruce Flegg said the comparison between Moggill and Mount Crosby showed taxpayers were footing an enormous bill for inadequate facilities at some schools.

He said all schools should be able to choose their own project and construction managers. "This is one of the most outrageous examples of children's education being robbed by incompetent money-wasting administration that has failed to build what some of these very big schools so desperately needed and provided them with facilities which are clearly not able to meet their needs," Dr Flegg said.

But Education Queensland acting deputy director-general Graham Atkins says it is "unfair" to compare BER projects. "No two BER building projects are the same, each requiring a suite of works that must be viewed in the context of the site requirements, input from the community and other factors," Mr Atkins said.

"The site at Mount Crosby State School has required landfill, retaining walls, piered footings and extensive site services due to the site being less accessible and sloping, whereas the Moggill State School site is very flat."

He said it was the school's decision to build a partially enclosed hall rather than a smaller one. "Value for money has been confirmed by an independent audit quantity surveyor at both Moggill State School and Mount Crosby State School," Mr Atkins said.

The discrepancy comes as Queensland's rollout of BER is set to come under renewed scrutiny with the release of finalised investigations over the next month into complaints about value for money.

A recent federal investigation found $1 billion had been wasted in the rush to roll out the recession-busting school program across the country.


Qld. police undermine attempted political coverup

POLICE have apologised for failing to respond to a family's panicked triple zero call despite the Police Minister's claim their story was "total rubbish".

Dennis Trovas and his partner Kylie rang 000 on Saturday night after a confrontation in their front yard at Morningside with a gang of up to 30 aggressive and drunken youths. It was the third time the couple, who have three young sons, had been troubled by the gang but the first time they had called 000.

When no one arrived to deal with their complaint, they called police again and were told to follow up the matter at their local station on Monday morning.

Although police told The Courier-Mail a crew was sent, they said it had been diverted to another job believed to involve the same youths and the officers never responded to that particular call.

When questioned about the incident on radio yesterday, Police Minister Neil Roberts said it was "total rubbish" that a police crew did not respond and claimed officers had gone to Mr Trovas's address after his second phone call at midnight but there was no answer. Meanwhile Mr Trovas said he and Kylie waited up until 1.30am and nobody came.

Yesterday, Kylie said they were disappointed to hear Mr Roberts' account of their experience on radio. "I contacted his office after that, and gave him the correct information," she said.

A senior officer from Morningside then rang the family yesterday afternoon and apologised, said Kylie. "He was very nice and we had a big chat. It seems like it was a mix up in communications from the 000 centre," she said.

However a Policelink employee who contacted The Courier-Mail said police simply did not have the resources to respond to the callout. "It's an out and out case of not having the numbers. It happens every Friday and Saturday night," he said.


19 October, 2010

Gillard softens immigration detention policy

JULIA Gillard has dramatically altered the government's policy on asylum-seekers, opening two more detention centres to house 2000 would-be refugees.

The PM has bowed to pressure to release children and their families into the community.

As Australia's detention centre network nears breaking point, with more than 5200 asylum-seekers and crew currently under guard, the Prime Minister yesterday announced plans for new centres in Northam, northeast of Perth, and Inverbrackie, in the Adelaide Hills.

Ms Gillard denied the plans indicated the government had ditched its regional approach to processing asylum-seekers. She said the new centres represented a short-term solution and would allow the closure of temporary detention housing currently being used, including tents and motels.

The decision to release children and their families into communities - effectively subcontracting their day-to-day care to church groups and non-government organisations - was welcomed by the Greens and refugee advocacy groups, who had fought a vigorous campaign to have minors released from detention. The changes will be rolled out over the next eight months.

The new detention centre at Northam will house about 1500 men, while the Inverbrackie facility will be used for about 400 members of family groups. The Northam centre will cost $164.5 million and Inverbrackie $9.7m. Some of this funding has already been provided in the budget and the July economic statement. The government said the new funding of $54.9m would be offset by cuts to follow in other areas.

Ms Gillard said the government was also prepared to use the 11 Mile Antenna Farm outside Darwin and further expand the Melbourne immigration transit accommodation if numbers of unauthorised arrivals continued to swell.

The Rudd government's decision in March to freeze new Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims for six and three months respectively and a fall in the proportion of applicants accepted as refugees have led to serious bottlenecks in the detention system. Ms Gillard said the new centres would lead to the closure of inappropriate detention housing, including on Christmas Island and the use of tents. "I don't think it's the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire in the hope that will be a deterrent," she said.

The Prime Minister said the government would continue to pursue a regional solution to the rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Australia. "But in the short term, these measures will give the Department of Immigration a chance to decommission inappropriate accommodation," Ms Gillard said, highlighting the use of temporary tents as accommodation on Christmas Island and motels.

It is not clear exactly how many asylum-seekers will be housed in the community, but with 738 minors in detention - about half of whom arrived as part of a family group - the number is likely to exceed 1000 by June next year.

Church and non-government organisations will be expected to provide accommodation for those under their care, as well as basic services that will include ensuring children are able to attend school.

Asylum-seekers will be subject to reporting requirements to ensure they do not abscond. They will be eligible for a Centrelink payment, under the asylum-seeker assistance scheme, to cover day-to-day living expenses. Government sources told The Australian similar schemes had been trialled with very low absconding rates.

The Prime Minister denied the government's backdown on children in detention was in response to negotiations with the Greens.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would cost about the same amount to have children and families housed in the community as in detention centres. Refugee advocate Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said yesterday's changes were "long overdue". She said immigration detention put more stress on asylum-seekers, particularly children. "The parents are doing their best to maintain an air of normality, against the odds," Ms Curr said. "(But) if you've got a guard walking into the bedroom, counting the heads of your children, it's very hard to pretend this is normal."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said more beds would not stop more boats, and condemned the decision to open more centres.

When asked about the Coalition's position on releasing children from detention centres, Mr Morrison said that if the Coalition were in power, they would all be housed in Nauru.

He said he believed Labor was preparing to overuse the provisions in the Migration Act with its changes. "These provisions were intended to deal with exceptional cases," he said. "They will now be used for a broad-scale exodus for hundreds of adults as well as minors from detention places."

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the decision to remove children and unaccompanied minors and some family members from immigration detention was "testament to the long public campaign by the Greens, key NGOs and concerned members of the community". But she expressed concern that their removal from detention was entirely up to a minister's discretion, and that it would take too long to release the children.

"No new detention centres should be built until there is a legislated time limit placed on the holding of asylum-seekers in detention," she said.


Muslim woman removes niqab for Perth fraud trial -- after men ejected from court

A MUSLIM woman who sparked a national debate when she asked if she could give evidence in a Perth court wearing a niqab, has uncovered her face to give evidence in a fraud trial. Tasneem, whose last name has been suppressed by the Perth District Court, gave evidence for just 15 minutes on Monday in the trial of Anwar Sayed.

Sayed is accused of falsifying student numbers at the Muslim Ladies College of Australia in Kenwick, in Perth's south, to fraudulently obtain part of $1.125 million the school received in state and federal government grants.

The 50-year-old, from nearby Canningvale, is the director of Muslim Link Australia, which runs the school.

He allegedly knowingly signed a declaration that in the 2006/07 census year, more than 180 students were enrolled in the school when there were 80 to 100 fewer than that. The school received about $164,000 from the state government and about $961,000 from the federal government.

Tasneem, 36, has worn a niqab since the age of 17 and wanted to wear it while giving evidence in the trial.

But Judge Shauna Deane in August ruled she must remove the niqab so that the jury could read her facial expressions.

Tasneem only removes the niqab when she visits the doctor and dentist, at customs in airports and when she has her driver's licence photograph taken.

Otherwise, the only males to see her without it are her husband, children and blood relatives.

Judge Deane on Friday ruled that to make it easier for Tasneem to give evidence comfortably, men would be removed from the court. The only men allowed in the courtroom while she gave her evidence were male jurors, the judge's usher, Sayed and the lawyers.

While female journalists were allowed to stay in the court to report on Tasneem's evidence, male journalists were ejected.

A lawyer representing Network Ten and the Seven and Nine networks made an application on Friday to alter the order so that male journalists could remain in court, but the application was rejected.

Giving evidence via video link on Monday, Tasneem appeared comfortable, flanked by a security person and a support person, both of whom were female.

During her brief evidence she explained that she worked at the school as an Islamic studies teacher for two hours a day, five days a week.

Tasneem said that "from time to time" some students would go overseas on holiday or to visit family, mostly in Afghanistan, so it was possible they were enrolled at the school, but did not attend for long periods of time.


Bureaucracy burns down a house

The bureaucrats concerned could benefit from a bullet in the head

NSW Fire Brigade officers had to sit in their station and do nothing as a house burned down just 10 minutes away because of a farcical rule.

As the house burned at Port Macquarie on September 11, the NSWFB members, who were ready to respond, were grounded by their superiors as the home was in the jurisdiction of the Rural Fire Service.

But it took the local North Shore rural brigade more than 15 minutes to arrive and another 30 minutes for support units to arrive from Lake Cathie, Pembroke and Telegraph Point. In the meantime, the fire had gutted the Riverside Drive house.

The Daily Telegraph has been told archaic laws had kept the urban firefighters inside their station.

Ashley Grady and her mum Susan lost everything in the blaze. Ashley, 19, said yesterday she could not understand why firefighters would not be sent if they were available. "Yes I have heard about what happened. It's disappointing," she said.

A NSWFB spokeswoman said "in line with agreed protocols, the RFS was notified of the call, because the house was located in an RFS fire district". But she said "additional resources can be provided by either agency upon request".


Queensland police communications centre can't cope with calls

There's lots of cops driving desks. How about putting some of them on the phone?

CALLS for help to Queensland police are going unanswered because the state's main communications centre is understaffed. Frustrated operators say dozens of callers each day are forced to wait in long queues or fail to get through to the QPS call centre in Brisbane because overstretched operators cannot cope with surging demand.

The delays affect callers reporting incidents ranging from burglaries and noise complaints to car crashes.

Queensland police yesterday admitted the situation was "not ideal", but said life-threatening triple-0 calls were still being answered promptly. [Not always]

Figures provided by the QPS show the Police Communications Centre handled more than 1100 calls a day last year, including 480 to the triple-0 number. The statistics represent a 50 per cent increase on 2005, yet staffing levels have not kept up, improving just 20 per cent in the same period. The Courier-Mail has learnt the PCC regularly operates with a staff of just 12 officers and radio operators – six fewer than the agreed minimum staffing level.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said delays in answering calls could "cost lives". "It is critical that the safety of the public is put first when staffing levels for communication centres are determined," he said.

On a busy shift, call takers can handle more than 160 calls each. At the request of Inspector Paul Fogg, the QPS recently installed a massage chair in the centre's meal room.

But frustrated officers said it was simply impossible to answer all calls with many going unanswered or waiting up to half an hour in phone queues. "At one point on New Year's Eve, we had 20 triple-0 calls in a queue. We weren't able to answer any of them on the first presentation," an officer said.

"One caller waited 28 minutes to be answered (on the normal line). Most people wouldn't have the patience, but this was from a police officer who wanted to see how long it would take."

A QPS spokesman said triple-0 calls were given priority by the PCC which meant there could be "some delay in answering non-urgent calls". "On average, 90 per cent of triple-0 calls are answered within nine seconds of being presented to the PCC," he said.


More on 000 calls

A Morningside family bore the brunt of staff shortages at the weekend when an emergency call to police about a confrontation with a group of drunken teenagers in their yard failed to raise a response.

Dennis Trovas said his three young children were asleep inside his home on Saturday night when his fiancee called triple-0, fearing the youths outside were about to bash him.

"My fiancee was pretty much terrified at the time and I'd assumed we'd get a quick response," he said. "When no one arrived she rang Morningside station and was put through to Mount Gravatt. "They told us to go to Morningside station on Monday morning and make a complaint then."

A Queensland Police Service spokeswoman said police had responded to the call but were diverted to another incident.

A supervisor from Morningside station contacted Mr Trovas yesterday to address his concerns about the lack of a police response, a police spokeswoman said.

"In an effort to prevent further incidents, local police will endeavour to conduct patrols around these streets for people causing incidents," the spokeswoman said.

In a separate incident, a man from Cairns in far north Queensland, who did not want to be named, said he and his wife waited 40 minutes for police after calling triple-0 during a terrifying home disturbance – despite living only 500m from the Smithfield Police Station.

The Courier-Mail revealed earlier this year that police were taking an average of 37 minutes to begin driving to crimes across Queensland.


18 October, 2010

Airlie beach abuse sounds the alarm over a rotten Queensland police culture

The violence dealt out by former officer Benjamin Price points to a grand-scale breakdown within our police force: "They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick"

All Queensland police would have been shamed, embarrassed, humiliated and angered by videos showing former officer Benjamin Price strong-arming tiny Renee Toms and water-torturing Timothy Steele. Along with most ofthe 172,000 people who had watched the events on YouTube (as of Friday morning) they would have thought it was one of the lowest, most cowardly and disgusting displays of sadistic power-tripping they had seen.

Well, not of all of them, because the videos seemed to suggest that it was nothing much out of the ordinary at Airlie Beach police station, where officers are seen walking around the violence like you and I might step around a floor cleaner. It was very much business as usual, with a little bit of professional courtesy thrown in as one officer was seen handing Price the fire hose. There didn’t even seem to be the slightest bit of concern - let alone criminal cunning - over the fact that unsavoury events were being captured by video cameras, which they must have known about. They showed no more caution than a bunch of druggies raiding a servo with a stick.

This is the real problem for the Queensland Police Service as it deals with the backwash of a series of appalling events. That one policeman abused his authority is sad but no great surprise. But the fact that of nine police oticers on the periphery of the events that led to Price’s jailing only one, Constable Bree Sonter, did her duty as an officer and human being is shocking.

Five have quit and three are under investigation. Only Sonter has emerged with any credit, although her future in the force might not be a happy one. Throw in Price, and a failure rate of nine out of l0 is not too flash in any circumstance.

Airlie Beach is not exactly Gotham City, so this represents a failure of discipline, purpose, professionalism, process and moral courage on a grand scale. The force is justly proud of the fact that about a quarter of all complaints against officers are now made by police themselves but that cannot alter the fact that more than 50 per cent of those assigned to Airlie Beach were derelict in their duty.

If you subscribe to the rotten apple theory of policing, this barrel was pretty putrid, leaving a smell that has got right up the noses of most Queenslanders. It's not a question of police bashing. lt’s a question of squandered resources and squandered trust.

Think about it. One rogue cops gets off on brutalising people and, because of sins of omission, we lose five other trained officers and have three more under a very dark cloud. One rogue cop goes ape and all the good deeds, good policing and good reputations of thousands of others are trashed. And probably a million bucks is blown on compo for Price’s victims.

Attorney-General Cameron Dick says he is considering an appeal against the leniency of Price’s sentence because of the community outrage over the security camera footage.

They could throw away the key for all I care, but that’s not really the point. The point is that after an individual meltdown there was a collective breakdown in professionalism and process in a force that has more brass than a South American army, more regions than we have states, more districts than a red-headed kid has freckles, more inspectors and sergeants than there are bouncers at a Valley pub and more cops per capita driving desks than any other force in Australia.

Yet, it still seems to go off course with monotonous regularity, We need to know more, including just what happened to the mid-rampage reports of serious misconduct allegedly made about Price by his station oflicer.

ln a hierarchical institution, authority goes downward and responsibility goes upward. Sometimes, responsibility seems to hit a very low ceiling.

The article above by Terry Sweetman appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 17 October, 2010

We simply can't give everyone a great education

THE Prime Minister is trying to push more children into a devalued tertiary system.

FOR the past three years Julia Gillard has told us that education is her great passion. The other day, on her first overseas trip, she told us that she "came into politics predominantly to make a difference to opportunity questions, particularly make a difference in education. So, yes, if I had a choice I'd probably more be in a school watching kids learn to read in Australia than here in Brussels at international meetings."

It's arguable that someone in authority needs to check on primary schools' methods of teaching children to read, for fear that instructors still wedded to the discredited "whole word" approach are condemning thousands more youngsters to functional illiteracy.

Should busy federal ministers spend any of their time in classrooms, distracting students and teachers alike from the business at hand?

I don't think so and most teachers I know agree. Politicians' visits to schools are usually stunts for the benefit of the media, unless they're done without fanfare, like Tony Abbott's stints as a teacher's aide and a truancy officer in Aboriginal settlements on Cape York. What Gillard was saying in Brussels tells us nothing about her professed passion for education. She was just trying to reassure us with a folksy word-picture that she's still a grassroots politician and hasn't grown too big for her boots.

Her maiden speech is more enlightening. The theme is inequality in education. "High achievers are those talented young people who come in the top 7.5 per cent of results in their Year 12 marks. Last year one very good but very exclusive ladies college in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne alone had 111 high achievers in the pivotal subject of English.

"The 40 working-class secondary schools north and west of the Yarra, including the schools in my electorate, managed only 84 between them. The students from my electorate are not any less intelligent than those from Higgins and Kooyong but their educational opportunities are not the same. Certainly this massive discrepancy would be lessened if we as a nation were prepared to seriously tackle the inequality of opportunity that exists in our education system and create a high class state school system."

Admittedly the speech was made in 1998, when she was still a Fabian and Jeff Kennett was in power. Some axe-grinding would have been expected of the new member for Lalor.

But I don't think it's anachronistic to note that, for someone interested in education, she was strangely silent on how the state system might have been improved. She had nothing to say about the urgent need for some selective schools in Melbourne's western suburbs, nor about raising the standard of teachers' professional attainments. She said nothing about rewarding the best teachers and encouraging them to stay in the classroom, let alone the contentious issue of giving principals more authority to determine which teachers taught what in their schools.

When did Gillard change her tune on the educational reforms that now enjoy a fair degree of bipartisan support? My guess is that it happened in the wake of Mark Latham's policy work on education and his denunciations of the teachers unions, both of which were warmly received in middle Australia.

But it's hard to be sure because she hasn't left much of a paper trail. I can't think of any other prime minister or Labor leader who has written so little and so pointedly declined to participate in the battle of ideas. (Paul Keating may not have been especially literate but he had considered views on policy and had the sense to employ Don Watson as his speechwriter.)

Apart from the boilerplate rhetoric of opinion pieces and the occasional speech, which are obligatory for federal frontbenchers - and presumably written by staff - Gillard is a cipher. You could almost say she's risen without trace.

Although she has spoken often in recent months about "the transformative power of education" in her life and as a result her determination that "every child should have a great education", the phrases raise more questions than they answer. For example, does she see education as something of intrinsic value or as social justice on stilts, simply a means to a political end? In her own case, a combined arts-law degree meant that a working-class Welsh girl got a job practising industrial law at Slater and Gordon, then became a political staff member before finally getting preselection and clambering up the greasy pole.

For an educated person, it has been a decidedly one-dimensional transformation. She's a self-confessed bogan: a philistine who doesn't participate in any aspect of high culture and whose reading tastes are, at best, middlebrow.

In March she told The Australian Literary Review her most recently read nonfiction work was Drew Westen's The Political Brain and her favourite was Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree. I guess the bookshelves in her Altona home were almost as bare as the fruit bowl.

On the question of what every child is entitled to, common sense must tell her that no country can afford a great education - as opposed to an adequate one - for all of its children and that it would be wasted on many of them anyway.

To pretend otherwise is to pander to people's fantasies about their children's futures and to class envy about how their own lives might have been had they had more equal opportunity in their younger days.

It's all of a piece with her policy of bending the rules to push an ever-increasing percentage of people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, into tertiary education.

Most sensible people understand that until relatively recently, degrees were designed for a small percentage of the population who were particularly gifted. The currency of higher education is already debased and the strategies proposed by the Bradley report, which Gillard commissioned, will only make matters worse.

It was interesting to see John Dawkins's intervention this week. He chairs the Australian Qualifications Framework Council and as a former minister for education was credited with a fair amount of currency-debasing in his time.

On Wednesday, Dawkins accused the Group of Eight sandstone universities of trying to re-weight the value of degrees: "They want to not only corrupt the title of doctor, they also seek to corrupt the title of masters and bachelors."

On Friday the Council of Education Ministers was told Gillard's national curriculum was generally reckoned to be overcrowded, incoherently designed and lacking depth. Feedback from the NSW Board of Studies and the state's teaching associations for science, maths, English and history concentrated on its dumbing-down effect. They say the draft version sets lower standards than those in place in NSW and that it shouldn't go ahead in its present form.


More problems for justice in Victoria

Corruption, leaks, coverups and dissension among the prosecutors

SENIOR Office of Public Prosecutions staff are bracing for more strife despite the issuing of a public peace pact.

OPP sources have told the Sunday Herald Sun problems inside the organisation are far from over.

And staff warned they feared a witch-hunt had begun inside the organisation to find leakers after crisis talks between Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke, QC, his deputy, Chief Crown Prosecutor Gavin Silbert, SC, and Solicitor for Public Prosecutions Craig Hyland.

The talks were sparked by this newspaper's exposure of deep rifts within the OPP over the appointment of Diana Karamicov and two other solicitors to the positions of associate crown prosecutors.

Last week it was revealed Mr Silbert had written to Mr Rapke warning him that his reputation with OPP solicitors, crown prosecutors, the bar and the judiciary had been damaged by his relationship with Ms Karamicov.

Mr Rapke denied last week that he had had a sexual or an improper relationship with the 31-year-old lawyer.

The State Government's failure to order an inquiry into the OPP crisis was set to revive moves within the organisation to pass a motion of "no confidence" in Mr Rapke. An earlier move by OPP solicitors in July to pass such a motion was dropped. "They are still furious - this statement will solve nothing - the solicitors have lost confidence in him," one OPP lawyer said. "If there was a properly constituted inquiry where people could give evidence under oath, he would be gone."

In Friday's statement, Mr Rapke, Mr Silbert and Mr Hyland said they were "committed to continuing to work together".

In other developments:

A LAND title transfer document showed Mr Rapke had witnessed the deed of transfer when Ms Karamicov bought her former husband out of their former matrimonial home in 2008. OPP sources confirmed it was Mr Rapke's signature;

THE OPP offices in Lonsdale St were swept for bugs, according to an OPP insider; and,

ATTORNEY-General Rob Hulls refused on Friday to say he had confidence Mr Rapke was telling the truth when he said he had not had an improper relationship with Ms Karamicov.

Mr Silbert is believed to have promised during talks he would not reveal what occurred during the negotiations over Friday's statement.

Yesterday he refused to make any comment as shadow attorney-general Robert Clark reiterated his call for an independent inquiry. "Rob Hulls shows every indication of having sought to cover up the festering problems within the OP. He has been warned about these problems for months, but has had his head in the sand," Mr Clark said.

Mr Hulls, in a statement from his adviser Meaghan Shaw, said he had full confidence in the DPP. "Victorians have a high-calibre, hard-working, innovative prosecutorial service and I am pleased that the leadership of this service is committed to continuing to work together in the best interests of all Victorians," he said.

"As the three key prosecution leaders have said, staff, who are all appropriately qualified, work very hard under increasing pressure and as a government we will continue to support their work."


Disastrous speed cameras in Victoria

PREMIER John Brumby said legal action could be taken against the company contracted to maintain faulty speed cameras. It comes as Victoria Police confirmed this morning they had switched off all point-to-point speed cameras along the Hume Highway due to a technical glitch.

“Victoria Police and the Department are examining legal action against the company. There’s a contract, the system is meant to work 100 per cent of the time,” Mr Brumby said.” “Although it’s a very small number of faults, legal action is being examined.”

Prominent barrister David Galbally QC said there should be no questions about issuing refunds to the 68,000 motorists fined by the cameras. "If 68,000 people have been fined and there is a doubt as to the accuracy of the speed cameras from point to point then refund the money. There shouldn’t even be an argument,’’ Mr Galbally told 3AW.

"It is high time government and government authorities took responsibility for their actions. They ask the community and individuals to do so, they should do so." Mr Galbally urged motorists who had been fined by the cameras to take their matters to court.

The embarrassing bungle has seen Victoria Police take unlawful action against drivers on at least nine occasions. On one occasion, a 20-year-old woman who was found to be driving at the legal 110km/h limit was clocked doing 150km/h.

Melissa, of Wallan, said she was served with an impoundment notice after being caught doing 154km-h in the 110km-h zone in her Mazda 2. "I was pretty upset. It was impossible for me to go that fast. I drive that road nearly six times a week and it’s just impossible for me to have been going that fast," she told 3AW.

The P-plater, who faced a 12-month license suspension, said she convinced a local police officer she was telling the truth, sparking the investigation that discovered the faulty cameras. "I kept saying I didn’t do it … I was quite emotional and felt a bit embarrassed at the time,’’ she said. "I’m really thankful for the police force who helped. If it wasn’t for them I’d be losing my license still and going to court to fight it. They’re the ones who initiated the investigation and they’ve done a great job.’’

Authorities have gone into overdrive since the fault was discovered on Friday to fix the cameras. Victoria Police , the Department of Justice and private contractors Redflex, who provide and maintain the cameras, are investigating the fault.

Two of the matters have now been withdrawn, and Victoria Police will be urgently contacting the remaining seven people to ensure the penalties are reversed and any fines paid are refunded. The cameras are expected to be fixed this week.

But Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay said the cameras would not be turned on until stringent tests had been conducted to ensure their accuracy. "I am incredibly disappointed that this has happened. As soon as the problem was identified we immediately suspended use of the point-to-point cameras and I will not be reinstating them until I am personally convinced that the fault has been 100 per cent eradicated and that measures have been put in place to ensure that this can never happen again," he said.

"Statistically, these faults have been extremely rare - nine out of approximately 68,000 penalties issued since January 2008. But that is nine too many. People must have confidence in the road safety camera system. We can not afford for that confidence to be eroded by errors such as these."

The problem was identified after police served a notice to surrender to a driver who had been photographed on 24th September this year. The driver protested against the notice and this prompted further investigation by the police members. The investigations showed that the clock on the one camera was out of synch with a second camera. This is the first time this fault has been detected.


17 October, 2010

Inexcusable failure to prosecute accomplices of thug Queensland cop

There is plenty of precedent for the prosecution of all cops present at the attacks -- e.g. R v Dytham [1979] Q.B. 722

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission has been urged to re-investigate the Airlie Beach police bashings following the release of disturbing video footage of assaults by jailed former officer Benjamin Price.

The videos show other officers watching and in one case assisting Price during his assaults on handcuffed offenders, but the police service has said there is not enough evidence to charge them.

In a letter sent to the CMC, Queensland Council of Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said there were indications the police handling of the case had been "less than rigorous". "It is submitted there are a number of unaddressed issues in relation to the Airlie Beach matter, which bear an unfortunate similarity to the steps engaged in by various police in relation to the cover-up of the Palm Island affair," the letter reads.

Mr O'Gorman said there were "unsatisfactory aspects" to the Price case that warranted a thorough investigation.

"Why have criminal charges not been laid against the other officers who were present when a fire hose was shoved down the complainant's throat?" Mr O'Gorman said. "Why was Mr Price charged with the lesser offence of assault occasioning bodily harm when on the facts publicly known a charge of torture was clearly open?"

He said other senior criminal lawyers were of the opinion that under the law, the other officers who were present during the assaults could be charged. "Presence in something like that is regarded as encouragement," Mr O'Gorman said. "Secondly, the bloke who hands the police officer the hose is an alleged accomplice. That's criminal law 101."

A CMC spokeswoman said the investigation into officers who observed the assaults was "ongoing". "The CMC will be provided with a report from the QPS Ethical Standards Command. This report will outline the action the ESC is recommending against the officers," she said.

The videos posted by Queensland Police on YouTube have now been viewed by almost 200,000 people and have also been uploaded to other websites in India, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Mr O'Gorman also criticised the "doctoring" of the footage including the lack of audio, but the CMC spokeswoman said the release of the video was a matter for the QPS.


For more background on the above, see my Queensland cops blog

New call to tax junk food

No evidence quoted to show that the proposed taxes will have any effect on obesity. You know why? Because there IS NO such evidence -- none that I have seen after years of reading in the literature anyway. If you tax a particular food, it is basic economics that people will switch their preferences to other foods. People will just get the calories they want elsewhere. And a tax on salty food would be a real laugh. Are they going to confiscate all salt-shakers as well?

The article below makes vague reference to a study of salty foods that supports their case so I looked up the MJA to get the exact reference but the latest issue does not contain the article referenced. Maybe it has not yet been put online. I'm betting that the "study" concerned was either a simulation or the usual epidemiological crap -- such as this. Only a double blind study would settle the matter

More public health experts have joined the call for a tax on junk food, saying the existing focus on "individual behaviour change" will do little to curb surging rates of obesity. Ms Holly Bond, PhD candidate at the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, said more than 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in four children were now either overweight or obese.

Obesity had overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness, and yet government had so far resisted calls to adopt the same approach it championed for tobacco and alcohol. "Junk foods have the same pattern of misuse and the same social costs as tobacco and alcohol," said Ms Bond, from Monash University. "... We propose that a tax on junk food be implemented as a tool to reduce consumption and address the obesity epidemic."

Ms Bond said while many foods were high in sugar, salt and fat the tax could be applied to the "worst foods" in this category, those which had "little to no nutritional value such as potato chips, confectionary and soft drinks".

In an paper published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, she points to US research which found a 10 per cent increase in soft drink prices would reduce consumption by 8 - 10 per cent. Another study found a 10 per cent increase in the price of salty snacks could reduce a typical American’s body weight by up to half a kilogram per year, and generate $1 billion. [So salt makes you fat???] It also found a 10 per cent reduction in fruit and vegetable prices, subsidised using junk food tax revenue, would increase their purchase by 7 and 5.8 per cent respectively.

"Unsurprisingly, the US soda industry, which claims that such taxes would ‘hurt hard working, low and middle income families, elderly residents and those living on fixed incomes‘ would destroy jobs," Ms Bond said. "Arguments of this sort were raised by the tobacco industry when tobacco taxation was first proposed."

Ms Bond said the companies involved in the sale of junk food had a responsibility to their shareholders first and so would "resist any change" that could hurt profits even those "for the greater public good".

She said the Henry tax review emphasised the importance of tobacco taxes in reducing smoking (but it ruled out a junk food tax) while a recent National Preventative and Health Taskforce report did recommend a review of tax policy to encourage healthier eating. "The government will more likely continue to construct obesity as a problem of individual behaviour change rather than one requiring comprehensive interventions," Ms Bond said. "This approach aligns with industry objectives and ... the results will probably be the softest forms of regulation, such as voluntary targets."

Imposing a 10 per cent tax on all junk food was also a central plank of the ACE-Prevention report, released last month and backed by the Public Health Association of Australia.


Innocent people jailed -- but no justice for them

Most acquitted people can't afford to sue

THE only thing stopping hundreds of people who are denied bail and later acquitted of charges each year from suing the government is that they can't afford it, shadow attorney-general Greg Smith says. About one-quarter, or 2600, of NSW prisoners are on remand [i.e. locked up without trial], twice the number of any other state, a government review of bail laws revealed this week. About 30 per cent of these are later acquitted but the review did not recommend any changes in policy.

"In a previous age there would be all sorts of damages actions being taken but that's not happening these days as there's no legal aid available for it," Mr Smith said.

His comments followed the revelation yesterday that the judges in charge of the state's three main courts - Supreme, District and Local - all believe tough law and order policies in NSW have gone too far. Chief Justice Jim Spigelman and Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson told The Sydney Morning Herald they agreed with a call by Chief Judge Reg Blanch for a more comprehensive review of bail and sentencing in NSW. Justice Blanch made the comment in June in light of soaring remand populations and longer sentences that he said were destroying the chances of rehabilitating offenders, rather than reducing crime.

Mr Smith said the judges were simply "showing the commonsense and experience that they get from applying criminal justice". "They would know that many of the changes that came as a result of law and order actions have been more damaging than advantageous for the criminal justice system. "I know there are some who think judges are too lenient but in my experience they generally get it right, or pretty right. It's only the aberrations that get publicised … and you shouldn't make big changes to the law to cover some embarrassing court case."

He agreed with Justice Blanch that it was time to review section 22A of the Bail Act, which had led to overcrowding particularly in juvenile justice centres, and standard non-parole periods, which Mr Smith said were inconsistent and should be replaced in some cases by guideline judgments created by the courts.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General would only comment when the Herald series is complete.


Rudd opens embassy to Holy See

Rudd got a bit hyperbolic but in general I agree with him on this one. A nice tribute to former National Party stalwat Tim Fischer too -- JR

ON the eve of the canonisation of our first saint, Australia has further strengthened its ties with the Vatican with the official opening of the first permanent Chancery of the Australian embassy to the Holy See.

Australia first established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1973, but only installed a resident ambassador in 2009 when Tim Fischer took up the appointment.

Yesterday Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd declared the new embassy officially open, watched by Cardinal George Pell, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, Mr Fischer, members of the Sisters of St Joseph, and Vatican dignitaries. "It's a good day for our relationship with the Holy See. It is a day which we should celebrate," Mr Rudd said.

"It also represents the completion of some unfinished business. "The decision to establish this resident embassy and a resident ambassador to the Holy See that we took in 2008 reflected first and foremost our mark of respect and high regard to the role of the Catholic Church in Australia."

Mr Rudd said there are several areas of "great consequence" to the people of Australia where the Government works with the Holy See.

Since taking up his appointment in January 2009, Mr Fischer has engaged with senior Vatican figures on issues including human rights, disarmament, ethical economic growth and food security.

"One thing about Tim Fischer, here is a man who doesn't just have a big hat, he has a big heart," Mr Rudd said. "When you see the Akubra working its way methodically across the halls of the Vatican, there just doesn't go a piece of Australian iconography, there goes a living embodiment of the Australian spirit."

Mr Rudd said not only was the cost of establishing the embassy justified, it was overdue. "I think it's entirely justified. Question: how many countries around the world have resident embassies here in the Holy See? Answer: 77," he said.

"How many major countries in the world who are members of the G20 have resident embassies to the Holy See? All of them, except Australia in 2008. "So let's just put this into a bit of context hey? Fair dinkum ... it's nothing remarkable, it's nothing unique, in fact we are later by a country mile than most."


16 October, 2010

"Community release" -- Australia's new euphemism for allowing illegal immigration

HUNDREDS of asylum seekers will be released from high security detention and allowed to live in the community under a plan being drafted by the Gillard government.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is believed to be preparing to announce the community release to relieve overflowing detention centres on the mainland and on Christmas Island.

Asylum seekers who are not considered a security risk would be eligible for community detention, including family groups, children and unaccompanied minors. The government has been in discussion with charities, church groups and refugee welfare organisations to find accommodation. This would include hostels and houses owned by the groups.

Welfare groups contacted by The Age yesterday said discussions with the government about community detention for asylum seekers predated the August 21 election.

It is understood priority would be given to families with school-age children and that release from detention centres would be staggered as housing becomes available.

According to the Immigration officials, 742 children are detained by authorities, as well as 382 unaccompanied minors. Of the children, 281 are on Christmas Island and 461 are in mainland centres.

All up, 5056 asylum seekers are now in detention, of whom 2769 are on Christmas Island. A record 106 asylum-seeker boats have arrived this year, already 20 more than the previous record of 86 in 1999.


Australian dollar hits parity with US dollar

A final tribute to the fact that Australia's banks were deregulated -- while America's banks were regulated to death. The Australian unit has risen as the U.S. unit fell

THE Australian dollar has reached parity with the US dollar for the first time since the currency was floated in December 1983. The local current rose to $US1.00 at about 11.18pm (AEDT) in overseas trading. It was the first time since 28 July 1982 that the Australia dollar has traded about one US dollar.

Earlier on Friday the local currency was hovering around 99 US cents ahead of the release of US CPI data, retail figures and a Federal Reserve speech that could indicate how much quantitative easing will take place. Quantitative easing is a process whereby the US Federal Reserve increases the amount of US dollars in the economy by buying US Treasuries.

The Australian dollar touched a fresh 27-year high of 99.94 US cents overnight, the closest it has been to parity with the US dollar since it was floated in December 1983. At 5pm (AEDT) on Friday the Australian dollar was trading at 99.28 US cents, down from Thursday's close of 99.61 cents. Since 7am (AEDT), the local unit traded between 98.92 US cents and 99.46 cents.

Nomura Australia economist Stephen Roberts said traders had been waiting patiently throughout the domestic session in the absence of any local data. "It might be a bit of a patient wait for parity, but we will get there," Mr Roberts said.

He said the release of the US economic data and a speech by US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke would drive the momentum of the local currency. "Those factors will certainly have some influence," Mr Roberts said.


Queensland wants to get rid of dummy teachers

But you would have to be a dummy to take up teaching in Qld. schools these days. Some new teaching graduates walk out after a week when they encounter the reality of it

QUEENSLAND'S teaching profession is facing a crackdown on university entrance standards in a bid to boost quality in the classroom.

Students will have to attain an OP score of 12 or better to gain entry to a teaching degree under a proposal being considered by the State Government. OP cut-offs have been as low as OP19 at some Queensland universities in recent years, fuelling concerns over the quality of newly graduate teachers. Students will also have to obtain a minimum standard in English, mathematics and science.

The proposals are among 21 recommendations put to the State Government in a review of teacher education and induction, part of the Flying Start project.

The review, currently being considered by Queensland education stakeholders, follows consultation on proposed national entry requirements for undergraduate pre-service teacher programs. Proposed national standards require a minimum level of mathematics and English for Year 12 students, but not science, as suggested in Queensland.

As of next year, Queensland primary school teaching graduates will be required to sit a test in English, maths and science to become a registered teacher.

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said while he did not oppose the idea of having an OP12 cut-off for a Bachelor of Education, moves including paying teachers more were needed. "It is quite clear that we need to try to attract the better students in terms of OP scores into the teaching profession but the problem we have got is that the OP score is demand driven," he said.

Mr Ryan said many students who didn't achieve an OP12 could be wonderful teachers. The Christian Heritage College's Colette Alexander agreed, warning some universities which catered for lower-scoring OP students might be badly affected. "Academic performance during school does not guarantee quality teaching," she said. "What makes a difference with a teacher is whether a person wants to teach."

Professor Peter Renshaw, head of the School of Education at the University of Queensland where the OP cut-off was 11 this year, agreed that a student's OP didn't always reflect their capability. But he said the OP cut-off would be good for the perception of teaching. He also said the OP requirement did not apply to many Bachelor of Education graduates at his university, with many coming from other degrees rather than straight from school.

Queensland Deans of Education Forum chair Professor Wendy Patton said contingencies built into the proposal meant most universities supported the cut-off. Under the proposal, students with lower OPs can be granted entry in exceptional circumstances. "It provides the opportunity for individuals to say 'I can put forward a case' and for institutions to say 'well, let's have a look at this case'," Professor Patton said.

The teacher training review follows an investigation into the state's education system last year, when Professor Geoff Masters raised concerns about the competency of beginning teachers.


"Green" scheme bungles blamed on bureaucrats

The Auditor-General has found that bad advice and misinformation from the environment department caused the home insulation scheme to fail. Mustn't blame the clueless politicians concerned

A DAMNING report into the government's $2.8 billion home insulation scheme says the full extent of fraud is unknown and that almost one-third of the 1.1 million homes insulated could have installation or safety problems.

The federal Auditor-General's report, released yesterday, lays much of the blame on the federal Environment Department but attributes most of its bungling to the pressure it was under.

In a new book, The Party Thieves, by the ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy, the frontbencher Gary Gray says it was wrong that the environment minister Peter Garrett was demoted over the debacle because the program was driven by Kevin Rudd's office - if not the prime minister himself. ''How can you have a situation where Rudd executes complete and total influence, micro-manages everything, yet not the home insulation program?'' he says.
Advertisement: Story continues below

The report says $1.4 billion was spent insulating homes before the scheme was scrapped after it was linked to four deaths and 207 house fires.

Because of the problems, the scheme fell short of its aim to create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By March this year, about a month before the scheme was abandoned, 29 per cent of the almost 14,000 houses inspected had problems ranging from ''minor quality issues to serious safety concerns''.

The report says the uncontrolled nature of the scheme meant the number of installers blew out to almost 11,000. Since it was scrapped, 4000 potential cases of fraud have been identified with 100 under investigation. ''The full extent of fraud is still unknown and the conclusion of cases under investigation is likely to take many more months to complete,'' the report says.


15 October, 2010


Media Release, Peter Pyke: 13 October 2010. (Peter Pyke was a Labor member of the Queensland Legislative Assembly from 1992 to 1995, representing the district of Mount Ommaney. Prior to entering politics he served with the Queensland Police Service for 15 years, rising to the rank of Police Sergeant)

In 1994 I told then-Queensland Premier Wayne Goss that ‘politicians thought they were pretty powerful but - in our system – it was the police who had all the power’. Goss, a former-lawyer, looked blankly at me. He just didn’t understand what I was on about. As a first-time MP I had just told him that I was about to be charged by police with a number of criminal charges which I have always maintained were false, and the jury who acquitted me later seemed to agree. But I was a mere backbencher in his government and he had a huge majority so why should he care? It seemed to me he didn’t.

When Goss lost office in the next election by just one electorate – the ALP now understands that was my seat of Mount Ommaney which I had lost by a handful of votes after the coppers had smeared me beautifully in the media for fifteen months as only they can do – he may have better understood what I had told him.

The Queensland police – whose campaign slogan is the ironical ‘with honour we serve’ – changed the outcome of the 1995 Queensland election in favour of a Borbidge-led government which – happily for some – let convicted and disgraced police commissioner and junior Rat Pack member Terry Lewis out of gaol four years early. But who’s counting?

This week we have seen more of the handiwork of the Queensland coppers with the release of heavily censored CCTV footage of the bashing of handcuffed prisoners in the custody of that outstanding example of one of Queensland’s ‘finest’, former-senior constable Benjamin Thomas Price, who is shown bashing a tourist and a barmaid at the Airlie Beach police station in the state’s north.

The ex-policeman, 34, was sentenced to 27 months' jail on 11 October 2010 after pleading guilty to four counts of assault. Steele, a plasterer from NSW, suffered a broken nose, black eyes, a head wound, hearing problems, memory loss and lack of sensation in his arms and hands after his arrest in the popular Whitsundays tourist town. He told the court he was trying to break-up a fight between two mates when he was capsicum sprayed by police. It is alleged Price led the handcuffed Steele to a police car before saying "watch your head" and smashing his face into the vehicle, knocking him unconscious.

Price allegedly dragged Steele from the car outside Airlie Beach watch-house, repeatedly punched him and "kicked him with his boots" in the face, breaking his nose.

CCTV video footage from the police station shows a dazed, heavily bleeding Steele being dragged into an alley beside the watch-house. It shows the handcuffed man being punched in the head before having a fire hose jammed into his mouth, where it was held for up to 90 seconds as another officer watches.

Steele screams and groans in agony and blood can be seen sheeting down the concrete path as the policeman stands on the handcuffs, pressing his hand into the back of the man's neck, forcing his head into his lap in a brutal spine lock.

"I felt like I was going to drown," Steele told the court. "He jammed the hose into my mouth. I couldn't breathe. I was coughing and spluttering blood. It was pretty scary. It went on for a long time. I called him a pussy. He knocked me about. I was pretty dazed, I'd had a boot to my face, my nose was broken. I was choking on my own blood, I felt like I was drowning."

The vision shows other police officers standing by as Price stuffs a fire hose into his victim's mouth, nearly drowning him. The CCTV footage also shows Price hitting slightly-built barmaid Renee Tom, 21, slamming her to the floor inside the watch-house in January 2008 and pulling her to her feet by her hair.

As a former police officer who saw service as an operational trainer and academy law lecturer, I know full well that any one of the other police who observed Price’s actions could have stopped Price and even arrested him on the spot for each of his savage bashings. So what happened? Only one of the police shown in the censored footage with their faces blurred did something; it was left to courageous female trainee constable Bree Sonter to do the right thing and to complain about the incidents.

Queensland police deputy commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters on 11 October 2010 that five other officers had resigned and three more were facing potential disciplinary actions over the incidents. All of the other officers who did nothing were complicit in the offences in my opinion.

It was my honour to be sworn in under Commissioner Ray Whitrod in 1976 - Whitrod was a real police commissioner. I immediately saw service in North Queensland and soon discovered that police bashings of Aboriginal and homosexual citizens were everyday sport for far too many Queensland police. It’s easy to say, but individual police have the power to control the behaviour of their peers by stepping in and stopping offences like those committed by Price. I know, I was bashed several times in the Townsville watch-house and once out on the street by my police colleagues for intervening to stop other officers from assaulting prisoners.

As I said at the outset, each individual police officer has the power to arrest anyone, the premier, the prime minister, or another officer. With such power comes enormous responsibility.

That’s the job and that is what is required. Don’t like it? Coppers who aren’t up to it should get out of the kitchen.

Prisoners were being bashed in the custody of Queensland police in the 1970s and we now have incontrovertible evidence they are still being bashed, even under the watchful eye of CCTV. Too many police thugs are protected by their peers and deaths in police custody will continue to occur while other officers fail to serve with real honour.

Is it all bad? As someone who will bleed a little bit blue until the day I die, I like to listen to the police radio on the scanner when I am writing, or driving around. While the Queensland police are badly led by their most senior officers whom I wouldn’t feed, I can report that many of the uniformed officers who undertake first-response operational duties do an excellent job. It is with pride that I can report hearing more often than not in the voices of police on the scanner their obvious humanity and concern for children, young people, battered women, the homeless and the elderly, and I commonly hear police going to great lengths to ensure that everything possible is done for people who need police assistance.

No, it’s not all bad.

If there is a hero in this sad story it is Constable Bree Sonter who did serve Queenslanders with honour.

I call on the Queensland Government to appropriately honour this young woman with the highest police award.

Author: Peter Pyke, 0427 388 598,

Saving energy will tie us in green tape

Henry Ergas

SCHEMES to cut power consumption should not cost more than the benefits they bring

IN public policy, bad ideas never die: they go to second editions. The recently released report of the Prime Minister's Task Group on Energy Efficiency is a striking case in point.

Credit where credit is due. The report is well-written, logically presented and thoroughly referenced, virtues no longer common in government documents. But its mistaken premises lead to recommendations that would reduce productivity, cut incomes and tie us up in unending green tape.

Start with the basics. A policy is effective if it does what it sets out to do. It is economically efficient if what it sets out to do is worth doing. The report's premise is that we should reduce our energy consumption; what it fails to show is that reducing energy consumption would make Australians better off.

This is not to deny that there may be climate change benefits to reduced energy use. Some greenhouse gas abatement could be worthwhile. But even were that accepted, it would only be sensible to reduce energy use if that cut emissions at a cost less than the implied or actual price on carbon. And at least for the next few years, that price is likely to be low.

A frontal assault on Australian energy consumption, as envisaged in this report, therefore cannot be justified on climate change grounds. Rather, the report's premise is that consuming energy is a bad thing, with the vice compounded by Australia's relatively high energy consumption per unit of output.

The implication is that our levels of energy use are inefficient. But for this proposition, there is no evidence whatsoever. After all, Australia is endowed with abundant energy resources, such as coking coal, some of which are costly to transport internationally. We are also amply endowed with other resources, including land, whose exploitation involves high energy use. Comparative advantage would therefore result in our energy intensity being well above average for developed economies.

Nor is there any reason for the rate of change in energy intensity to be the same internationally. Rather, it is our factor endowments, one aspect of which is our land use patterns, which should shape our future energy intensity. Indeed, were energy demand to fall, the price of resources such as brown coal would fall with it, causing an off-setting further shift to highly energy-using industries. This could make the disparity between our energy intensity and that of other developed economies even more pronounced over time.

So could the fact that increasing productivity is expensive: it needs concentrated management attention and entails up-front costs. Efficiency requires focusing that effort where it yields the highest return. For a country with our resources, that is unlikely to be in reducing energy intensity.

None of this cuts any mustard with the report. Rather, with energy intensity treated as a problem, the search is on for solutions. The report therefore proposes ramping up many existing measures, from mandatory energy use reporting by larger firms to subsidised energy inspections for small firms and households.

The report claims these measures are effective. But the studies it cites are largely before-after comparisons of energy use, rather than properly comparing unit costs at sites that received the benefit and those that did not. As a result, they do not even establish the spending is effective, much less efficient.

This is all the more troubling given the report's failure to confront the lessons of experience. Like the mad uncle in the attic, pink batts and green loans are never mentioned.

Yet they surely prove that recipients have little incentive to monitor the quality of claimed energy-saving giveaways, while snake-oil merchants on the supply side have every incentive to exploit taxpayer funding for all it is worth.

That said, the report does recognise the problems associated with the proliferation of energy-saving programs, not least the scope for greatly differing "bang for the buck" across initiatives. It therefore canvasses two options. The first, tucked away in an annexe, is simply a tax on energy, disguised, in somewhat Orwellian double speak, as a "public benefits charge".

The second, favoured in the main report, is a vast new trading scheme, in which credits would be given to firms that cut energy use, with corresponding implied penalties for those that did not. The effects of this trading scheme, though not discussed at any length in the report, are at best uncertain. It is conceivable that the credits could make some industries more profitable, encouraging an expansion in their scale of activity and potentially increasing energy use. But it is also possible for output to fall, as the easiest way to reduce energy consumption can be to cut production.

The report speaks, in vague terms, of using administrative measures to prevent output reductions from occurring. But how could that be done? If yesterday I used 100 units of energy to produce 12 large nails, and tomorrow I produce 13 small nails using only 50, what commissar will have any rational basis for deciding whether my decision was or was not efficient and adjusting my energy credits accordingly?

What is certain is that both proposed schemes would be profoundly distorting with the loss magnified by the fact that they tax an intermediate input, energy, used throughout the economy. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't have beneficiaries. They would: the new industry of energy efficiency spruikers, who would earn a comfortable living selling energy reduction projects to businesses, trading in the resulting certificates, and clipping the tax dollar as it is shuffled around. And winners too would be the middle-class families who indulge in conspicuous consumption of energy-saving gadgets at poorer taxpayers' expense.

These are the new rent-seekers. Their rhetoric is not that of national development, as was that of the old protectionists. Rather, it comes clad in lofty claims about sustainability. But it is no less self-interested, nor is it any less specious: for in itself, reducing energy use is no more desirable than reducing consumption of toilet paper or pavlovas.

Eating people is wrong; using energy is not. Until that is understood, public policy in this area will remain a hopeless muddle.


Green mania to cripple us

Andrew Bolt

ENOUGH. It's one thing that this green madness is driving your power and water bills through the roof. But now it threatens to destroy not just your household budget, but entire towns in our richest farming land. Mildura, Robinvale, Coleambally, Leeton, Deniliquin and Moree - all now face devastation.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has been warned in a survey it commissioned of big lenders to rural business that these specific towns and more will struggle to survive the cut in irrigation water the authority now demands to "save" the Murray and the rivers that feed it.

Yet the MDBA is pushing on, proposing a cut in farmers' water entitlements of between 27 and 37 per cent - on top of the deep cuts it's already made for "the environment".

In some areas, farmers will lose as much as half their irrigation water and will have to close their gates.

Wait and see what that does to the price of your fruit, vegetables and rice. Heavens, even the green faithful will scream at the price of tofu, made of soy beans grown in the same irrigated fields now being robbed of water.

If only we could trust the MDBA'S claim that this huge sacrifice would at least fix a true environmental catastrophe.

But there are five reasons to suspect that this is a largely pointless political gesture, and the small good it would do will be outweighed by huge social pain.

* First, almost everyone along the rivers has noticed that claims of their imminent doom seem grossly exaggerated. For a start, the drought has broken, and the Murray is flowing so strongly that its mouth has burst open again - something it rarely did even before irrigation farmers moved in.

* Second, more care seems to have been lavished by the MDBA on considering the "needs" of the rivers than on the needs of the people depending on them. It's telling that MDBA chairman Mike Taylor has already conceded that the proposals he released just days ago would cost vastly more jobs than the mere 800 his report ludicrously claimed. Try 23,000, says the furious NSW Irrigators Council.

* Third, the people of the Murray-Darling Basin have seen similar green scares before, and learned to consider them as dodgy as Greenpeace.

Take the great salinity scare we were told a decade ago would wipe out the same area and "kill" these same rivers. In 1993 the MDBA predicted dryland salinity would increase by 10-15 per cent a year. Urging it on was the CSIRO, which had a Rising Groundwater Theory and computer models to "prove" that farming land twice the size of Tasmania would become too salty for crops.

Great models they were, too, showing salinity levels soaring in the Murray, when the measuring station at Mannum showed them actually falling over 20 years.

What fear there was then. The National Farmers Federation was screaming for $65 billion to fight the salt and then ... well, hello. The money was not spent and the salinity catastrophe never materialised. As the chairman of Murray Irrigation said four years ago: "It just seems that somewhere the science got it seriously wrong." But were the scaremongers held to account?

* Which brings us to the fourth reason to be sceptical of these new claims of environmental doom if irrigators aren't squeezed dry. You see, this frenzy to "save" the rivers, the fish and the red gums is driven in part by the global warming scare and, more particularly, by the evangelist CSIRO, back with a new theory and new models, this time claiming global warming is drying out the Murray-Darling system, already suffering from an over-allocation of water rights.

And the MDBA has bought it again. "Basin-wide changes of 10 per cent less water (are) predicted" from "climate change effects", it claims in its report, demanding more water to make the Murray "healthy". Yet a 2008 National Technical University of Athens study into the track record of the kind of regional climate models used by the CSIRO to predict a fall in rainfall concluded they "perform poorly" and their "local model projections cannot be credible".

But did we in Melbourne need to be told that? We need only remember the excuse Melbourne Water gave on behalf of its Labor masters for not building a huge dam on the fast-flowing Mitchell River for just $1.3 billion. "Unfortunately, we cannot rely on this kind of rainfall like we used to," it claimed last year.

Global warming, you know: "While the Mitchell has flooded recently, investing billions of dollars in another rainfall-dependent water source in the face of rapidly changing climate patterns is very risky."

Well, look now. Three years ago the Mitchell flooded twice. This year there's so much rain falling again that it may take years before we need the desalination plant Premier John Brumby built instead of a dam- and not for $1.3 billion but for $5.7 billion, plus huge power costs, to deliver just a third of the water.

Queenslanders got stung in precisely the same way. Premier Peter Beattie in 2007 said he'd also build a desalination plant because he, too, had been told global warming was drying up the rain. Three years on, and Queensland is on flood alert. The state's dams are full to overflowing, holding so much water that Queenslanders could survive on it until 2018 even if no drop of rain fell again.

Such madness. Look again at your water bills, never higher. See how much extra you're paying for that desal plant we were stampeded into buying? Or look at your fast-rising power bills. See how much more you're paying now that governments have forced generators to use more "green power"?

See how much more you must pay as generators factor in the taxes the Gillard Government plans to impose to "save" us from a global warming the planet seems not to notice?

Wonder how much more again they'll go up if the Brumby Government goes through with its mad promise to fight this warming by closing a quarter of the giant Hazelwood power station?

You notice the bills, all right. But have you figured what's causing them to rise, and thousands of farmers to fear being sold up? It's green politics.

*And here we come to the fifth reason to be sceptical that science alone is behind the Gillard Government's drive to tip irrigation water back into the rivers. Last January, Frank Sartor, the NSW Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, went up the Murray-Darling Basin to persuade locals they were threatened by yet another green catastrophe that demanded sacrifices.

This time it was river red gums that were "dying" and had to be "saved", by proclaiming a national park on the Murray River flood plain that would put hundreds of timber workers out of a job. Workers in Deniliquin told Sartor to his face that the red gums were actually fine, so what was his game?

About 30 of those workers have since told the ABC that Sartor's reply went like this: "I'm going to give you people a lesson in politics. The Greens hold 15 per cent of the votes, we need those votes to stay in power. They also want or need a national park and they want it in red gum." (Sartor denies this.)

So you wonder why people up the Murray are now sceptical when politicians come calling again, with fresh claims of doom, fancy computer models and demands of sacrifices that seem out of all proportion? Time you grew sceptical, too, at last, because what these zealots are doing to farmers they're already doing to you, too. Difference is, at least the farmers will no longer cop it. Shown green, they now see red, and a counter-revolution has begun.


Patriotic monarchists in Victoria

VICTORIANS all let us rejoice, for our patriotism is growing. A snapshot has shown that Victorians see themselves as artistic, sophisticated and tolerant of others, with an interest in world affairs and a rising connection to the Australian flag.

It also reveals 70 per cent of Victorians are proud of their country, compared with just 55 per cent of other Australians. Two-thirds of Victorians don't want a republic, they largely embrace multiculturalism, and 50 per cent think they are ethical.

Australia SCAN 2010 data, compiled for the State Government, shows 75 per cent of Victorians want to keep the existing flag, up from 57 per cent in 2001. In comparison, only 66 per cent of other Australians believe we should retain the flag. But only 53 per cent want to keep the Queen as the head of state, compared with 48 per cent of other Aussies.

The findings were released to coincide with the launch of Victoria's Australia Day 2011 ambassadors by Deputy Premier Rob Hulls at a reception last night. The list includes ex footballer Glenn Archer, Dr "Feelgood" Sally Cockburn, Denise Drysdale and former premier John Cain.

Australia Day Victoria committee chair Bruce Hartnett said it was interesting Victorians saw themselves as more community-minded and ethical than other Australians. "It reflects my view of Victorians," he said. "I think Victoria has always had a strong church background, a historical influence of the church."


14 October, 2010

Bollywood film paints Australians as violent racists

This is what comes of political correctness. Ordinary Australians are being blamed for what are predominantly the deeds of African "refugees". Africans hate Indians because they are also coloured yet are much more successful in most ways than Africans are. But since about 2007 the Australian media have been very chary of mentioning the race of the attackers. A blanket of silence has descended. So most people would assume that the attackers were white. And on the rare occasion when the attacker is white THAT is mentioned, of course

A BOLLYWOOD blockbuster inspired by the violent attacks on Indian students in Australia has come under fire for producing "venom that's spewed against Australians".

Crook: it's Good to be Bad, tells the story of an Indian who moves to the Australian city of Melbourne and finds himself in the midst of race-motivated violence, the Herald Sun said.

In the film, Melbourne is depicted as a city rife with gang violence between Australians and Indians, while the locals are portrayed as beer-guzzling blokes and immoral women.

Indian critics have panned it for being sensationalist and its stereotyping of Australians. There was particular outrage against the inflammatory language made by the main character. "A country of ex-convicts. A country where they sleep with each other without marrying. A country where they don't take care of their families. Yes that's the sort of venom that's spewed against the Australians in Crook,'" an India Today reviewer wrote.

Last year, the Indian media heavily covered a series of violent assaults on Indian immigrants in Melbourne, including a 10-page special in Outlook magazine entitled "Why Aussies Hate Us".

Director Mohit Suri said he was inspired to make the film after visiting a convenience store in the western Melbourne suburb of Sunshine. "Inside the very same store one of the most brutal racist attacks had taken place just a few months back. The events as told to me were horrifying, about how an Indian was brutally beaten up only because of his colour and religion," he said in an interview with an Indian entertainment website.


DOCS shame file as 38 child deaths erased from records in NSW

BUREAUCRATS have erased the deaths of 38 children from the state's shameful reviewable death records by changing the definition of "known to DOCS". The children all died last year and each of them, or their siblings, had been reported to the Department of Community Services in the three years leading up to their deaths. But their cases will no longer be reviewed by the NSW Ombudsman.

Community Services spokeswoman Linda Burney wrote in government documents released this week that, because the "definition was changed", the deaths of the 38 children "will not be classified as known to Community Services".

For 33 of the children, DOCS workers had made only phone calls and requests for information before deciding the youngsters were not at risk of harm. In the other five cases, DOCS said "no information was held which established any need for intervention".

A total of 147 children "known to DOCS" died last year - but, under the new definition, only 109 will be recorded. "They have, overnight and by definition, reduced the number of reportable deaths by a third," Opposition community services spokeswoman Pru Goward said. "It makes the Government look better, they can say their reforms are working.

"The problem is if they had done an assessment and it has shown the child isn't at risk of harm and then not following up when the child is dead within 12 months of that assessment, they're not making sure their assessments are good enough."

Another 19 children died after Ms Burney said their "cases were closed without response even though it was not known whether intervention might have been required". Six died of illness, six were killed in car accidents, three babies died of sudden infant death syndrome and one young person suicided without receiving any help.

A spokeswoman for Ms Burney confirmed the definition change but said it was based on a recommendation by Justice James Wood in a Special Commission of Inquiry into child protection earlier this year. "A child's death is no longer reviewed by the Ombudsman simply because they or their sibling was notified to Community Services at some point within the previous three years," she said.


Liberal party senators fight Labor MP's wanting to end live sheep exports

LIBERAL senators are trying to stamp out a growing movement among Labor MPs to end live animal exports, calling it misinformed and dangerous to rural Australia. Fremantle MP Melissa Parke has spoken out against live sheep exports alongside animal welfare activists, meatworkers and union leaders.

It comes as Labor MP for the NSW north coast seat of Page, Janelle Saffin, plans a notice of motion against live cattle exports, which Ms Parke says she will support, along with Labor MP for the Tasmanian seat of Lyons, Dick Adams. They argue that it makes better economic sense to process sheep meat in Australia and export a chilled product rather than sending animals overseas.

Ms Parke wants a gradual transition away from live trade, pointing to a study that found live sheep exports earned $341 million for Australia in 2008, compared to $1.5 billion earned for sheep meat processed here. The effort defies Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who recently reiterated support for live exports.

Liberal senators have responded strongly to the Labor movement.
Western Australian Liberal senator Chris Back formerly was a consultant for live animal exporters, making several trips on board the ships to the Middle East. Senator Back said the opponents of live exports relied on "spurious claims" and figures from "desktop studies".

He said the mortality rates of sheep on board the ships were similar to that in the paddock, and did not believe there would be a market for them if they arrived in poor condition, as activists claim. "If we do not export live animals to the trade, then our competitors will continue to supply that component of the trade," he said. It was important for farmers to have an alternative market, he said.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Richard Colbeck said the move was proof of the Australia Greens' influence on Labor. "This is yet another example of the invisible hand of (Australian Greens leader) Bob Brown and the Greens guiding the Labor party towards reckless and irresponsible policy for rural and regional Australia," he said. "Without the live export market, Australian farmers - exporters or not - would be subject to lower prices."

Australia's live export industry was worth $996 million in livestock sales and almost $1 billion in wages per annum, employing more than 13,000 Australians, Senator Colbeck said.

Meanwhile a Galaxy poll for the World Society for the Protection of Animals this week showed 79 per cent of Australians believed live sheep exports were cruel, while 86 per cent wanted it phased out if there was an alternative that saved jobs.


Cancer patients wait 50 days for treatment in NSW

Time is of the essence with cancer

CANCER patients are waiting up to four times longer for radiation therapy than clinically recommended, new state government figures reveal, prolonging cancer symptoms and potentially affecting survival rates.

Waiting times are as high as 50 days at Coffs Harbour and 22 days at Westmead Hospital, well above the internationally accepted benchmark of 14 days for non-emergency cases such as head and neck, cervical and bladder cancer.

Of the 11 radiation oncology treatment centres in NSW, seven did not meet the 24-hour timeframe for emergency cases such as brain or spinal cord tumours, despite radiotherapy being the only option to prevent imminent death or another "catastrophic event" such as paralysis. At Coffs Harbour, part of the North Coast Cancer Institute, the average wait for cancer patients has blown out to 4.6 days.

The data, disclosed in an answer to a question during budget estimates, shows that at the end of August, 861 patients were waiting for treatment, including 338 patients who had been waiting longer than 21 days.

The advocacy development and networks officer at the Cancer Council NSW, Kelly Williams, said 50 per cent of all people with cancer benefit from radiotherapy at some stage during their illness.

However, in NSW the latest data shows just 36 per cent of patients receive treatment because of a chronic shortage of linear accelerators and specialised oncologists, therapists and physicists, particularly outside metropolitan areas.

The Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said there are 46 linear accelerators operating in NSW - 37 in 14 public facilities and nine in five private facilities - an increase of 55 per cent since 1995.

New regional cancer centres, funded by the federal government, would be built at Tamworth, Nowra and Gosford, and the state government would fund new services at Lismore and Orange.

"These new centres will mean even further improvements in access as over 90 per cent of the NSW population will be within 100 kilometres of a comprehensive cancer service offering radiotherapy," she said.

The opposition spokeswoman for health, Jillian Skinner, said: "Because of Labor's failure to plan, cancer patients either have to pay high upfront fees for private facilities, or travel long distances - with the associated costs - to a public facility where the wait time will likely be more than clinically recommended."

NSW Health uses the benchmark of a 24-hour wait for urgent cases and 14 days for curative cases, set by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards.

The figures are measured as the time between the date the radiation oncologist declares treatment should start (when the patient is ready for care) and when the first treatment is delivered.


13 October, 2010

Greenie electricity nonsense causing hardship to families in Victoria

Greenie "smart" meters etc. are behind it. Because of its large and conveniently located suppies of brown coal, Victoria used to have very cheap eletricity -- in the days before Greenie obsessions

MELBOURNE residents are paying up to $285 a year for power before they turn on a single light or appliance. Hundreds of thousands of households are being stung with the highest supply charges in Australia as new smart meters are rolled out and distributors pass on increased costs. Soaring fees for some customers are almost double those in Sydney and Brisbane, a review by fee broker reveals.

Homes in Broadmeadows, Sunbury and Preston are among the worst hit.

The finding comes as some distraught customers say they are going to bed early to save money in the face of crippling electricity bills. EnergyWatch national sales manager David Perry said anxious pensioners and struggling families were restricting movements to one room with one light on at night, or going to bed earlier. "For some people it's not only too expensive to go out, it's becoming too expensive to stay at home," Mr Perry said.

EnergyWatch general manager Ben Polis said smart meter rollout costs, electricity network upgrades and higher generation costs were to blame for surging power bills. "It's a bucket with a hole in it," Mr Polis said.

The price study examined charges for customers on combined electricity and gas who have never signed up for a market offer. About 30 per cent of Victorian homes - 800,000 households - are still on default energy prices, which tend to be the dearest on the market.

Even customers who had signed up to competitive deals were paying the most of any major capital city for fixed supply charges, Mr Polis said.

Generators had factored in higher prices since an emissions trading scheme designed to reduce pollution and encourage green energy was first mooted by former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

The Herald Sun last week revealed Victorians were already paying an average $900 more for electricity, gas and water compared with five years ago. Power prices are expected to rise again in January.


Greenie elitism

FOOTSCRAY residents have been dubbed poor and inarticulate by a Greens candidate who wants to represent them in Parliament.

In an email leaked to the Herald Sun, Footscray Greens candidate and former Maribyrnong mayor Janet Rice said her potential constituents needed a helping hand to protest against State Government's proposed WestLink tunnel plan because "they are poorer and less articulate than Yarraville and Seddon residents".

The put-down comes as the Greens ramp up opposition to the new roads link, with national party leader Bob Brown saying MPs would seek to block federal financing for roads and divert money to to public transport.

Footscray Labor MP Marsha Thomson seized on Ms Rice's comments, saying residents were capable of thinking and speaking for themselves.

But Ms Rice hit back, saying a high proportion of people who do not speak English as a first language need stronger support than they are getting. "There are a lot of refugees and people who haven't had an opportunity for such a good education and don't have the skills to stand up for their rights," Ms Rice said.

Ms Thomson said just because someone was poor did not mean they could not speak up or express themselves. "While there are people who have come from other countries and don't speak English as well as others, it doesn't mean they can't think and don't have an opinion," she said.


NBN: the national boondoggle network

Fibre broadband is a political stunt, not good economics

You might think someone would look at whether it would work before spending $43 billion. You might even wonder what else could work with $43 billion. You might compare the value of alternative purchases as you would in a supermarket. But our government is not as careful about $43 billion as you would be with $43.

The high point of this farcical process came after the election when the government announced that construction on the network would be jumpstarted in rural areas where there are fewer customers rather than metro areas where there are more. Guess where the installation is to commence? Would it surprise you to know priority will be given to the electorates held by the independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, whose votes are critical to the government?

The Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy, has figured out how to turn the national broadband network into the national boondoggle network.

What surprises me is the silence from the board of NBN Co. This is the least commercial way of planning the build-out. The point of having a board is to get independent and commercial oversight of operations. If this board is not up to that, then it might as well fold.

The government is showing as much respect for the board as it does for Infrastructure Australia - which is a lot less than it shows for swinging voters in key regional electorates.


Australian local councils enforcing Muslim sexual hangups

A bikini ban for a Ramadan event at a public pool should not be taken lightly as it puts fundamental freedoms of Western society on the line. "Anti-discrimination" body approves discrimination

A COUPLE of weeks ago a report surfaced about families being ordered to cover up before attending a public event to avoid offending Muslims during next year's Ramadan in August. It involved VCAT approving a bikini ban for a community event to be held at Dandenong Oasis, a municipal pool. Dandenong Council, and pool managers YMCA, successfully sought an exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act to compel "participants aged 10 and over" to "ensure their bodies are covered from waist to knee and the entire torso extending to the upper arms", and to refrain from wearing "transparent clothing".

Controversy erupted: tabloid TV lapped it up, talkback callers fulminated, bloggers pontificated, politicians, including Premier John Brumby, were quizzed. Amid the outrage came the predictable and inflammatory warnings that the ruling was evidence of a sinister plan to "Islamise" Australia.

The ruling enforcing what VCAT described as "minimum dress requirements" for Muslims was certainly novel. I'm not aware of any other instance in which the tribunal has made a religious dress code mandatory at a public venue - as opposed to a place of worship - let alone at the local swimming pool. In fact, the ruling was so novel that for some it simply couldn't sink in.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Perhaps this is why some of the fair-minded people in my orbit initially doubted the story's veracity. After reluctantly conceding it was indeed true, they still thought the thunderous response over the top. We're talking about a one-off, two-hour event, they argued. It will be held when the pool is closed to the public and normally used for a women-only swimming session, the attendees of which are almost all Muslims. And hey, aren't we all covering up to be sun-smart now anyway? (OK, maybe not in the middle of August.) Let's keep things in perspective, they said.

Well, I agree perspective is crucial. And seen from a wider and deeper perspective, the Dandenong pool episode is neither trivial nor insignificant. It is but one example of human rights laws producing outcomes that restrict rights. It raises tough questions about how far public authorities ought to go in accommodating cultural practices that sit uneasily with mainstream Western values.

And it exposes some disturbing and hypocritical currents in progressive thought, a point best and fittingly made by a Dandenong-based Muslim women's group, set up to help newly arrived Afghan migrants integrate into Australian society. "I've spoken to a lot of women; they don't want this," Women's Better World president Mandy Ahmadi told the Dandenong suburban newspaper, flagging her campaign to overturn the ruling. "Enough is enough … why run from the Taliban to come to this?"

And yet, as Ahmadi's "enough is enough" phrase might suggest, the VCAT ruling was not the first example of authorities bending to accommodate religious sensibilities at Melbourne's public pools. Dandenong is not the only municipality to allow gender-segregated swimming. The practice is now almost routine: a development that has unfolded largely under the public radar and therefore attracted scant debate. Viewed against this trend, the VCAT decision is perhaps less of a leap than it first appears.

During the past decade or so, VCAT has approved out-of-hours segregated swimming at many councils. I tried to count how many, but tired of the task after hitting double digits.

There's a degree of fiction here; a legal sleight-of-hand. It presumably would take a brave council, and even braver tribunal, to endorse a "Muslim women only" swim session. But most "women-only" sessions are conducted with Muslim requirements in mind, even if non-Muslims can turn up and even if, as appears to be the case, a small number do. Most councils base their VCAT submissions explicitly around the needs of Muslim women. (One pool in the municipality of Melbourne suspends women-only sessions during Ramadan because so few women attend at that time.) Nearly all these councils also obtain approval to staff the sessions with women only.

The cultural sensitivity goes further still. A spokeswoman for Brimbank City Council, for instance, said their swimming sessions took place in "visually secure surroundings". In other words, there's no danger of women being glimpsed in the pool by passers-by. (Such "security" is a key demand of some Muslim communities.) And while every council I contacted denied that dress codes applied during the sessions, some of the responses suggested the issue was murky.

The Brimbank spokeswoman explained that "participants should be dressed appropriately, as is expected of a centre used by children and families". The City of Darebin's acting mayor, Gaetano Greco, was more candid. "We don't impose a particular dress code," he said. "However, women attending should be respectful of Islamic beliefs."

I admit to being uneasy about our public municipalities treading so carefully around religious sensitivities, particularly when doing so under the banner of "women-only" access, with its (radical) feminist overtones.

But there is another side to this issue because at the centre of this debate are real women whose lives have been improved by these sessions. All very well for the likes of me to lecture about the sanctity of our secular public space, being at perfect liberty to roam through it.

In its 2006 application to VCAT for segregated sessions, Brimbank led evidence about the large number of disadvantaged women in the municipality. Many are refugees and recent arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. They tend to be poor and isolated. The council even produced data showing some residents had a lower-than-average life expectancy. Research had indicated swimming was an activity these women were keen to participate in, and that it would bring health and social benefits. But without segregated sessions, the women would never experience the joys of the pool.

It is a powerful argument in support of women-only sessions. The dilemma is a tricky one, and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But flowing from this is a reasonable question: namely, what's next? If the experience overseas is any guide, we're on a slippery slope.

Britain gives some hint of what's "next". Last year, the Telegraph newspaper reported on swimmers being forced to comply with Muslim dress codes during weekly segregated sessions at six public pools. In the most extreme case, Croydon Council in south London instructed on its website that "during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists". Some British Labour MPs slammed the dress codes as "divisive".

WITH the Dandenong Oasis ruling - which is what came "next" here - we're now almost in Britain's league. Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti defended the ruling as part of a council strategy to promote "greater respect, tolerance and understanding of others". And yet this strategy is directly contradicted by the demand for "tolerance and understanding" being made of one side only, namely the non-Muslims.

The most noteworthy criticism of VCAT came (again) from a Muslim woman, Sherene Hassan of the Islamic Society of Victoria, who feared the dress code would undermine the purpose of the event in fostering harmony. (The media blow-up suggests that she has already been proved right.)

Otherwise, the official defenders of liberty and human rights fluffed it. Liberty Victoria said the curtailing of liberty at the public pool was reasonable because the event was to be held out of hours. Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke compared the bikini ban to dress codes in pubs. Really? Banishing thongs in pubs is about preserving decorum. But surely appropriate dress at a swimming pool would be, err, bathers?

A request to cover up, however politely made, is layered with intimate messages; about men lusting and women being lusted over, about the dangerous and vaguely shameful nature of sexuality. Such ideas run counter to the West's more than 500-year struggle for individual freedom - including both freedom of religion and freedom from religion - and for gender equality. Our public authorities ought to be pushing back hardest when these values are under threat. Yet this is precisely where they've been buckling under pressure.

The community workers and VCAT officials who sought and made the Dandenong ruling probably congratulated themselves for their "tolerance". Possibly there are a number of like-minded people who would happily attend the Ramadan function and dress as a Muslim for the night. And when the party's over, they could go home and spread the message of tolerance to their daughters, who are, one assumes, free to visit the local pool wearing as little or as much as they wish.

But what about the young Muslim girl who is beginning to question some aspects of her religious heritage, and wants the same room to move as the daughters of these "tolerant" folk? What if her ideas about how a "conscientious" Muslim woman ought to behave differ from those of Sheikh Fehmi? What if she dreams of ditching her burqini for a bikini?

Isn't there at least an argument that all these publicly funded, respectfully modest and "visually secure" swimming sessions undermine her bid? And what message does the Dandenong ruling send her? Here are the civic institutions of liberal, secular society effectively saying: your cultural practices are so sacrosanct, so unassailable, that even non-Muslims must comply with them.

Shouldn't they instead be resisting attempts to water down our fundamental human rights, which exist for the benefit of all? We don't have to go the way of France and force people to break out of their traditions and join us by the democratic poolside. But neither should we be blocking their path to greater autonomy in the name of "tolerance".

If the Dandenong story made you uncomfortable, trust that instinct. It means the line, to which we've been steadily edging closer, has now been crossed.


Some iconoclastic but interesting ideas

I think they're all pretty right -- JR

Sydney has just hosted the Festival of Dangerous Ideas so, while we are in the mood, how about a few more dangerous ideas? If you'll kindly just sit still, I'd like to whisper them one by one in your ear. I don't want others to overhear. And, of course, if you allege I ever said any of these rashly unpopular things, I'll deny we ever met.

The bad public transport in Sydney is not the fault of the NSW government

Alas, it largely grows out of the spread-out nature of the town. You can't have a Paris Metro without high-density living and every time someone suggests high-density living, Sydneysiders organise a protest. So, the shocking public transport is our fault, not theirs.

Rupert Murdoch has saved journalism. Twice

He did it once in 1986 when he broke the corrupt hold of the printing unions in Britain, allowing new technology and a flourishing of new titles. He's now doing it again by insisting that good journalism is worth paying for, even if it's delivered online. When I go to the newsagent, I don't complain about the “pay wall” that's been erected around the newspapers, magazines and — for that matter — the chocolate bars. Why should it be any different online?

Wikipedia is accurate

OK, everyone smiles and tut-tuts when you admit to using Wikipedia, as if you'd just confessed that your main source of information was the drunk in the local pub. There's no good reason why Wikipedia is so accurate — anyone can change it, any time — but in practice it's nearly always right. On some topics, particularly popular culture, it's the best source around. Wikipedia is an inspiring example of people's ability, unpaid and unheralded, to put their shoulders to the wheel for the common good. We should sigh with pleasure, not snigger with contempt, when it gets a mention.

Most of the ways Australians describe themselves are not true

We are not lazy, despite the way we enjoy describing ourselves as easygoing bludgers. We are incredibly hard-working and always have been. Australian men are not insensitive oafs; we are loyal, sensitive and cry at the drop of a hat. Australian women are not put-upon drongos; they are strong, bordering on the stroppy, as well as spectacularly sexy. We are not an anti-intellectual people; we buy more books per head than the British. What's interesting is that we all know the ocker stereotype is a lie; we repeat it with a sly, knowing smile, as if amused by the false lead we've sent the world.

Books are great but . . .

How come a girl with her nose stuck in a book is considered a marvel, while a boy with his nose stuck in a computer game is considered a horror? No one seems to assess the nature of the book or the kind of computer game, understanding that the book might by simplistic and trashy and the computer game sophisticated and demanding. It's a prejudice in which the delivery system is rated as more important than the content, with a bit of sexism thrown in.

We don't mind the ads on TV

OK, some people do and they only watch the ABC. But for most of us, the advertisements allow a conversation about what we've been watching and the chance to fetch another cup of tea and find a more comfy position on the couch. Some are quite diverting. The new one for AAMI is better than most of the shows.

Mainstream media is not dead

The world is full of consultants making a good income by exaggerating the extent of the new media revolution. “You need someone to help you navigate this radical, all-consuming new landscape,” they say, and — what do you know — for a fee they'll help you. By contrast, there's no scam in saying the obvious: mainstream media remains incredibly dominant. Yes, occasionally there's a three-minute video on YouTube that gets a lot of hits; but where's the new media application that matches the MasterChef finale — 5.7 million Australians glued to their set for half the evening? Maybe one day it will all change but right at the moment, it's a case of “rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated”.

Parking meters are a good thing

Of course we hate paying for that car space but we'd hate it even more if the car spaces were taken all day by the chemist and the newsagent and that guy who needed somewhere to park his boat. And the money goes to the council, so what's the problem?

Personal privacy is overrated

When everything is out in the open a whole lot of hypocrisy, homophobia and sermonising will disappear. We'll all be better off once the glorious diversity of the world is properly on show.

Plastic bags are not so bad

If you are really worried about landfill, worry about where all the old mattresses go.


12 October, 2010

Leftist authoritarianism never stops: "Buy our product or else!"

The Al Capones of politics

THE Gillard government and the key providers of the NBN are still working out how to ensure basic phone services to those people who do not sign up to it. In Tasmania, official estimates forecast that just 16 to 25 per cent of premises passed by the NBN rollout would subscribe. This prompted the state government to switch to an "opt-out" model, where homes and businesses would be automatically connected to the service unless they refused.

Last night, the government revealed that those wanting to retain a fixed-line telephone service in their home would be forced to connect to the NBN.

A spokeswoman for Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy said people living within the planned NBN fibre footprint - which is the 93 per cent of premises that would be covered by the network - must have fibre connected to their homes through the NBN if they want to maintain a fixed-line telephone connection.

"Anyone who has a fixed-line phone service will continue to have a fixed-line phone service," the spokeswoman said. But before a home owner can choose a telecommunications provider for their fixed telephone line they must opt in to the NBN network. The situation facing people within the NBN footprint who refuse to connect to the network remains unclear and is still subject to talks between the NBN Co, the government and Telstra.

Currently, Telstra has a universal service obligation requiring it to ensure basic telephone services are available to all Australians on an equitable basis, no matter where they live. Under Telstra's $11bn deal with the NBN Co, the telco would be relieved of that obligation, which would be transferred to the NBN Co for the areas covered by the fibre network.

That deal would see Telstra gradually shut down its ageing copper network - currently the main way of providing fixed-line telephone services - and "migrate" (transfer) customers to the new broadband network.

A spokeswoman for the NBN Co said yesterday there had been "detailed discussions" over several months about a "range of complex issues". "Those discussions are continuing and include issues such as migration," she said.

While Senator Conroy's office last night pointed to the implementation study into the NBN as proof the NBN Co could develop a "strong and viable business case", concerns have lingered that the project might need shoring up. While Tasmania has chosen an opt-out model, NSW and Victoria have ruled out a similar move. But this issue has sparked intense debate.

Last night, iiNet managing director Michael Malone said other states would need to follow Tasmania's lead in order to shore up the viability of the NBN project.

With an opt-in model, Mr Malone warned, "complacency means people don't opt in". "It's going to be very difficult to get the take-up rates that are needed, and also very expensive because technicians will need to keep coming back to do the houses that missed out the first time around," Mr Malone said.

Paul Broad, the head of the nation's third-biggest telco, AAPT, sounded a note of caution about forcing people into the project. He asked: "If people were forced on to it, what are they going to be charged?" He pointed to Sydney's Cross City Tunnel, where the NSW [Leftist] government initially adopted measures aimed at pushing motorists away from alternative routes and into the tunnel.


Another rogue Qld. bus driver refuses to stop -- and this time a kid dies

It had to happen eventually. Too many of the drivers treat kids with contempt, flouting their official instructions in order to do so

A WOMAN who was on the bus that passed Daniel Morcombe minutes before he vanished says she had an argument with the driver for not collecting him.

Witness Katherine Bird told the inquest into Daniel's suspected death that she saw him motioning to get on the bus while waiting under an overpass on the Nambour Connection Road, on the Sunshine Coast, but the bus did not stop.

Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes is investigation whether Daniel is dead, how he died and the police inquiries into the December 2003 disappearance, The Australian said.

Despite an extensive investigation involving up to 100 police at its peak, he remains missing, presumed dead.

Other witnesses have described one or two identified men with an older style blue car close to Daniel under the underpass at the time. They are believed to be linked to his disappearance.

Ms Bird was on travelling on the 1A Sunbus to Sunshine Plaza, having been delayed when her first bus had broken down.

She said she got angry at the driver when he did not stop for the boy gesturing to get on the bus. "It was a child. He was already sitting there waiting," she told the Maroochydore Coroners Court. "We were already 40 minutes late. I've got kids, I would have liked somebody to pick my child up."

Both Ms Bird and her partner Matthew Findlayson said they previously heard the bus driver being told not to stop for additional passengers because the bus was late.

After making a statement to police and re-visiting the scene, Ms Bird said she did not hear from police at all. She said her statement did not include a description of an older man she saw at the same place. "From seven years ago I've heard nothing, pretty much, until now," she said.


Bureaucrats getting fat on programs designed to help blacks

ABORIGINAL politician Alison Anderson has slammed the massive increase in bureaucracy under the federal intervention into remote indigenous communities.

Ms Anderson, the independent member for the central Australian seat of MacDonnell, said the dramatic increase in red tape was impeding the development of remote economies and entrenching the welfare dependence in remote towns.

"More and more money is being wasted in bureaucracy," Ms Anderson said. "There is more and more whitefellas coming to talk to us and nothing gets done. "Money is being just poured into the bureaucracy and there are no outcomes.''

An investigation by The Australian has revealed a massive increase in the number of public servants employed in the NT since the intervention began, with the number of extra bureaucrats employed since 2007 almost equalling the number of front-line workers such as police, teachers and health workers.

But indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has defended the intervention's progress, saying it was important to ensure public funds for indigenous services were used effectively and responsibly.

As well as an increase of 141 teachers, more than 60 police officers, and hundreds of nurses and doctors, schoolchildren were being fed properly at school and safe houses and support services for women and children had been expanded, Ms Macklin's office said.

Ms Anderson was a strong supporter of the intervention in its early days, in opposition to her colleagues within the NT Labor government who slammed the program as the "black kids' Tampa".

But the Aboriginal politician - who was the NT's Indigenous Policy Minister but quit the government in disgust at the wastage surrounding the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program - has become deeply disillusioned with the direction of Aboriginal policy in the NT.

"I just think the intervention is finished, absolutely finished," Ms Anderson said. "Communities have actually gone backwards. There is no employment for indigenous people. It's all just training for the sake of training."


Former top cop slams Victoria police

There's a lot to slam. They were never brilliant but they went downhill fast after the Leftist Vic. government appointed a totally incompetent but very "correct" fat feminist to lead them

OUTSPOKEN officer Gary Jamieson has reaffirmed his call for a return to "back to basics" policing in Victoria, saying the force's entire philosophy must change.

Former assistant commissioner Jamieson - a 37-year police veteran and one-time rival of Simon Overland for the force’s top job – in today’s Herald Sun accused Victoria Police of being distracted by "silly side issues" and raised concerns the force has been taken over by interstate and overseas career professionals who are "running their own agenda".

Speaking on radio 3AW today, Mr Jamieson said police numbers weren’t going to increase in great numbers no matter who was in government, so it was up to command to ease officer’s workload for their many "masters’’ and get them back on the streets.

"You’ve got to get more out of what you’ve got," he said. "And credit to Simon (Overland) he’s doing a lot of good work in trying to get more police back on the street. "But it’s also about trying to cut their workload back down so they can do the things which are important to the public.

"And I think that’s the missing link that we are just not doing that work that is really important to the public. "People just want to be safe. They just want to feel safe and so that means having people out on the streets to make sure that happens."

Mr Jamieson said work for other government departments and increasing PR spin was distracting Victoria Police from its core responsibility. "I think the spin is part of the problem,’’ he said. "But I think the other part is that police have lost momentum.

"It’s a little bit like St Kilda in the grand final. "They come out one week and play absolutely superbly. The next week they work very hard, they battle very hard, but they seem to get nowhere.’’

"This is a whole philosophy of policing that has to change. "The basic role of policing is public safety, keeping the community safe and meeting community expectations.’’

Mr Jamieson said Western Australian police had successfully implemented a back-to-basics approach but the idea had failed to win the Victorian government’s favour when he was a contender for the job of police commissioner. "That’s exactly the line that I took,’’ he said. "They obviously found a better model – a better person perhaps.’’

In today's Herald Sun Mr Jamieson wrote: "Over the past decade, the recruitment of police leaders from outside this state, bringing with them their unique policing models, has resulted in policing in this state becoming far too confused," Commander Jamieson wrote. "We have lost direction on what Victoria Police should be doing by making the model of policing far too complex."

The extraordinary breaking of ranks by Commander Jamieson is a clear broadside at former chief commissioner Christine Nixon, Mr Overland and Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones, all considered management specialists drafted from interstate and overseas.

Commander Jamieson writes the force's top brass drafted from interstate may be placing their own careers ahead of the community. "Can today's police executive create the excitement and passion their police force needs - or is their focus about continuing to experiment with their policing model?" Commander Jamieson writes. "And does the police executive have the ... unwavering commitment to serve our state, or are they happy to serve any state which presents an opportunity to further their own personal careers?"

Commander Jamieson also claims that police officers who understand the community have been passed over for promotion. "Leaders who have a burning desire to improve their own society - drawn from an ingrained understanding about local wants and needs and the best way of satisfying these - are often overlooked," he said. "It is clear to me that policing is very local, fundamental and based on traditional practices of serving your community.

"But does Victoria's own police command today understand grassroots policing? Does it understand the connection established between their police officers and the public? "Have today's police leaders had the same experiences - and therefore built up the same skills - presumably have the same skills - to support the difficult work that is frontline policing?"


Trigger-happy NSW cop shoots frightened guy dead

Turns out he had good reason to be frightened of the NSW wallopers

A NSW officer tasked with bringing a mentally ill man back to hospital chased and shot him, despite warnings he was frightened of police. Elijah Holcombe died after being struck by a single bullet in the chest fired by plain-clothed officer Senior Constable Andrew Rich in Armidale, in northern NSW, on June 2 last year.

On the opening day of a two-week inquest into Holcombe's death, Armidale Coroner's Court yesterday heard police were warned the Macquarie University psychology student suffered from a mental illness characterised by paranoid episodes and a phobia of police.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Chris Hoy, said an "integral component" of the inquest would be to determine whether Holcombe's death was a result of justifiable homicide.

The inquest, which will hear from 71 witnesses, will also look at the role of police officers and how they interact with people with a mental illness.

In the months leading up to his death, Holcombe, who had battled depression for eight years, was living with his parents, Jeremy and Tracey, in Wee Waa, in the state's north, because of concerns about his mental health.

Four days before his death, Holcombe was treated at nearby Narrabri Hospital for "superficial self-mutilation cuts" to his wrists. He was prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft and the anti-psychotic Risperidone and released the same day.

On June 1, Holcombe took his father's car and drove to Armidale. Mr Holcombe reported the matter to Narrabri police and warned them his son was experiencing paranoid delusions but "would not hurt anybody".

When Holcombe arrived at Armidale, he went to the police station, admitted stealing the car and asked to be taken to Armidale Hospital where he was assessed by nurse Carla Rutherford.

In a witness statement, Ms Rutherford said Holcombe appeared paranoid and despite attempts to keep him at the hospital as a voluntary patient, he was legally allowed to walk out.

When senior constables Rich and Christopher Dufty learned Holcombe had discharged himself, they went to the hospital and nurse Robyn O'Brien asked them to bring him back because of concerns about his mental health.

Soon after, the officers spotted Holcombe walking along Rusden Street, in Armidale's city centre. There was a brief exchange before Holcombe fled, pursued on foot by Senior Constable Rich.

Holcombe ran into a coffee shop, grabbed a bread knife and then fled out the back door to Cinders Lane. Senior Constable Rich confronted Holcombe in the laneway and asked him three times to drop the bread knife before shooting him in the chest.

The inquest heard from Narrabri officers Senior Constable Brett Allison and Leading Senior Constable Alexander Coates who both said they had not received formal training in how to deal with mentally ill people.


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them. And there's plenty up today.

11 October, 2010

Three years in jail without trial. India? Africa? China? Russia? No: Australia

The death of a prisoner in a Queensland jail prompts the question: why was he still awaiting trial after almost three years inside? The evidence seems to point to Cartledge's involvement in Ms Rigg's death. But what if he was innocent?

What do we know about Adam Cartledge? Not a lot except that police reckon he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Rigg. His best friend, a bloke named Arran Jeffries, couldn't believe it when his mate was charged. saying he was "not a violent person" Whether he changed his mind when Cartledge allegedly led police to her body in a shallow grave is not recorded.

However, we do know is that all this happened almost three years ago, Rigg, 28, was reported missing on November 26, 2007, three days alter she disappeared from a duplex she shared with Cartledge, 39. Cartledge appeared in Southport Magistrates Court on December 3, 2007, charged with her murder.

Last Tuesday, Cartledge was found dead in his cell at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre. The cause has not yet been made public but there are no suspicious circumstances. But there are disgraceful circumstances because Cartledge was still being held awaiting trial almost three years after he was arrested. He wasn't due to appear in court again until June next year.

He may have been a vicious killer but the fact is that he hadn't been found guilty of anything - not even jaywalking - yet he had been banged up in prison for almost three years. A legal maxim has it that justice delayed is justice denied. Cartledge wasn't just denied justice, he didn't even catch a glimpse of it.

And, somewhere, are family and friends who will never see Ms Rigg's memory receive justice. Cartledge, Ms Rigg and the community have been badly served by a system that allowed this to happen. The original police inquiry was pretty standard, with Cartledge charged fairly pronto and Ms Rigg's remains found not long after. Yet, it was almost a year later that Cartledge appeared in court and was committed for trial.

In February this year - you do the sums - he appeared in the Supreme Court before Justice Peter Applegarth. There, prosecutor Belinda Merrin was granted an adjournment on behalf of both the Crown and the defence so a singlet found on Ms Rigg's body could be further examined and a pathologists report could be gathered. This would take six months!

What choice did Justice Applegarth have, when both the Crown and the defence sought the adjournment in the pursuit of justice as they saw it? The best efforts of men and women of intellect, learning, integrity and goodwill unwittingly led to events that delayed justice until eternity.

No one is to blame but we are entitled to wonder about the workloads and/or efficiencies of the courts, the prosecution and the defence that made these delays inevitable. And we are entitled to wonder about the adequacy and the funding of scientific inquiry in Queensland that judicial exhibits and evidence have to be examined in Victoria and take so long

It's not a new issue but it refuses to go away. In this case, the inadequacies have followed a man to his grave. The evidence seems to point to Cartledge's involvement in Ms Rigg's death, or at least in the disposal of her body. It was sufficient for him to be committed for trial. But what if he were innocent? Magna Carta guaranteed: "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."

In this case, no rights were sold or refused, but justice was patently denied to both Cartledge and Ms Rigg. And it is denied to many others, with reports that prisoners in Queensland spend on average 6.4 months in custody compared with 5.9 months in Victoria and NSW.

Sympathy for Cartledge will be limited but these sorts of disgraceful delays might be more important to our confidence in the legal system than any passing anger about the fate of a few kiddie-fiddlers. An inquiry is needed if justice is to be anything more than a theoretical concept in Queensland.

The article above by Terry Sweetman appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 10 October, 2010

Four boats in 48 hours!

Arrival of four more "asylum-seeker" boats shows the utter policy failure of Australia's Leftist government. At that rate Australia's sea borders are looking more porous than the U.S./Mexico border. Is Australia ready for 12 million illegals too? At least the Mexicans come to work. The Afghans come only to be supported by the Australian taxpayer

THE arrival of four asylum boats in 48 hours has pushed numbers in the Christmas Island detention centre to an apparent record. The centre has been forced to operate well beyond its carrying capacity.

With Immigration Minister Chris Bowen flying to East Timor today to begin talks on a regional processing centre, his department has revealed 350 asylum-seekers are being housed in tents.

According to the department, there were 2697 detainees on Christmas Island yesterday, with more on the way following the interception of four asylum boats, at least one of which has yet to unload its passengers.

The centre, which was designed to accommodate 400 people, has undergone successive reconfigurations to house the growing number of detainees.

Falling refugee success rates and the Rudd government's freeze on new Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum claims resulted in a blowout in detention numbers. But even at its capacity of about 2500, the centre is over its limit.

A departmental spokeswoman could not say yesterday if Christmas Island was at record capacity.

But in the period leading up to the Rudd government's decision in April to move detainees to the mainland, numbers on Christmas Island were about 2300, suggesting the facility had hit a new high.

Mr Bowen acknowledged yesterday there were "significant strains" on detention centres. "I've announced some short-term measures to deal with that. I'll be announcing some longer-term measures in the not-too-distant future to deal with those pressures," he added.

Mr Bowen will fly to Dili today to discuss the regional proposal with East Timor's President, Jose Ramos-Horta, and senior officials. From there he will fly to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur for talks aimed at bolstering arrangements for managing the asylum flow.

Despite vocal rejection of the idea by East Timor's opposition parties, Mr Bowen said Canberra had received "encouraging feedback" from Dili about the proposal, announced by Julia Gillard in the lead-up to the federal election. "It's a big issue for East Timor -- it would be a significant development for them, and they obviously have issues they want to work through," Mr Bowen told the Nine Network yesterday. "But, certainly, President Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister (Xanana) Gusmao have indicated they are very interested in talking it through."

Since Friday, authorities have intercepted four boats, two of which were lashed together. Their arrival has edged Australia closer to another record -- the highest number of unauthorised boatpeople in a calendar year. A spokeswoman for Border Protection Command said 4924 passengers and 270 crew had arrived this year, bringing the number of unauthorised arrivals to 5194.

According to the Parliamentary Library, the highest number of illegal boat arrivals on record occurred in 2001, when 43 boats carried 5516 people to Australia, not including the crews.


Gun owners raise objections to changes in Weapons Act

Paul Feeney says the toy guns he bought at the Ekka for his grandchildren are not weapons

GUN owners have unleashed their anger over changes to the Weapons Act, bombarding the State Government with almost 1200 submissions.

Unveiled in August, the draft act includes proposals to licence toy guns, restrict the ownership of certain categories of firearm and allow religious exemptions for the possession of knives.

Sporting Shooters Association state president Geoff Jones said their 45,000 members were fundamentally opposed to the "draconian" legislation which sought to penalise lawful gun owners, rather than criminals.

"The new laws are based on restriction (of gun ownership) which we believe is non-productive to community safety, enormously expensive and a serious misdirection of police resources," Mr Jones said. "It's becoming a monster."

Paul Feeney from the Law-Abiding Firearms' Owners said under the draft laws, gun owners would be lumbered with more paperwork, more charges and greater restrictions.

"Our main objection is the over-regulation. It's regulation for regulation's sake and there's no indication from any of the evidence of the need for this sort of thing," Mr Feeney said. "All this will do is produce a bigger bureaucracy to manage this."

One of the most controversial changes to the law is the proposal to require anyone possessing an object that is a "reasonable copy" of a gun, to licence and store it as a gun.

Mr Feeney said that would mean harmless toys such as those he bought his grandchildren at the Ekka had to be kept under lock and key.

"They rattle and sparkle. The grandchildren love playing with them, but because they are almost exact copies of a Steyr rifle and an American AR-15 they would have to be treated as category D weapons," he said. "The people they were designed to entertain wouldn't be able to touch them."

Police Minister Neil Roberts said the submissions were currently being reviewed, with recommendations to go to the Government in coming months.

"While I don't want to pre-empt the recommendations that will be made, the Government asked the community for its feedback on possible changes to the act," Mr Roberts said.

Mr Feeney said a complete revision of firearms licensing was needed. "We object to them being termed as weapons," he said.


Children still being left at bus stops by Brisbane City Council drivers

Government employees in action

ALMOST one complaint is made every weekday about a child being left behind by a bus in Brisbane. Figures released under Right to Information laws show 208 complaints were made to Brisbane City Council last year about drivers who either refused, or failed, to pick up children.

As a result, 29 drivers were reprimanded after investigation of the complaints. Four of those drivers were dismissed. A further 102 cases were unable to be verified, or the statements made on behalf of the child and by the driver were conflicting so no action was taken. [So no penalty unless the driver actually ADMITS his actions???]

The Courier-Mail revealed last year that a 10-year-old girl had been told to get off the bus in Mt Gravatt because she did not have enough money, while a 14-year-old boy was left behind in Carina because the driver refused to break a $20 note. In both cases the driver was disciplined. [How?]

The cases breached the strict "no child left behind" policy for bus drivers across the southeast, which states that no children should be refused entry to a bus regardless of whether they have sufficient money for the trip.

There were 6670 complaints in total made last year about driver behaviour, including 1260 for rudeness or aggression, 249 for using an incorrect route, 33 for smoking and 25 for discriminatory behaviour.

BCC said that, of the complaints involving children being left behind, 12 were found to be because the driver took the incorrect route and 24 were because the bus was full. In 27 of the cases, the driver was found to have acted correctly.

Public and Active Transport chair Margaret De Wit said BCC took reports of children being left behind very seriously. "Everyone makes mistakes, but we take a very dim view of any driver making these sorts of mistakes - that's why we are very thorough in these investigations," she said.

"Our operators receive very extensive training, which repeatedly addresses the issue of not leaving children behind. They get presentations, they watch movies, they get issued copies of manuals they must have with them, induction class goes through it thoroughly and they get refresher training." She said the four drivers who had been dismissed were previously warned about their behaviour.

Opposition leader Shayne Sutton said it was disgraceful that any child was being left behind. "It's supposed to be council policy that no child is left behind at a bus stop," she said. "That is unacceptable and it must stop."


In critical condition: Corporate doctors' surgeries failing

MEDICAL centres statewide have been closed, sold, or hang in the balance despite a severe doctors shortage. But AMA Queensland says while it is concerned about the closures, running a general practice is a business venture that has to follow reality.

The Federal Govemment has promised 13 GP Super Clinics for Queensland in a bid to improve healthcare services around the state.

At the same time, corporate medical centres are collapsing, leaving patients and doctors in limbo. Queensland Medical Centre at Paradise Point on the Gold Coast, owned by now-defunct The Doctors Company, closed a fortnight ago, leaving sick patients without access to services and their records.

Other centres at Kawana Waters and Maroochydore were sold to Sydney operators. Centres at Beenleigh, Corinda, Inala and Toowoomba have sold while Redlands is still on the market.

AMA guidelines recommend doctors should notify patients six months in advance if they intend to close their practice so that they can obtain their medical records.

The Doctors Company administrator, Brent Khurina of Hall Chadwick, found debts of $9 million across almost 30 centres run by founding doctor Lawrie Clift. Mr Khurina said an investigation had now begun into the company, with an initial report submitted to ASIC.

The company had been struggling after the acquisition of more than a dozen centres. The most recent financial report found it posted a net loss of $245 million for the 2009 year. Dr Clift said he was unable to speak specifically about the collapse, but said healthcare delivery was made difficult by changing government rules.

While pharmacies can be owned only by pharmacists, medical practices can be owned by anyone. The AMA said a key problem was conflict between profit-oriented business and ethics-oriented doctors who work in centres. AMA Queensland offers courses to help doctors to successfully run practices. “The prime focus, as always is to make sure patients get quality care,” a spokeswoman said.

The article above by Mitch Gaynor and Suellen Hinde appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 10 October, 2010

10 October, 2010


Four current articles below

Australia's malicious ABC Science Show

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) currently dominates climate science to the extent that many consider it a fact – not a theory. The famous philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, would describe AGW as the current dominant paradigm because this is where the majority of professional scientists claim their allegiance. Of course there are dissenters, commonly referred to as sceptics or deniers, and Kuhn would have correctly predict that these individual would be excluded from the scientific community as evidenced in the Climategate emails.

It is particularly evident from the Climategate emails that a group within the scientific community will go to great lengths to deny so-called sceptics the opportunity to publish in the peer-reviewed literature including through the removal of editors and stacking of review committees.

Nevertheless, outspoken sceptic Bob Carter has managed, over his distinguished career to amass a long list of publications in the peer-reviewed literature including publications of direct relevance to climate science in the best international peer-reviewed science journals.

I make specific mention of Professor Carter and his publication record, because yesterday, on the ABC Science Show, it was repeatedly stated that Professor Carter has a very poor publication record.

Robyn Williams’ introduction to the interview explains:

“Bob Ward says those who seek to reinterpret the science of climate change often have minimal publication records. Publication involves peer review. This process weeds out experiments and papers which are sub-standard. By contrast, anyone can write a book, write a newspaper article, or address public meetings. Bob Ward mentions a paper by Bob Carter, saying it contains false quotes and numerous examples of inaccuracy. Bob Ward says the Carter paper is the worst that has ever been published about climate change.”

Worst, in the actual interview not one specific, substantive error of science is raised by Mr Ward, or Mr Williams, to illustrate the general accusation.

While it is generally acknowledged that Mr Williams is hopelessly biased when it comes to the issue of climate change, his malicious treatment of Professor Carter is beyond anything reasonably acceptable on a science show broadcast by the ABC.

While an apology is in order, in addition I suggest that Mr Williams dedicate a show, within the next month or so, to an interview with Professor Carter to discuss the science in his new book ‘Climate: the Counter Consensus’.


Coal OR Crops? NO. Coal AND Crops

The Queensland Government has announced plans to create a new category of restricted land called “Strategic Cropping Land” which bans all mining or development. The Carbon Sense Coalition has lodged a submission opposing the proposal. See: here

If Queensland’s politicians were really concerned about food security they would not have sterilised millions of acres of grazing land under scrub clearing bans, conservation zones, heritage areas, wild rivers, national parks and other anti-farming bans.

Nor would they have encouraged the diversion of cropping land from producing food for humans to producing ethanol for cars; or used false global warming dogma to justify covering food producing land with feral forests of carbon credit trees.

It seems that the Queensland government has a secret plan to destroy Queensland’s primary industries, all motivated by suicidal Green hostility to the production of carbon fuels and foods, mainly coal, cattle and sheep.

Queensland has always relied on both mining and farming. To undermine mining on the pretence of helping food production is false and destructive. This is not about crops or food – it is just another chapter in the Green war on carbon fuels whose goal is to prevent development of new coal mines and power stations.

The hidden tragedy of this silly policy is that we will never know which protected paddock is underlain by a treasure house of coal or minerals. With modern machinery and knowledge of soils and plants it would be very easy to replace the food lost in the tiny area of crop land likely to be disturbed by coal mining.

The choice is not “Coal or Crops”. A sensible policy is “Coal AND Crops”.

This proposal is quietly slipping beneath the radar. Have a look at the enormous area covered. When this blanket of bans is added to the Wild Rivers sterilisation, development and industry will be excluded from a huge area of Queensland. Future generations will be far poorer if this proposal succeeds, but few people will understand why.


Greenie flatulence

The Northern Territory Government is funding a university study to measure the impact of Australia's wild camel population on climate change.

Charles Darwin University has been funded for the year-long study to monitor the impact of the wild camel herd on the carbon cycle.

It is estimated that more than one million camels are roaming the country's arid regions.

The study will monitor carbon emissions and sequestration, in particular, looking at camel flatulence and the greenhouse gas effect created by decomposing carcasses.

The university says Indigenous people in remote communities will be involved in the project on Aboriginal land.

It is expected to shed light on the environmental impact of techniques for camel management, like animal culling.


Labor locked in deadly embrace with the Greens

GILLARD'S alliance with the minority party was ill-advised and could prove fatal

Christopher Pearson

JULIA Gillard's success in cobbling together a slim majority has distracted attention from Labor's biggest problem. The ALP is being cannibalised to the point where it may not have a future as a governing party in its own right.

It hasn't maintained anything like its normal percentage of the 18 to 34-year-old voters, especially in inner-city electorates. According to Newspoll, 50 per cent of them intended to give their primary vote to Labor during the period from July to September 2008, but it fell to 35 per cent during the month of August this year.

Having lost a swag of that cohort at the age when they're apt to be most idealistic and engaged, Labor is unlikely to be able to count on many of them regularly giving it their first preferences later on.

In outer suburban and regional seats, socially conservative, blue-collar workers and their families were once the core of Labor's vote. That support base was eroded under Paul Keating and sizeable chunks of it swung to John Howard until Work Choices. Tony Abbott has won most of them back and can expect to make further inroads.

None of this is lost on Gillard, of course. However, her decision to enter into a formal agreement with the Greens tells us she hasn't grasped the policy implications. If she is to have any hope of surviving as a long-term leader, her first task is to defend what the advertising agencies call Labor's "brand". The ALP can't afford to be cast in the role of a senior partner in a long-term alliance with the Greens because they are competing for the loyalty of the same voters and Labor will keep bleeding votes.

Some party loyalists within Club Sensible say the agreement was necessary to build the momentum, along with Andrew Wilkie's pledge of support, so as to cajole the rural independents. I don't buy it. At this distance, especially in the light of ABC1's Four Corners program last week and Rob Oakeshott's revelations about his voting habits, their decision seems to have been a foregone conclusion.

Given that the Greens' Adam Bandt had already repeatedly ruled out supporting the Coalition, no pact needed to be formalised or concessions made last month. Whatever message it sent to the independents is as nothing compared with the one sent to all the voters who veer from election to election between the two main parties: we are prepared to vacate the middle ground and govern from the Left.

Why, regular readers may be wondering, am I not delighted by Gillard's folly? The answer is simple. The national interest demands that at any given time both main parties should be capable of running competent governments, neither of which would be beholden to fringe parties.

For almost all of its recent history the ALP has understood that the Australian electorate is pragmatic and, if anything, mildly conservative. Modern Labor has been most successful when it framed its policies accordingly.

Even when the Hawke government's primary vote slumped in 1990 and it was relying on the minor parties for their preferences, it made relatively few concessions to them.

Gillard will justify her embrace of the Greens in terms of running a minority government and improving the relationship before the new Greens senators take their places next July. But if her strategic sense was anywhere near as developed as her tactical skills, she and her ministers would be reminding voters of why the Greens' policy on almost everything is utopian, ill-considered and not properly costed.

To consolidate their own position as parties for grown-ups, Labor and the Coalition should always speak of the Greens as the infantile party: resolutely irresponsible, innumerate and a threat to the economy.

They should also be pointing out that the Greens provide a flag of convenience for former Moscow-liners, Trotskyites and other ultra-leftist ratbags.

Rather than promising "to engage in a respectful conversation" with them, Gillard should take a leaf out of Kevin Rudd's book and barely speak to them at all. If she wanted to govern from the Centre, she would seldom need their votes because she could usually be confident of support from the Coalition under Abbott.

Bob Hawke relied on Coalition votes, notably under John Howard, to pass most of his economic reforms.

There was plenty of room for product differentiation to preserve the parties' brands and to allow for politicking at the margins.

Both sides were able to take some of the credit. The reforms were overdue and courageous on the government's part because in the short term they often adversely affected traditional Labor voters. Nonetheless, the national interest has seldom been better served than in the Hawke years and it's no coincidence that he won four elections on the trot.

Gillard's pact with the Greens virtually rules out a return to the Hawke tradition. Even if she cared to do so, I doubt that she's politically nimble enough to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The junking of her pre-election promise that there'd be no carbon tax and the design of a committee to consider the tax that deliberately excludes half the polity tell us several things.

The first is that the alliance with the Greens is more than merely symbolic. The Coalition's claims about a secret preference deal with strings attached were warranted.

Second, she lacks even rudimentary caution. Given that it was she who persuaded Rudd to drop the emissions trading system, we can be confident her acceptance of a carbon tax is not a matter of conviction but a high-stakes gamble that the rest of the world will move in the same direction. It was an option that she need not have exercised and may well prove disastrous, for Labor and the economy. It's a decision she could comfortably have deferred until 2013. By then we may have a better idea what -- if anything -- the Americans and the Chinese in particular are proposing to do about carbon.

Pragmatic, mildly conservative voters don't like politicians taking premature, high-stakes gambles, especially ones that drive up the cost of living. If Abbott succeeds in painting the carbon tax in those terms, Labor may decide to depose Gillard before he has the chance to defeat her.


9 October, 2010

Greenies to push up the price of food

AUSTRALIAN households are already pay the highest ever rates for electricity. Now get ready to start doing the same for food and clothing. Proposed drastic cuts to water allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin will hit farmers from Griffith to Narrabri and send supermarket prices soaring, industry experts said.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority - an independent body charged with "restoring balance" in some of the country's most productive agricultural areas - released a proposal yesterday to cut up to 37 per cent from irrigators' water allotments.

The full cost is expected to be at least $1.1 billion in lost agricultural production, while some regional towns relying on irrigation farming may become ghost towns. The authority believes just 800 jobs will be lost, but the NSW Irrigators Council reckons that figure will be more like 17,000.

Regional Australia isn't happy but the flow-on effect will be felt as keenly in the city with more costly food and clothing, to go with already high cost-of-living pressure. "There will be riots in the streets, which is a colourful statement but this is clearly a plan to not only hurt our farmers but to depopulate regional Australia," Murrumbidgee Irrigation chairwoman Gillian Kirkup said.

In NSW, the report recommends cuts of up to 43 per cent in the Murrumbidgee and up to 37 per cent in the Murray and Gwydir as part of a plan to direct more water toward environmental purposes, such as desalination.

Farmers Association vice-president Peter Darley said the report could spell the end of farming as we know it. "They have put environmental flows ahead of food security, which is disgusting," Mr Darley said. "The cuts will push the price of food up but by how much only time will tell. But retailers will certainly capitalise on this."

The report also warns that tough restrictions on the use of Australia's most productive river network - the source of 40 per cent of our food - could push cotton farmers in the state's north to alternative crops, or right off the land. "Some service centres may become more welfare dependent," the Murray-Darling Basin Authority report [smugly] said.

The authority wants to raise environmental water flow [i.e. let the water run straight out to sea] from 58 per cent to 67-70 per cent in a bid to save native birds, fish and trees. The study is a "guide" for a draft report which will lead to a final document not expected before the end of 2011.


History course 'cobbled together'

HISTORY teachers warned yesterday that the national curriculum was being "cobbled together" through a flawed process of "ad hoc" decisions.

The History Teachers Association of Australia has joined the chorus of concerns raised in recent weeks by professional and academic geographers, scientists, visual artists and principals that the rush to finish the curriculum by the end of the year is compromising the quality of courses.

HTAA president Paul Kiem told The Weekend Australian yesterday the process developed by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority was "deeply flawed" and inspired no confidence that quality courses would be produced.

"We want a course that has a pedigree and has been through a gestation period rather than something that has been cobbled together at the last moment to meet a political deadline," he said. "We want to see it got right, not just got out. We want students to emerge with a coherent view of Australian history."

The national curriculum was originally intended to provide a broad framework, setting a common core of essential knowledge for each subject that all students should learn, no matter where they attend school.

But in the process of consultation and writing, ACARA has struggled to determine the core knowledge and expanded the breadth of topics covered, prompting one insider to describe the curriculum this week as a "camel" - a horse designed by committee.

The HTAA wrote to School Education Minister Peter Garrett on September 14, asking for the deadline to be eased to allow a more considered evaluation and review of the course. A letter written in May to then education minister Julia Gillard went unanswered.

While Mr Garrett is yet to respond, he was reported last week as saying the curriculum writers might have to work later and harder to finish the courses by December, when the nation's education ministers are due to consider their approval of the first four subjects of English, maths, science and history.

The ministers were originally expected to evaluate the first four subjects next week but the deadline was extended at the request of ACARA after concerns were raised by some states.

Mr Kiem described Mr Garrett's comments as "ridiculously out of touch" and suggested he was receiving poor advice. "The process has been deeply flawed and it does nothing to inspire confidence when state governments leave it to the last moment to intervene or when the federal minister makes ill-informed comments in the media," he said.

The latest letter from the history teachers follows letters to Mr Garrett and the state and territory education ministers from the Australian Council of the Deans of Science, the Institute of Australian Geographers and geography teacher associations concerned by the direction of the national curriculum, and the speed at which it is required to be finished.

Principals in Victoria and the NSW Board of Studies were also reported last week as holding serious concerns while the Visual Arts Consortium of academics, teachers and artists described the proposed shape of the arts curriculum, which does not include the teaching of skills such as drawing, as "tokenistic participation with no education attached".

The HTAA letter to Mr Garrett says the development of the national curriculum is "operating under considerable duress" imposed by the inadequate timeline set by the federal government.

It says the association finds it difficult to endorse the curriculum when issues about implementation and teacher training remain to be addressed, while the writing of the curriculum for years 11 and 12 lacked an overall rationale and involved "a degree of ad hoc decision-making". Similar criticisms about the process were made in May by the lead writer on the history curriculum, eminent historian Stuart Macintyre.

The HTAA also warned it was being overloaded with content by lobby groups ensuring their pet topics were included.

A spokesman for Mr Garrett said the quality of the curriculum was paramount and ACARA was being given the time to do the work and get it right.

A spokesman for ACARA said it took seriously its mandate to consult widely and the HTAA had been involved extensively in this process. "This is why we are taking a few extra weeks as it finalises the first phase of the curriculum to make sure we present a document that all education authorities can endorse," he said.

Mr Kiem said yesterday the fundamental problem was that ACARA had not developed clear guidelines and criteria and the course rationale from the start, so now there was no coherent version of what the history curriculum should look like. He said it contained more content than could be taught in the time allocated to history, and, without clear guidelines about what should be removed, it was becoming more prescriptive.


States baulk at opt-out on NBN link

Very welcome news. A monopoly of internet connections would be wide open to abuse by government -- abuse both political and financial

NSW and Victoria have ruled out following Tasmania's lead and legislating for all homes to be connected to the National Broadband Network.

The states' reluctance to legislate, coupled with take-up rates mirroring Tasmania's sluggish appetite to connect to the broadband network, could result in the federal government conducting a review into the NBN's roll-out schedule.

Failure to achieve good take-up rates in the test phases of the NBN -- which include the Tasmanian roll-out and 19 sites on the mainland -- would trigger a review to correct the connection deficiencies and pare back the NBN's mandate to connect 93 per cent of the nation to the fibre network, according to the government's $25 million implementation study into the viability of the NBN.

"If the results of the first phase of roll-out suggest the . . . coverage target will not be reached, government should use its performance management mechanisms to correct the course of the roll-out and/or revise its target," the study recommends.

Concerns over the lukewarm response to the Apple Isle's new broadband network -- where only 50 per cent of premises have been connected -- were brought to the fore this week when Tasmania Premier David Bartlett announced he would legislate to change the NBN connection procedure from an opt-in system to an opt-out model.

This means customers will be connected to the NBN unless they actively refuse to have the new fibre-optic cable plugged into their home.

The move is expected to greatly bolster the Tasmanian connection rate of premises to the NBN, where only a few hundred customers have so far activated their superfast broadband services.

The exact subscription figure of the network in the first three Tasmanian towns -- Midway Point, Scottsdale and Smithton -- remains a closely guarded secret but official state estimates predict that only 16 to 25 per cent of premises passed by the roll-out would take up subscriptions to access the high-speed internet it offers.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has welcomed Tasmania's moves to legislate an opt-out method for connection to the NBN, saying that it "will enable faster and more efficient roll-out of the network and minimise inconvenience to landowners", and has thrown his support behind the other states and territories to follow Tasmania's suit. But so far, his calls have fallen on deaf ears.

The NSW government has ruled out any plans to legislate an opt-out model and so too has Victoria. "Our intention is for every Victorian home to be connected to the NBN but individuals would be able to choose whether or not to sign up and use the service," said a spokesperson for Victorian Treasurer and ICT Minister John Lenders.

A spokesman for Queensland Public Works Minister Robert Schwarten said the government was yet to decide either way. "We are contacting Tasmania today about their legislation but we have not made a decision about it," the spokesman said.

The NBN Co has not revealed how many people have opted-in to the NBN first-release sites on the mainland, which include Brunswick, Townsville, Willunga, Kiama and Armidale.

But take-up has not been what the NBN Co hoped, with the company being forced to extend the deadlines for the return of consent forms on at least one occasion. Potential recipients have until today to return the forms. The previous date was August 31.


The charming Victoria police again

What does it take to spur a Royal Commission of enquiry into this bunch of goons?

POLICE officers have been caught joking about the electrocution of an Indian train passenger in a racist email scandal. They circulated sickening video footage of the man being killed and suggested it could be a way to fix Melbourne's Indian student problem.

The Herald Sun has discovered some of the force's highest-ranked officers have been implicated in the scandal, which also involves pornographic material. Three superintendents were nabbed during an investigation into the circulation of inappropriate emails through the police computer system. Several inspectors have also been caught.

Emails probed by the Ethical Standards Department's Operation Barrot contain pornographic, homophobic, racist and violent material.

Chief Commissioner Simon Overland described the emails as "disturbing, offensive and gross".

One of the offending emails contained video footage showing the death of a man who was travelling on the roof of a crowded train in India. When the train stopped at a station the man stood up and touched an overhead power cable. Onlookers screamed as he was electrocuted.

The email containing the shocking video began circulating in the Victoria Police computer system and racist comments were added, suggesting "this might be a way to fix the Indian student problem". It came at a time when force command was trying to ease racial tension after a number of assaults and incidents involving Indians living in Melbourne.

Premier John Brumby yesterday criticised the actions of the police who circulated the racist material. "This is completely offensive and contrary to the views and values at the heart of the Victorian community - tolerance and respect," he said.

A police spokesman said the emails were offensive. "These are matters which demanded we took action. Some of the content was extremely offensive and we can't tolerate that within the ranks of Victoria Police," he said.

Federation of Indian Students spokesman Gautam Gupta said he was appalled. "It is outrageous that police officers would joke about the death of anyone. I am really shocked. This is humour in very, very bad taste," he said.

None of the superintendents or inspectors caught during the sweep have been interviewed by ESD yet. But the Herald Sun believes it has been unofficially suggested to two long-serving superintendents they should retire as soon as possible to avoid disciplinary action.

A sergeant, two leading senior constables and a senior constable have already been sacked and six other low-ranking police have been demoted or fined.

Healesville sergeant Tony Vangorp took his life in March after being suspended and being told he faced the sack over inappropriate emails. Fifteen officers will be dealt with at disciplinary hearings in the next fortnight.

SOURCE. Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them.

Heavy metal fan charged over T-shirt

Speech laws are rarely enforced in Queensland but I suppose there are limits

A heavy metal music fan could face six months in jail over an allegedly offensive T-shirt. Alexsei Vladmir Nikola, 34, was due to appear in court this morning on public nuisance charges after Brisbane police officers allegedly saw him wearing the shirt on George Street on May 6.

The shirt allegedly featured the words "Jesus is a c---" in large letters and shows a picture of a semi-naked, masturbating nun.

The fashion item is believed to be merchandise of the gothic-metal band Cradle of Filth. The English band have a reputation for provocative and elaborate concerts and feature band members in corpse-like make up.

Mr Nikola, of Runcorn in Brisbane's south, was due to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court today but his case was adjourned in his absence. He has not yet entered a plea to the charge.

The offence of public nuisance is characterised by behaviour that interferes, or is likely to interfere with the peaceful passage through, or enjoyment of, a public place by a member of the public. The charge carries a maximum fine of $1000 or six months' jail.


8 October, 2010

The "lucky country" still

The late Donald Horne wrote a miserable carping book about Australia under the title "The lucky country". Donald intended his title to convey that the happy state of life in Australia was all just luck, not due to hard work and good judgment.

Australians generally however took the title to their hearts as a good summary of how well off Australia is compared to most other places. So Donald became famous for saying something that was in fact the opposite of what he intended -- perverse fame indeed.

And the "luck" held throughout the recent global financial crisis. Australia's banks continued to prosper while much more famous banks elsewhere failed completely.

But it wasn't "luck" then any more than it ever was. It was good judgment. Australian banks were extensively DEREGULATED in the 1980s so had acquired very realistic lending policies by the time the GFC struck. So their bad debts were minimal. Banks in the USA, by contrast, had GOVERNMENT IMPOSED bad lending policies so the resulting explosion was inevitable.

The report below is a small survey of the happy state of the Australian economy to date. The RBA is Australia's central bank. The mention below of a "Super Aussie" refers to the Australian dollar and the fact that it is highly esteemed among international money managers -- and has hence risen in value against most other currencies

While most of the developed world spasms with the pain of stubbornly high unemployment, our biggest worry is that the strong full-time jobs growth we saw from the ABS yesterday will continue, eventually building into some inflationary pressures next year that will require the RBA to tap the interest rate brakes a little.

Those rates, mind you, are only average for our economy now, so it's hardly an earth-shattering prospect. The RBA wants to sustain growth, not stop it – the pain is meant to occur at the margin.

Yes, our housing is expensive, especially our most desirable inner-city housing that seems to concern so many of those who comment about this column. We should indeed be doing whatever we can to increase supply, but contrary to the hopes of the doom'n'gloomers, or those who don't own and carry an ideological hatred of the landlord class, there is no spectacular price collapse in the offing.

“Mildly overvalued,” as the IMF described Australia's house prices, is a long way from the bubbles that have exploded catastrophically in the US, Spain, Ireland et al. With so very many different factors at work, everything from our tax and mortgage systems to our culture, when parts of our market do run away with themselves and correct, it is an unhappy grind rather than a screaming plunge.

It would be nice if prices stayed flattish for a while and the RBA would like investors to collectively be smarter - and I would like to win the lottery.

It's arguable that there is a shortage of housing and the industry that builds houses would be happy to build more houses – no surprise in that – but the history of our housing market is that it eventually sorts itself out, albeit in fits and starts. Wiser federal, state and local government policies would help – but I revert to my wish to win the lottery.

Super Aussie

The rise and rise of the Aussie dollar creates problems too, although as headline writers we tend to be torn between the good and bad aspects. There's a degree of somewhat nationalistic pride as the Super Aussie struts the world stage, kicking sand in the face of grovelling greenbacks, simpering sterling and edgy euros. There's also the positive feedback for keeping our inflation rate subdued and the self-interest of many in the chattering class at the prospect of cheaper international holidays and the greater job of online shopping.

But of course Super Aussie also creates problems for some industries – the most obvious being domestic tourism and education, but also every company with foreign income that isn't being boosted by higher resources prices. The CSL annual meeting next week will no doubt have a tale to tell about that.

And local manufacturers competing with imports do it tougher, forcing them to be yet smarter and add more value. Does a strong Aussie mean the end of manufacturing? Well, a high cost base hasn't done German manufacturing much harm.

While the usual overshooting as speculators pile aboard for a while and with the caveat that no-one has a track record of accurately forecasting our currency, it's also worth remembering that it's not all about us - the much bigger problem is the weakness of the US dollar.

(As an aside, it is bemusing to watch the Americans accuse China of currency manipulation when the out-of-control American debt and the Fed's threat of printing more money is taking the greenback down and undermining confidence in the world's reserve currency.)

The nation's economy is a mightily complex beast that doesn't lend itself to simplistic analysis in half a dozen paragraphs, but that's what it's subjected to every day. The long story is a lot better than the short headline, the silver cloud right now vastly bigger than the dark lining.


That fabled ‘Big Australia’

By Oliver Marc Hartwich and Jessica Brown

(Dr Hartwich is a German economist with a sense of humour. What next? A German philosopher with a sense of humour? Maybe not. But since Dr Hartwich now lives in Australia, maybe I should refer to him as "Ollie")

Your Most Gracious Majesty,

It is our duty to inform You that the prospects for population growth in Australia are not good. The Royal Commission tasked with planning Australia’s demographic and economic future hath come to the unfortunate conclusion that the obstacles are simply too great. The optimistic vision of a ‘Big Australia’ will never come true.

The noble commissioners have consulted widely and extensively. But, for growth proponents, our conclusion maketh uncomfortable reading.

The challenges are so numerous that it is hard to know where to start. Housing is undeniably a most serious concern. The lack of capacity in the building industry is quite obvious.

The planning profession doth not have the necessary skills and personnel to cope with rapid growth. Uncertain planning guidelines and objectives further complicate the task. It will take years to design and implement a planning system that can deal with the expected population increases.

The acute housing shortage is not the only difficulty. There are severe infrastructure bottlenecks. Port facilities are already overstretched. Developing appropriate mass transport for goods and people will also require minor engineering miracles, given the country’s challenging geography. Just think of Sydney harbour!

Worst of all, the water supply is under threat. It hath become clear that Australia’s climate is unsuited to hosting a larger population. The limits to population growth are well within sight.

The resident population hath been able to cope with these environmental challenges by employing a number of sophisticated water-saving solutions. But simply adding more people to the equation will just not work. If population growth goes on in the fashion that the crazy ‘Big Australia’ advocates suggest, there will simply not be enough food.

The problems of housing, water and transport should be impetus enough to stop the ambitious plans for decades of strong population growth. It is most unfortunate they are only the beginning.

The deeper we dig into the population puzzle, the more daunting the problems we encounter. Schools and universities, hospitals and doctors, sewerage systems and rubbish collection: each poseth an enormous policy challenge, and each requireth gigantic amounts from HM Treasury.

Unfortunately, the commission’s ‘Big Australia’ report alloweth only one conclusion. It is with deepest regret that we commend to order Captain Arthur Phillip to turn back his fleet and set sail for England, our green and pleasant land.

If you don’t like taking policy advice from fables, read our latest report instead: ‘Populate and Perish? Modelling Australia’s Demographic Future’ by Jessica Brown and Oliver Marc Hartwich. You can also watch the authors discuss their research on YouTube.

For non-Australian readers: Captain Arthur Phillip was the commander of the first fleet of English people to arrive in Australia -- in 1788. The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 8 October. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Below is the executive summary of the report referred to

Executive Summary

Although population growth has been one of the most hotly debated topics in recent months, public discussions have been driven by populism, not by evidence-based analysis. In the recent federal election, both Labor and the Coalition seemed to suggest that they could—and would—limit population growth, particularly by restricting migration. The Greens went a step further by endorsing a population cap.

But these platitudes overlook a fundamental fact. Under every realistic scenario, Australia’s population is going to keep growing. Australians will also keep getting older—a fact often neglected in the current debate—which will have huge implications for our future policy environment.

Under all but one of the 36 scenarios modelled in this report, Australia’s population will grow. Only with zero net migration and falling fertility—which is practically unachievable and widely regarded as undesirable—would Australia’s population shrink or stabilise. Some degree of population growth is an inevitable reality.

By focussing on cutting migration as a way to limiting population growth, the current public debate has also ignored the role of fertility—which matters as much if not more—in determining population size and age distribution. Anti-growth campaigners suggest that if migration were reduced, we could somehow stabilise population growth. But this is not true. Even if migration were more than halved to 70,000 a year (which we do not advocate), we would still have a population of more than 29 million by 2050 if fertility remained constant.

It is extremely difficult to predict the future of Australian demographics. Changes in the birth rate are hard to predict and even harder to control, yet they will potentially have a bigger impact on population size than migration. Under every scenario, Australia’s population will get older.

However, it is fertility—not migration—that has the biggest impact on population ageing. Increased migration is not the solution to population ageing. If fertility rate drops from its current level of 1.97 to 1.5, the current European Union average, median age will rise from 37 today to nearly 46 in 2050—higher if migration levels are cut.

Under all the most realistic scenarios, more than 20% of Australians will be over 65 by 2050. And regardless of changes in migration and fertility, the number of Australians aged 80 or over will more than double to about 2 million by 2050.

There will be far fewer taxpayers under every scenario. We need to plan for population ageing. There is a trade-off. A faster growing population will require investment in housing and infrastructure; it will also be younger and better able to meet these costs. A more slowly growing population will require fewer investments in housing, roads and schools but will be significantly older, which means the cost of health care and pensions will rise while the tax base falls.

Both population growth and population ageing will happen no matter what, but the degree to which we have to deal with the challenges will depend on the policy choices we make now about migration as well as future changes in the birth rate and life expectancy. No one can know exactly how these variables will change in the future, which means no government can accurately predict what Australia’s population will look like.

Population targets are unrealistic. We cannot plan our demographic future. However, we can be fairly confident in predicting that Australia’s population will both grow and get older—we just don’t know by how much. The best that policymakers can do is make existing institutions more flexible so they can better cope with whichever population scenario emerges.

Politicians should stop pretending that they can control what Australia’s future population will look like. Instead, they should turn their attention to the real policy issues that will be affected by population growth and ageing: housing, roads, pensions and our natural environment.

The debate should not be about whether we will have a ‘big Australia’ or a ‘small Australia’ but about how we can make a growing Australia work and how we can make it a prosperous and liveable place for us all.

"Green" policies hitting people hard in the pocket

THE triple whammy of soaring electricity, gas and water costs follows years of financial pain already biting into budgets across Victoria. A Herald Sun investigation has found typical households are paying a staggering $900 more for the essentials compared with 2005. The blowout is forcing some to cut back on fresh food and skip doctor visits when they are sick. Electricity and water bills are up an average 45 to 60 per cent. Gas is 20 per cent higher.

Thousands of struggling customers are seeking payment extensions to cope with the crippling costs. And industry experts warn it will only get worse.

Ben Freund, of price comparison service GoSwitch, said that electricity costs were set to explode over the next five years as governments forced companies to commit to more expensive forms of green energy such as solar and wind power, and homes overflowed with power-hungry appliances.

"The increase in the price of electricity will not just affect power bills but the entire cost of living," he said. "It will impact the price of groceries from the supermarket and the price of a takeaway coffee. "The causes are necessary and expensive upgrades to the network as well as environmental programs and mandatory renewable energy targets imposed by state and federal governments."

Analysts are tipping power bills to rise at least 10 per cent next year. That's $120-$170 extra for an average household. The hip-pocket hit will be less severe for those on market contracts or who shop around for the best deals.

Conservative estimates put the rise for gas at 5 per cent, or $50 more for a standard home on a basic tariff.

The Herald Sun review found annual utility bills have jumped up to six times faster than inflation in some parts of Victoria. Water bills have ballooned because of the drought and major project costs including the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

Exclusive modelling by Victoria's utilities watchdog, the Essential Services Commission, predicts annual water bills in Melbourne will surge by at least $70 after the next approved price rise flows through from July 1 next year. Increases of up to 10 per cent are locked in for next financial year to fund the State Government's water infrastructure, designed to secure future supplies.

Bill rises in country Victoria will range from at least $8 in the Lower Murray region to $88 in Wannon Water's area.

Victorian Council of Social Service chief Cath Smith said surging utility bills were being deeply felt across the community. "It's noticeable by all - even those who are better off - because the prices of other luxuries or items such as fridges, cars, airline tickets and flatscreen TVs have gone down," Ms Smith said. "Suddenly, instead, everyone is having to devote more of their income to the basic essentials."

Ms Smith said skyrocketing bills, especially for electricity, were hitting low-income households hard, along with pensioners and the jobless. "We know some people are sacrificing on fresh food and health because of utility and rent rises," she said. "They won't go to a doctor because of gap fees, or will share prescriptions among family members."

People desperately needed a boost to pensions and concession payments to deal with the cost crisis, she said.

Energy Retailers Association of Australia executive director Cameron O'Reilly said families that failed to curb energy consumption faced a rude shock. "The increased cost of generating power is going in one direction only, and that's up," Mr O'Reilly said.

"Costs of transporting electricity are also massively driven due to larger houses, population growth, big-screen TVs and the number one baddie of them all - air-conditioners."

St Vincent de Paul Society state president Tony Tome said even customers who weren't using any more power were being harshly stung. "More and more people are presenting, needing help with utilities accounts - whether that be extra time to pay, emergency relief, or food vouchers so that they can cover their bills," Mr Tome said.


Nasty NSW cop

This would not stand up in court -- under the "triviality" defence

If you think being fined for a friendly toot on your car horn is bizarrely zealous policing, it's nothing compared with what one young Sydneysider copped. And if it had happened 24 hours later - when double demerit points applied - it would have cost the 23-year-old P-plater her licence.

So what was her heinous driving crime? Taking her seat belt off for a few seconds because she couldn't reach the car park ticket machine through the car window. With an officer in a police patrol car watching, what was going to be a free park cost her a whopping $300 and three demerit points.

NSW Police have yet to comment on their application of the law in this case, but the young woman's mother, from Lilyfield, is not impressed. Lyndal Gabriel said her daughter had just completed a mail run for her employer last Thursday and was about to leave the car park.

But what happened next left her in tears after she leaned through her car window to press the button for a ticket to raise the boom gate. "She put the ticket in and proceeded and then there was a marked police car behind her which pulled her over," Mrs Gabriel said. "They fined her $300 and 3 points, they kept her for about 30 minutes on site and she does have a clean record."

The "stern" officer, who was "a bit grumpy" told her daughter she should have turned off the ignition before getting out of her car. "They said she broke the law because she should have turned the car off, taken the keys out of the ignition, got out of the car, put the ticket into the machine, then buckled up and started the car and then proceeded," she said. "I guess we will have to cop it but I think it has all just gone mad, really."

Mrs Gabriel said her daughter was genuinely unaware she had broken the law. But then again, as Mrs Gabriel points out, so are most drivers. "To me the fine and points don't match the infringement," she said. "It just needs to be out there that this is the law and that this is happening."

Mrs Gabriel said her daughter had a clean driving history and that her car, a 10-year-old Nissan Pulsar, would not immediately attract the attention of police.

She said her daughter was neither rude nor argumentative to the officer who issued the fine. "My daughter just said he might have been having a bad day. Who knows, but in all honesty she is a bit embarrassed about it all," she said.

At least there's a little good news for the unlucky P-plater. Mrs Gabriel hinted "mum and dad might have to help out" when it comes to paying the fine.


7 October, 2010

Fibre: Coming ready or not

This is just the standard Leftist resort to government compulsion. It's the only way they can get their scheme to pay its way. And even that may not be enough -- unless they ban all other forms of internet access, which they may well do. And what a lovely monopoly that would be! Australians can look forward to the most expensive internet access in the world!

TASMANIAN homes and businesses will automatically be connected to the National Broadband Network unless they actively refuse. The shift from an opt-in system for the NBN in Tasmania to an opt-out model, which could be adopted nationally, was announced by Premier David Bartlett late yesterday.

The move to shore up the viability of Australia's first fibre-optic cable rollout follows official estimates that only 16 to 25 per cent of premises passed by the rollout would take up subscriptions to access the high-speed internet it offers.

Industry experts suggest a take-up of 80 to 90 per cent is necessary if the NBN is to become a focus of service and information delivery.

The shift to an opt-out model came as some of Australia's leading businessmen called for the federal government's $43 billion NBN project to be subjected to a thorough business case. National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney said a cost-benefit analysis was needed to ensure productivity gains could be realised. "I feel for any investment of that size you do need to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis," Mr Chaney said at The Australian and Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum yesterday.

Wesfarmers chairman Bob Every agreed. "I just see this (the NBN) as another part of infrastructure that we need to go through, stocktake and prioritise," Mr Every said. "And quite frankly I don't know if it (NBN) will rank in priority. I'm not convinced."

ANZ chairman John Morschel said that although faster internet could increase productivity, the business case needed to be clearly made. "I think the lack of a business case and full publicity of that business case is throwing a lot of doubt in people's minds about the level of expenditure - $43bn is a lot of money," he said.

Those involved in the NBN rollout in Tasmania, which is thought to cost taxpayers between $500 million and $700m, have been frustrated by the need to obtain permission from property owners to connect their premises. Without written permission, the law prevents access to premises to take the optic fibre from the street to homes.

Mr Bartlett said he had obtained advice that the state government had the power to legislate to require property owners to opt out of a connection. The state would legislate to achieve this "as soon as possible" and would also consider legislation to exempt the rollout from local government planning schemes.

Mr Bartlett said more than 50 per cent of householders and businesses in the first three towns covered by the rollout had "accepted a connection to optic fibre". However, this figure has been criticised by some in the industry as misleading as it relates to those who have agreed to have their homes made "NBN-ready" - not the number taking up subscriptions to access the network.

That subscription figure, six weeks after the official start-up of the network in the first three towns - Midway Point, Scottsdale and Smithton - remains a closely guarded secret. NBN Co spokeswoman Rhonda Griffin said it was premature to reveal the figure but that "several hundred" homes had taken up subscriptions. "We are pleased with the level of interest we've had," Ms Griffin said.

Mr Bartlett insisted this was a "good early result". "But we're also determined to get that participation even higher, and ensure every Tasmanian householder and business that wants access to super-fast broadband can get it easily and efficiently," the Premier said.

Federal opposition broadband spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said the shift to an opt-out policy "confirms that the business plan of the NBN depends on compulsion and the elimination of competing technologies".

Mr Turnbull said it followed a poor initial take-up at the three Tasmanian trial sites. "The move adds compulsion to Labor's existing plans to shut down competing fixed-line technologies, such as Telstra's copper network, or voice and broadband delivered over HFC pay-TV cables, after NBN is rolled out," Mr Turnbull said. "If Australian consumers want a fixed line for telephony or internet access, they are going to have to use NBN's line - like it or not."

Mr Bartlett insisted the decision was about "finding the most practical and efficient way of connecting our citizens to the digital economy".

A spokesman for Mr Bartlett later confirmed that customers would not be forced to pay for the NBN-ready connection; this cost would be absorbed by the taxpayer-funded NBN Co.

Ms Griffin welcomed the decision to require people to opt out of the rollout.


NSW public hospitals killing babies

NSW hospitals will be ordered to review the way babies are put to bed after an explosive report revealed that one in eight newborns who die from cot death have been placed in unsafe positions by midwives.

The report, by the NSW Child Death Review Team, also found that most of the babies who died unexpectedly at home had been exposed to cigarette smoke, had suffocated while sleeping with a parent or had been put to bed on their stomachs or sides - despite a $15 million, 13-year public health campaign advocating safe sleeping methods.

The campaign had cut cot deaths by 85 per cent, saving more than 6000 babies, but had become "a victim of its own success", with midwives and parents becoming dangerously complacent, the general manager of SIDS and Kids, Ros Richardson, said. "People now see sudden infant death syndrome as a thing of the past. It isn't," she said.

She has called on NSW Health to provide about $100,000 for an educator to visit every hospital to inform midwives of the importance of putting babies to bed on their backs after researchers found 15 neonates (babies under 28 days old) had died in maternity units from side-sleeping or sleeping with their mother.

"Complacency is the product of a stretched public health system but even one death is one too many," Ms Richardson said. "We still have some midwives who have some naivety that babies should be put to sleep on their side so they can drain secretions. This is simply incorrect. "It is one thing to have a poster about safe sleeping on the wall at the hospital, but if no one heeds it, what's the point?"

Hannah Dahlen, a spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives, conceded there had been a tradition of putting babies to bed on their sides to help clear their chests, particularly those with fluid on their lungs after being born by caesarean section.

"But babies now are almost always placed on their backs. It is drummed into [midwives]," she said. "I really don't believe this is an issue any more."

More than 3720 babies died in NSW between 1996 and 2008, including 123 neonates. Of those, about a quarter died from metabolic and cardiac problems or infection and two-thirds from cot death, a diagnosis applied when no other cause can be found. About 73 per cent had been exposed to tobacco smoke, 57 per cent had not been put to bed on their backs and 60 per cent were co-sleeping.

"So they were avoidable," Ms Richardson said. "Deaths that occur where a baby is put to bed on its back, has no covers around its face and there's no smoking in the house are extremely rare."

One study suggested cot death babies had abnormalities in their brain stems - the part responsible for controlling breathing. Another study identified a link between some bacterial infections, but no definitive cause has been found.

The NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, Megan Mitchell, said the report, which was tabled in Parliament yesterday, indicated that "we still have a long way to go to help parents to remember the safe sleeping messages".

A spokesman for NSW Health said clinical midwifery consultants would "work closely with staff in maternity units to look at current practices and educate staff on the policy".


Business 'threatened' by Labor

BUSINESS leaders claim they are being threatened by "thin-skinned" politicians when they choose to speak out on policy issues.

They also believe a culture of "consequence and retribution" has emerged in Australia that threatens free speech and could stifle reform.

Speaking at The Australian and Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum yesterday, four of the nation's most senior company chairs said corporate leaders had a responsibility to speak out to set the agenda in the public policy debate.

But they warned that some had been "threatened" by politicians for expressing their views. "I have been amazed how thin-skinned some politicians are," said Michael Chaney, chairman of National Australia Bank and of Woodside Petroleum. "I have found that some politicians have been particularly spiteful about it and have gone around threatening people who have spoken out, which is pretty unfortunate because they are the same people who would extol the virtues of freedom of speech."

Mr Chaney's comments came as the chairs - including Telstra's Catherine Livingstone, ANZ's John Morschel and Bob Every from Wesfarmers and building products group Boral - laid out a bold reform agenda for the government, calling on Julia Gillard to review Labor's new mining tax and potential changes to the GST as part of a reconsideration of the Henry tax review. They also said the government should conduct a cost-benefit analysis on its $43 billion National Broadband Network plan and provide business with greater certainty over its plans for a price on carbon.

Mr Chaney, a former Business Council of Australia president, said corporate leaders had a responsibility to speak out on issues amid concerns that the unstable political environment could damage the prospects for crucial reforms and cause uncertainty for local and international investors.

"When the government announces something like the employee share changes, which were announced without consultation, or the (resource) super-profits tax, which is clearly, in our view, against the national interest and against national productivity, there is an obligation to speak out because ... it is the national interest," he said.

Earlier this week, opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey called on business to find its voice on issues such as industrial relations reform. "I think it's hugely important that members of the business community engage more directly in the policy debates that will shape Australia's economic future," he said.

A spokesman for Wayne Swan said he spoke to chief executives on a regular basis. "Of course they agree sometimes and they disagree other times, but the Treasurer keeps the content and nature of those conversations private," he said. "The Treasurer welcomes the contribution of the business community in the key debates about our economy and how we set it up for the future."

But Reserve Bank board member and Brambles and BlueScope chairman Graham Kraehe said he, too, had been targeted after speaking out on key issues. "Certainly I have experienced retribution and there would not be too many business leaders who haven't, and it is not in the nature of our free enterprise and democratic society," Mr Kraehe told The Australian on the sidelines of the forum in Sydney.

Ms Livingstone said there were "consequences and retribution" when executives disagreed with the government, while Mr Morschel said "the retribution situation has been rather prevalent of late".

Their views were supported by Westfield director and former Productivity Commission commissioner Judith Sloan, who also said the culture of retribution was "a great pity. What we need is open and impartial debate about issues rather than people being fearful they will be punished if they express a point of view."

Mr Every said there was a responsibility in being a business leader. "You don't just speak as Bob Every Citizen, you are speaking on behalf of the companies you represent. I think we should be prepared to speak out," he said.

Mr Chaney, Mr Every, Ms Livingstone and Mr Morschel represent six companies with a combined market capitalisation of more than $220 billion, almost 20 per cent of the ASX/S&P 200 index. They also represent a total of 176,000 employees.

Several business leaders have told The Australian they have been subjected to private attacks by senior ministers when they have publicly disagreed with government positions. Earlier this week, the Treasurer warned the big four banks against increasing interest rates beyond any moves made by the Reserve Bank, echoing criticisms he has made over 18 months.

There have also been concerns in business circles that Minerals Council of Australia chief Mitch Hooke could be sidelined by the returned government because of his stand against the resource super-profits tax. Then-prime minister Kevin Rudd reportedly criticised Mr Hooke at a mining function in May and later told a media function: "We've got a long memory." He subsequently insisted the comment was a joke.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said yesterday she had made it clear to all members of the government that she expected them to abide by the Standards of Ministerial Ethics.

Ms Livingstone said a more sophisticated model was needed for public policy development. She said this would require that the public service, which had been "diminished over the past five to eight years", be rebuilt. "Unless we move to a more consultative model which deals with issues before they become issues, we are always going to end up with this reactive situation to policy development," she said.

Mr Morschel said recent positive discussions between the major banks, the prudential regulator, the RBA and Treasury on the G20 Basel 3 amendments covering bank stability showed behind-the-scenes lobbying could be successful.


W.A. transit cop charged with assaulting unaggressive passenger

A TRANSIT officer has been charged with assault after a football fan was pepper-sprayed and left with a bloodied face at Subiaco train station in March.

Police say Liam Barry McCalmont, 22 of Maylands, assaulted James Hagerstrom, 46 of Bassendean, after the March 28 AFL game between Fremantle and Adelaide at Subiaco Oval. It will be alleged the assault occurred while transit guards tried to apprehend Mr Hagerstrom and charge him with obstruction.

The victim received facial injuries after his head was slammed into a platform during the altercation.

A Perth magistrate withdrew the obstruction charge against Mr Hagerstrom in July after viewing CCTV footage of the incident.

The Public Transport Authority conducted an internal inquiry into the incident in July and handed its findings to the Corruption and Crime Commission. Mr McCalmont has been charged with assault occasioning bodily harm and will face the Perth Magistrates Court on October 19. The PTA has placed him on "alternative and non-operational duties in the immediate term".

SOURCE. Earlier report here

6 October, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is dismayed at the influence already being wielded by the Greens in Australia's government

Bureaucratic financial shenanigans behind Victorian ambulance disasters

With more reports of life-threatening delays emerging, the Herald Sun revealed that health chiefs actually called for cuts to Ambulance Victoria staff in November, because of the mounting debt. Documents show the state's top health chiefs could have put lives at risk by advising Ambulance Victoria to slash staff numbers.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews intervened in January to discuss the money black hole, but when Mr Brumby was asked today about any warnings he received about Ambulance Victoria's problems, he said he there were none provided. "Not to me, no," Mr Brumby said.

Mr Brumby said the government had doubled the number of paramedics and had promised another 400 since it came into government. "When we came to government the ambulance service in this state was in a disastrous state of affairs," Mr Brumby said. "There were 1260 ambulance paramedics. Now there are 2500. And we have got another 400 in the pipeline."

In a bid to cut the service's debts, the Health Department exposed Victorians to longer waits for ambulances and forced over-stretched paramedics to work extra shifts to cover shortages. The organisation's debts hit $44 million in April, according to board meeting minutes seen by the Herald Sun.

The call comes as ambulance waiting times blow out. Worst cases include:

LAST month a jockey, who almost died after a fall at Moonee Valley, waited nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance.

AFTER the first grand final, a man died after waiting three hours for an ambulance in Burwood East.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said the financial mess risked lives. "The minutes show an organisation careering out of control under John Brumby, leading to cuts in critical services as costs were screwed down to cover Labor's mismanagement," he said. "How many Victorians have to die or suffer before John Brumby finally listens?"

The debt was partly due to the merger of regional and metro services, and also patients and hospitals not paying their bills.

MICA paramedics have also contacted the Herald Sun claiming senior management falsifies records and creates ghost crews to make it look as if more staff are on duty.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said yesterday Ambulance Victoria was confident it had the right resources. But minutes of a November 2009 board meeting say: "Recruitment has been delayed due to finance discussions with the Department of Health wherein they advise Ambulance Victoria to cut staff numbers rather than recruit." It is not known if Ambulance Victoria followed the advice.

Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said the memo showed the Government was more interested in money than lives.

The row comes ahead of a scathing Auditor-General's report into ambulance services to be released today.

The most recent Health Department annual report shows only 80 per cent of the most critical cases - worse than last year - were responded to within the benchmark of 15 minutes. The internal Ambulance Victoria documents also reveal the organisation wrote off more than $18 million in bad debts last year. They also show that Mr Andrews personally intervened in January to discuss the financial black hole.

The State Government yesterday referred the Herald Sun's questions to Ambulance Victoria. Ambulance Victoria chief executive Greg Sassella yesterday admitted the deficit was a major problem in the 2009/10 financial year. But he said Ambulance Victoria had worked hard to have only a $2.9 million deficit without impacting on "service delivery".


The shambles that is Victoria's grandly-named Department of Human Services

Pretty much what you expect of a huge bureaucracy. No effective supervision of anything

VICTORIA'S government watchdog has called for the state's main juvenile justice centre to be closed down, citing “disgraceful conditions.

Ombudsman George Brouwer says in a report the facilities breach human rights and are safety risks.

His scathing report has found that six units at the state's Melbourne Youth Justice Centre are riddled with infectious diseases, overcrowding and assaults perpetrated by staff on inmates, and incited by staff.

Mr Brouwer concludes that the Department of Human Services is not fit to run the facilities and that they are such in a poor state they should be closed down and new facilities built.

“In my view, the design and location of the (youth justice precinct) is inappropriate for a custodial facility which house vulnerable children.

“The dirty, unhygienic and ill-maintained conditions reflect poorly on the management and staff,” he writes.

“It is clear from the unacceptable conditions that the department has failed to meet its statutory obligations under the act and human rights principles. In my view, this brings into question the capacity of the department to operate youth justice services.”

Mr Brouwer's investigation - sparked by a whistleblower - also found that 39 per cent of staff did not have working-with-children checks on their personnel files

His report uncovered concerns that overcrowding had become so bad that young people were in rooms in mattresses and no toilets, so were forced to use buckets.

The investigation alleged staff provide detainees with contraband, and that they incite fights among detainees, even allowing one detainee to be severely beaten by other inmates.

He also investigated reports staff stole and slept during shifts, assaulted detainees, falsified records and used excessive force.

The scathing report follows damning findings into other DHS-run facilities, including child protection and mental health.


More environmental lunacy

FIVE dead trees could cost the Gold Coast a $100 million development because they might be home to an owl and a sugar glider. In an evaluation of a proposed Upper Coomera project, council environmental bureaucrats ruled that the dead 'owl house' trees on the site could not be cut down.

The ruling effectively removes six lots worth a total of $1.2 million from the proposed multimillion-dollar Upper Coomera residential project, a move which developer Norm Rix says virtually makes his development financially unviable.

His development on the corner of Days and Old Coach roads was approved by the city planning committee yesterday, but with a condition he said he could not accept and which could lead to a legal battle involving ratepayers' money.

Mr Rix said he was willing to reduce a proposed eight-storey and another seven-storey tower to three as requested by council, but said giving up six lots worth a combined $1.2 million to protect five dead trees was 'too much'.

The council report stated the trees, classed as 'hollow bearing trees', might provide a home for native animals. It stated that owl pellets were discovered on the site, while a squirrel glider had been spotted 500m south of the trees in July.

The council environmental officers originally wanted 12 lots of land removed from the development to protect the trees, but were talked down to six by Mr Rix.

Mr Rix said he would still lose money on the development in its current form and would take the council to court over its decision. He said with the red tape developers had to battle through, it was no wonder construction jobs were moving up to Logan, Ipswich and Redlands.


Year's 100th boatful of illegals received by Australia

THE 100th boat of asylum seekers to reach Australia this year was intercepted off Christmas Island yesterday, carrying 71 asylum seekers.

The opposition said the government continued to founder on border protection, despite identifying it as a "key reason why Kevin Rudd was dumped". "Despite their failures, Labor continues to refuse to restore the immigration and border protection controls they abolished," opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "The consequence of Labor's border protection failures is a detention network in crisis and a budget out of control."

Almost 5000 people have sought asylum in Australia by boat this year and detention centres on the mainland and at Christmas Island have been expanded to cope. Detainees also face longer processing times, pushed out by the recent freeze, and incidents of self-harm are escalating.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will soon travel to East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia to discuss people smuggling and gather support for a regional processing centre.

"Rather than engaging in simplistic slogans and reverting to the Coalition's failed policies of the past, the Gillard government is focused on building lasting and long-term solutions to the problem of people smuggling with our regional partners and key international organisations," he said.

The last surge in boat arrivals was in 2001, when conflict overseas drove people to seek asylum in Australia, he said.


LOL! Plants boost grades

Plants in the classroom have been credited with helping Queensland school-children achieve huge improvement in their grades. New research to be presented to a “Plants at Work” conference in Brisbane this week shows plants have the power to boost student performance in maths and spelling by up to 14 per cent.

The conference will also hear how plants in hospitals are helping patients get out up to two days earlier. Other research includes a study showing indoor plants improve performance and productivity in adult workers with stress and negativity at work -- cut by up to 40 per cent for staff surrounded by plants.

The news of plants’ psychological benefits for workers comes as the State Government recently moved to remove plants from several of its department offices in Brisbane to save money.

“Our research has shown that plants can benefit body, mind and spirit," University of Technology Sydney adjunct professor Margaret Burchett said. Prof Burchett conducted a study in 15 Year 6 and 7 classrooms in three independent schools late last year.

More than 200 students were tested with standard maths and spelling exams before plant placements and retested after six weeks of plant presence or absence. “In two schools, there were 10 to 14 per cent improvements in scores in spelling and maths tests in those classes which had plants in their rooms,” she said.

Prof Burchett said some of the improvements could have come about because of plants’ ability to cut pollution. “International research has shown that plants can significantly improve indoor air quality in buildings with or without airconditioning by reducing levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds.”

Hire plants have been removed from offices of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation and the Department of Public Works as a cost-cutting measure this year.

DEEDl’s Michael Jones said they recognised the value of having plants in the workplace, “but we also need to exercise financial responsibility". “The cost of hiring and maintaining plants in departmental offices in Brisbane’s CBD was equivalent to 1.5 full- time staff members,” he said,

The report above by Suellen Hinde appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

5 October, 2010

"Soft" jails a disaster

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.


Unarmed man Tasered 13 times by WA police as 9 police stand and watch

Nine police who surrounded an unarmed man at the East Perth watch house used a Taser on him 13 times even though he wasn't threatening them, the WA corruption watchdog has found.

The Corruption and Crime Commission investigation was part of a wider examination of WA Police's use of Tasers since their introduction in 2007, the majority of which were found to be reasonable.

The watchdog looked into the watch house incident after the Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Dawson brought it to their attention. It found the 39-year-old man could have been suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse when he was Tasered in August 2008.

Police said they tried to arrest the man on a Bayswater street after complaints of a trespasser sniffing petrol from cars, but he fled. They later arrested him after he ran into a stationary car on Guildford Road. He allegedly collapsed and became violent, kicking two officers when he woke.

He was taken to the watch house, where police attempted to strip search him. Police said he had previously been convicted of a number of offences including assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and common assault.

"The man had been compliant, removing his belt and earring when requested by police officers. However, the man refused to comply with a strip search and held onto the armrest of the bench. One police officer kicked out at the man in an attempt to 'startle' him into letting go of the bench," the report said.

"Another officer drew his Taser weapon and said 'let go or be Tasered'. The man did not let go and a Taser weapon was deployed on him. The man fell to the ground and was restrained by other police officers." While he was struggling on the ground a police officer said "do you want to go again?" before discharging the Taser again.

CCC director of corruption prevention Roger Watson said the incident was subject to an internal police investigation and the two officers who fired the stun-gun faced disciplinary charges and were fined $1200 and $750 respectively for using undue and excessive force. Two senior officers were found to have provided inadequate supervision.

Mr Dawson said the inmate, who was later jailed on assault charges, did not elect to press charges against the two officers after consultations with the Aboriginal Legal Service and advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions. He conceded the officers were fortunate not to be sacked, though one had been promoted to a sergeant's position since the incident.

"This is an example which is not a good example to use in isolation, it is an example from which we have learnt, but it should not represent the way in which police deal with people all the time," Mr Dawson said.

"We're dealing with violent persons regularly, in this particular instance, this person had an extensive criminal record, and clearly in my view the officers overreacted. They didn't do it in accordance with the policy and the training. For that we very much regret what happened."

Mr Dawson said since the incident, stun guns had been raised against some of the 25,000 inmates brought through the watch house, but not fired by prison officers. He said Corrective Services officers had used Tasers in the watch house but they had their own policies on Tasers.

WA Premier Colin Barnett said he was disturbed by what he saw in the footage. "It was excessive use of a Taser that could not be justified," Mr Barnett said. "I think anyone seeing that footage would find it totally unacceptable." Mr Barnett admitted the incident was a major breach of procedure by the officers involved, and their actions could not be "swept under the carpet".

WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said the incident was completely indefensible and a breach of police guidelines that stipulate Tasers should not be used to get people to comply with orders. He said the officers' behaviour could "properly described as outrageous" and that the fines against them were insufficient.

Mr Porter said police guidelines setting out when Tasers could be used needed to be reviewed. "The government accepts that those guidelines need to be reviewed, we accept the CCC's recommendation in that respect and they will be reviewed," Mr Porter said.

"As a second point of priority this government will be looking into the police force regulations and ways in which we can ensure that the use of Tasers is put to a higher standard in terms of disciplinary proceedings, than just any old run-of-the-mill excessive use of force."

A second case highlighted in the CCC report concerned a man who was Tasered while running from police officers, causing him to fall and break a tooth. He was Tasered twice again while on the ground and seemingly not posing a risk to the male and female officer trying to apprehend him.

Tasers are meant to be used in violent situations, to stop officers having to resort to guns or use lethal force. The weapons deliver a 50,000-volt electric shock to the target, disrupting their muscles. They can also be used in stun-mode, where the shock causes pain but not incapacitation.

But the CCC also found the high-voltage weapon had become the favoured option for police over capsicum spray, batons and handcuffs, with officers reaching for their Tasers in 65 per cent of cases where force was used.

The CCC said Tasers were increasingly used to impose compliance by alleged offenders rather than as an alternative to firearms to reduce injury, as originally intended.

Tasers were used in 49 per cent of incidents where force was necessary in 2007. That figure increased to 74 per cent in 2008 and settled at 65 per cent in 2009. The use of guns had doubled in the same time-frame, rising from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.

The investigation found the weapons were being used disproportionately against Aboriginal people. The CCC was also concerned about the frequency of Taser use against people with mental illness and drug users.

An analysis of the weapons revealed police usually used them between 9pm and 3am from Friday through to Sunday. "There were common situations in which a Taser weapon was deployed, including domestic violence incidents, disturbances, fights and brawls, traffic stops, vehicle pursuits, and reports of weapons and/or assaults," the report said.

Injuries to police had not decreased since the introduction of the weapons, while a study of incidents over a three-month period in 2009 showed those involved in altercations were a Taser was used were 54 per cent less likely to be injured.

The CCC gave 10 recommendations surrounding Taser use, asking for the policy to be changed so that officers could only use them in situations where a safe resolution could not be reached in any other way.

It recommended the weapons should not be used when there was a risk of the person falling and sustaining a serious injury, if they were near water or at risk of drowning, against pregnant women, on those with pre-existing medical conditions, or near flammable liquid or gas.

Mr Watson said the recommendations would bring Taser use in WA into line with other parts of Australia and the world.


Immature Oakeshott craves attention

The Nationals have reacted angrily to allegations of racism within their party by the former party member turned queenmaker Rob Oakeshott, saying he had invented reasons for his 2002 defection.

Mr Oakeshott has said that during a celebration following his election to state parliament in 1996, a "senior National" saw Mr Oakeshott's wife, Sara-Jane, who is of Pacific Islander heritage, and remarked the party was being taken over by "blacks and poofters".

Mr Oakeshott confirmed the incident in an interview with News Limited yesterday, despite reportedly refusing to discuss it when it was first raised by his wife in September.

The Nationals leader in the Senate, Barnaby Joyce, said Mr Oakeshott should have confronted the person who allegedly made the comment at the time, rather than "slink off and not talk about it for 14 years".

"The idea that the National party is a racist party is absolute codswallop," Senator Joyce said.

The Deputy Leader of The Nationals in NSW, Adrian Piccoli, said Mr Oakeshott's thwarted leadership ambitions were behind his defection.

"Every time I read about why Oakeshott left the Nationals there's a different reason. One minute it's developers on the north coast, the next it's the republic and the injecting room - none of which he ever raised in party meetings or even informally."

Mr Oakeshott cited disenchantment with his colleagues and the influence of property developers when he resigned from the party in 2002. But Mr Piccoli said: "Why he left was he thought he was much more important than the Nats had given him credit for. He wanted to be the boss and he wasn't."

The Nationals NSW upper house MP Melinda Pavey said Mr Oakeshott was responding to criticism of his decision to support Julia Gillard for prime minister by "attacking the party that gave him his start in politics".


Conveyancing slackness in W. Australia

By Noel Whittaker

For hundreds of years, property has been regarded as one of the safest investments around. But recent events in Perth have undermined the unique permanence of property.

Roger Mildenhall, the owner of a property in Karrinyup, Perth, was living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. In June, Nigerian scammers, using a combination of emails and telephone calls, managed to con a Perth real estate agent into selling his house to a neighbour for $485,000.

The money disappeared overseas quickly and the fraud was discovered only when Mr Mildenhall returned to Perth and found out that a second property he owned was about to suffer the same fate.

Consumer advocate Neil Jenman has for years been warning people about the lack of identity verification in real estate transactions. “You need more ID to rent a video than you do to buy a house," he said. Mr Jenman said it was simple to steal someone's house. First, the crook locates a debt-free property with an overseas owner, and does a search to find their full name. He then goes to a real estate agent and tells them he is sick of all the maintenance costs of owning the property and wants a quick sale.

The agent doesn’t ask for identilication and the crook may then ask the agent to recommend a solicitor, or simply claim they are doing their own conveyancing. Not all solicitors ask for ID, especially if the agent has introduced a new client.

When asked for the whereabouts of the title deed, the response will be “I have moved around so much I can’t locate the deeds, can you please arrange for a duplicate".

After a few illegal statutory declarations and some notices in the paper no one (other than banks) reads, they get a duplicate certificate of title. Then the transfer is effected with forgeries and the proceeds are quickly sent overseas.

It’s a classic case of identity theft but what happens to the hapless ex-property owner? As far as I can gather, the buyer who has bought the property in good faith gets to keep it and the only recourse left for the dispossessed "vendor" is to claim on the Fidelity Fund of the Titles Office and then fight for a fair value.

Lawyer Brett Davies, from Brett Davies Lawyers in Perth, says the vendors in these situations are also free to pursue the real estate agent and the conveyancing agent in case there is any negligence.

Identity theft is a fast-growing industry but luckily, at this stage, house stealing is fairly rare. However, it still behoves property owners to be vigilant and do the best they can to protect themselves.

Mr Davies suggests one of the best ways to do this is to merely leave the bank mortgage over the property. “It costs you nothing and the bank holds your duplicate title, generally, for free,” he said.

Or, if your property is debt free, you could arrange for a mortgage to be taken over it to a family member. It doesn’t cost much and will be one of the cheapest forms of insurance you could ever take out.

The report above appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

4 October, 2010

Labor fights 'old Europe' over trade

CRAIG Emerson has declared the Gillard government will not bow to the Greens on trade policy. Mr Emerson said the government would fight European threats to erect trade barriers around countries not imposing carbon pricing, dismissing them as "old protectionism".

The Trade Minister said Labor's alliance with the Greens would not alter its free trade agenda, even as Regional Development Minister Simon Crean conceded that the Greens' rise was behind Julia Gillard's decision to put a carbon tax on the table for consideration by the government's multi-party climate committee.

As the Prime Minister prepares for a round of meetings with world leaders in Brussels this week, Dr Emerson attacked European threats to impose trade retaliation against countries not prepared to price carbon as protectionism designed to shield European industries from international competition.

"We won't cop governments cloaking protectionism in this sort of green cloak of respectability, where it's just old protectionism," Dr Emerson told Australian Agenda on Sky News.

Last year in the US, then prime minister Kevin Rudd warned that France was leading a movement to restrict trade from countries without a carbon emissions trading scheme and warned of potential trade imposts on Australia.

But Dr Emerson said Australia would use the World Trade Organisation rules "to rail against this". "Of course we are committed to putting a price on carbon, but let's not believe that this is all about climate change. There is a very clear European old protectionist instinct under this green cloak of respectability and we won't cop it," he said.

But Dr Emerson said a recommendation from the climate change committee to put a price on carbon "would help us somewhat in the international arena in terms of this sort of green protectionism".

However, his comments about fighting environmental protectionism were seized on by opposition industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella, who said the government's green car innovation fund was what Dr Emerson had accused other governments of doing -- protectionism under a so-called green label. "The poorly targeted $35 million for the hybrid Camry was an expensive photo opportunity . . . Even the government has admitted the fund is a dog by cutting $400m from it," Ms Mirabella said.

Dr Emerson also sympathised with US moves to pressure China to revalue its exchange rate, saying if China wanted to present itself as having market economy status, "let's have a few market forces applying to the exchange rate".

He said the government would not be swayed by its alliance with the Greens by bowing to their policies to insert environmental and labour standards into trade deals. He specifically declared he was against including labour standards in trade agreements. "I think what'll happen is that the Greens will articulate a Greens platform. Labor will articulate a Labor platform," he said. "On some matters, we may agree with the Greens. On other matters, we won't agree with the Greens. And that is understood."

Dr Emerson said the government would look at good policy proposals from the Greens, "but we will not be in a position obviously where the Greens say, 'This is what we want', and then Labor says, 'Because you want it, we'll implement it' ". "They understand that, we understand that," he said.

The Greens have previously warned that Australia may face trade sanctions unless it takes action to price carbon but have mainly campaigned on biosecurity issues on Australian trade policy as well as inserting human rights clauses into trade deals.

Greens deputy leader Christine Milne campaigned strongly against allowing apple imports from countries with the disease Fireblight and has also opposed beef imports from countries with BSE.

Senator Milne said Dr Emerson was quite right -- the Greens' and Labor's trade policy differed "to the extent that the Greens want fair trade considerations, including environmental standards and human rights conditions, taken into account in negotiating trade deals".

Regional Development Minister Simon Crean defended Ms Gillard's backflip on consideration of a carbon tax. He said her pre-election position of ruling out a carbon tax was because the government had come to the conclusion the most efficient way forward on pricing carbon to address emissions was through a market mechanism.

"Because a tax doesn't actually deliver you the reduction in the greenhouse emission," Mr Crean said, adding that the Greens would now hold the balance of power in the Senate after July next year and it was important for the climate change committee to meet to identity the best way to price carbon.


Kokoda Campaign paintball competition 'disrespectful'

I think this is a bit over-sensitive but the old diggers should have their feelings respected

WAR veterans have slammed a paintball competition dubbed the Kokoda Campaign. They say it exploits the sacrifices of soldiers in one of Australia's toughest battles abroad.

RSL WA president Bill Gaynor said it was "inappropriate" and "insensitive" for the organisers of yesterday's tournament to use the Battle of Kokoda to promote the paintball game.

His comments were backed by Premier Colin Barnett, who said it was "disrespectful" and could offend veterans who had risked their lives in the bloody campaign.

WASP Paintball ran the paintball competition _ a battle between "Australia and the Axis powers" _ at Clackline, 80km east-north-east of Perth, yesterday.

Mr Gaynor said veterans would be disappointed "that a company has gone down the path of exploiting the sacrifices of Kokoda to sell a game". "People should be sensitive to the sacrifices that were made by Australian troops and treat it with some degree of respect," he said. "To actually use that as a promotion for selling their game is, in our view, inappropriate. I'd call upon them to stop and think about those who have loved ones who perished on the Kokoda Track. It's just one of those things that you don't go near."

But WASP Paintball marketing manager Leonie Moore defended the decision yesterday, saying combatants "instinctively need a battle or an adventure to drive them". "It is a battle re-enactment but we are always trying to be respectful of the fact that it's not a real battle and there are people it can offend," she said.

"We are always conscious of that but at the same time we are trying to re-enact a battle. It's hard because I see it as a positive... they're not just going out and trying to be aggressive. It's strategic and I think it's healthy for boys especially to be involved in this and follow orders and do the right thing. That's how I see it.

"It's better than shooting people in a video game... this is more wholesome."

More than 600 Australians were killed and 1000 wounded in the Kokoda campaign_ considered the most significant battle fought by Australian troops in World War II.

Mr Gaynor said he had a duty to remind today's generation that their forefathers risked their lives to ensure they enjoyed the lifestyle they did today. "Were it not for the people in the Kokoda campaign turning the Japanese back, then we could be in entirely different circumstances today," he said. "I would have thought it would be treated with a bit of reverence... a lot of Australians perished on the Kokoda Track."

Mr Barnett said: "I believe this is disrespectful and could easily offend those who fought in the Kokoda campaign, their families and the RSL".


Local council mergers INCREASE bloat and waste

LOCAL government bureaucracy has ballooned more than two years after controversial mergers to make councils leaner and less costly. Staff levels for Queensland councils grew twice as fast this year compared with 2007 – the year before the State Government's forced amalgamations transformed the local government landscape, slashing the number of councils from 157 to 73.

A new workforce census released to The Sunday Mail by the Local Government Association of Queensland shows the number of local government workers grew by 6 per cent in 2010, compared with 2.75 per cent in 2007 and less than 2 per cent in 2006.

Staff numbers in 2008 and 2009 rose by about 3.9 per cent a year. But by March this year, that had soared to 6 per cent, compared with the same time last year, with an extra 2392 employees joining the state's 57 non-indigenous councils.

The rise in staff is estimated to have added more than $119 million to council wage costs. It comes despite State Government promises to make local government more efficient through the mergers, with then local government minister Andrew Fraser predicting it could save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Merger critics, such as former Aramac Shire Mayor Gary Peoples, have seized on the figures. "A lot of what was said by councils and mayors has probably come to fruition, in that there is not going to be increased efficiencies, but there is probably going to be a loss in services," he said.

At Logan City another 454 people have started work since 2008, taking the total number of workers to 1371, even after losing 218 staff to the area's new water business Allconnex.

Staff levels at several councils, such as Cairns and Maranoa Regional Councils, stagnated. Townsville City Council shed more than 2000 staff.


Carbon tax not a done deal: Crean

A SENIOR federal government MP has insisted that a carbon tax is by no means a done deal - a shift that could threaten the alliance between Labor and the Australian Greens.

Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean says the decision to put a carbon tax back on the table does not mean Australia will go down that path in response to climate change.

In the days before the August 21 election, Prime Minister Julia Gillard twice ruled out a carbon tax.

But she has since changed course on the issue after the Greens found an unlikely ally in BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers, who called for it to be considered as part of Australia's answer to climate change.

Mr Crean on Sunday defended the change in direction, saying the political landscape had altered since the failed Copenhagen summit. "At the time we, along with the rest of the world, had come to the conclusion the most efficient way forward was to do it through a market mechanism," he said, referring to Labor under Kevin Rudd and the failed attempt to introduce an emissions trading scheme.

He said that "simplistically put", the point could be made that placing a carbon tax back on the table amounted to a policy reversal, but added that the prime minister had also consistently stated that a price on carbon was needed.

Mr Crean said that while the political landscape had changed since the election, it was wrong to suggest the prime minister had "caved in" to the Greens on climate change, saying they would not necessarily get their way on a carbon tax. "She hasn't caved in. She hasn't said she's supporting a carbon tax. What she has said is we will have a carbon tax on the agenda," he said.

Mr Crean's comments were echoed by Trade Minister Craig Emerson, an indication Labor is attempting to put a little distance between itself and the Greens. "We will not be in a position where the Greens say this is what we want and then Labor says because you want it we will implement it," Mr Emerson said.

The caution from two senior Labor ministers that the government is not wedded to a carbon tax despite the alliance with the Greens could put a strain on the relationship between the two parties. Labor needs the support of the Greens in the lower house to preserve its one-vote buffer.

Mr Crean also conceded the government, under Mr Rudd, had failed to effectively explain its climate change policy. The former Labor leader, however, backed Ms Gillard to be able to manage the difficult policy area, as well as the issue of asylum seekers. "We've got to develop more effectively the message," he said.

"Trying to achieve (progress) in the context of an election campaign was difficult. Now that she's negotiated the basis of the government going forward, I think you will see progress on these areas. "I think that she is a conviction politician. She's clearly a skilled negotiator, which is going to be pretty important over the course of the next three years."

Mr Crean said the economy would also remain a chief focus for the government. "You need a robust economy. Without strong economic growth you can't resource the things that are needed." "You also need productivity in that economy because without lifting productivity you can't lift real wages."


3 October, 2010

A big health bungle by Federal Labor

GP's service at risk. Clinics left in limbo over after-hours incentive payments

New Medicare figures show that almost every family medical clinic in Australia will lose incentive payments to offer house calls or open their clinics after hours from July next year. The figures show more than half the GP clinics in Australia will lose the payments from July 2011, while many others will lose their incentive payments from July 2013.

Doctors have complained the Federal Government has left them in limbo with no idea of how replacement services will be offered.

The Federal Government armounced in the May Budget that it would enhance after-hours care by offering a national hotline staffed by nurses for emergency medical problems outside business hours. The service would then refer patients to GPs, who would offer after-hours care managed by a new govemment agency called Medicare Local. What the Budget papers did not say was that the current program that offers incentives for after-hours services would be axed.

According to information obtained by the Opposition last week, Medicare Australia has begun work to stop the old service and it will affect most practices in Australia. “lt is expected that 4750 practices will be affected from July 1, 2011 and a further 3100 practices affected from July 1, ZOI3,” Medicare said.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ president Chris Mitchell said this meant almost all general practice clinics would lose funding for the service: “We really do need to ensure there is support. None of the structures around the transition is clear," he said.

The telephone service has been operating in New Zealand and the UK already with success, Dr Mitchell said, but added there had been no advice from govemment about how it would work in Australia.

Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said the reforms would send more people to emergency rooms because the hotline would err on the side of caution. Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s office did not respond to requests for details.

The report above by Simon Kearney appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

It was time to axe our rubber stamp

Rather than an unworkable lower house, perhaps we have a parliament that's closer to what it should always have been

The politicians and the media - and no doubt to a much lesser extent the public as well - have been consumed by the politicking surrounding the first week back in parliament after the federal election.

The Government lost its first vote in the lower house since the 1945. Newspapers headlined the event as some sort of equivalent of the second coming. Really?

The House of Representatives will need to debate policies issue by issue, with no guarantees of legislation passing through to the Senate to thereafter become law. Julia Gillard apparently faces a test like none of her living predecessors under that situation.

Really? So what, I say. Our elected MPs will have to do their jobs, finally, after 70 years of rubber stamping by the House of Representatives. It won’t be enough for MPs to blindly walk through the respective voling doors asking colleagues what they just passed judgment on.

The executive will have to thoroughly explain legislation to at least the crossbenchers to ensure it wins enough support. Surely that is a good thing - having more than just senators responsible for negotiating amendments to legislation to make it acceptable to the parliament?

Doesn't the fact no government has lost a vote in the lower house for 70 years show just how pointless the theatre of debates there has been all these years? The new paradigm is no apocalypse. All it represents is a doubling of what the Senate already does, and has done since the rise of minor parljes controlling its balance of power in the 1970s.

If somebody landed in this country and heard some of the over-inflated predictions about the chaos of the new parliamentary situation, you would think we had been living in some sort of one- party state until now where debate never threatened the machinery of government. In fact, the argy-bargy of the House of Representatives is nothing to be frightened of. It simply means that upper house volatility - a long-term feature of our system - is now shared by the house of government.

The only serious concern to govemment stability with the new shape of the lower house is the prospect of Julia Gillard losing her commission as Prime Minister because she fails to win a vote of confidence. But two things should guard against that- self-interest and the negotiated reforms.

The rural Independents and the Labor Government will want to avoid an early election and the humiliation of having to concede their little deal failed to provide longevity.

The reforms package allows for a follow~up vote when a vote goes against the government, so long as just cause can be displayed. That might simply be an MP missing a vote because of a toilet break or some other incident they couldn’t avoid.

But even if the numbers in the chamber did lead to an early election, is that really so bad? And does the Opposition really need to act “in good faith” and embrace the new paradigm of rolling out the rug on the lawn of parliament and acting like they are all friends all of the time?

Certainly not. Tony Abbott can play the politics of this parliament however he wants to. Yes, he probably risks looking shrill if he plays the game too hard, but the altemative of embracing consensual politics has never really worked for oppositions. Abbott’s instincts that if he takes the govemment on he just might force an early election he can win are well-founded - it is his best chance of gaining the prime ministerial prize.

And it is not as if Labor was all warm and cuddly the last time a minority govemment tried to cling to power federally. The John Curtin-led Labor opposiuon in the early 1940s played a very tough game, making life hard for Robert Menzies as prime minister. So much so that he forced a change of leadership and gained the top job for himself without an election needing to be called.

So Labor MPs up on their high horses about the need for this parliament to develop a consensual style should get real and accept that the Opposition can decide to conduct itself whatever way it likes, without the typical left-wing moral purity as the judge and jury when they do so.

The article above by PETER VAN ONSELEN appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 3 October 2010

Silenced in court

The right to freedom of speech is being threatened in the courtroom

ANDREW Bolt is getting sued. Don't applaud yet. There's been a lot of outrage about the federal government's proposed internet filter. But lawsuits like the one now faced by the prominent conservative Herald Sun columnist are as much a restriction on freedom of speech as anything Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has come up with.

Nine people are suing Bolt for an article that claimed their Aboriginal self-identification was "fashionable". He had said they all had part-European, part-indigenous heritage (and fair skin) with an opportunity to describe themselves as a range of nationalities. But, he wrote, they chose to describe themselves as Aboriginal. Doing so gave them "political and career clout".

At worst, Bolt is deliberately and provocatively disrespectful.

But as their lawyer has pointed out, there are two tests of whether someone is Aboriginal. The first is an objective genealogical test: a fairly clear cut question of whether they have Aboriginal ancestors. The second is subjective: whether a person chooses to self-identify as indigenous, and whether they are "communally" regarded as such.

Bolt's columns criticised political appointments and government awards that pivot on an individual's Aboriginality. They're absolutely within their rights to apply for those grants, prizes and positions. But like it or not, by sponsoring things like indigenous-specific art and literary awards, the government makes what constitutes Aboriginality a political question.

And it's a question academics have been trying to unpack for decades. Universities teach courses in the "concept of Aboriginality". Surveying the literature in 2002, the Parliamentary Library could only conclude "an individual's ethnic identity is always to some degree fluid, multiple, differing in degrees, and constructed".

Of course, Bolt tackles the issue with trademark belligerence. The merits of his argument will now be tested in court. But put aside the conservative commentator. This isn't about the collected works and opinions of Andrew Bolt. And put aside the complexities of racial identity, Aboriginality and reconciliation.

This case is troubling because of what it says about our right to freedom of speech. If successful - or just really expensive to defend - this lawsuit could have a stifling effect on political debate.

The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that only by airing contested views publicly and freely could the truth be known. Societies need free speech if only to test and challenge controversial opinions.

And we're not going to have those necessary debates while legal action stifles one side. No matter how wrong or misguided that side may be.

Silencing Bolt doesn't just silence him. It potentially silences the speech of others who might be afraid of being similarly dragged through the legal system.

After all, Bolt and his employer can afford to defend themselves. No doubt they have lawyers on call. Newspapers know their way around court.

By contrast, bloggers, amateur journalists, Twitterers and Facebookers commenting on sensitive political issues - for whatever reason, with whatever motives - are much more exposed to punitive legal action than newspaper columnists are.

Should only the rich be able to have controversial views? If anything is going to suffocate the blossoming citizen media, it will be lawyers.

Bolt is being challenged under the federal government's Racial Discrimination Act. But that's hardly the only law on the books that has a damaging impact on free speech. Our politicians have a long and shameful history of using Australia's defamation laws to sue their critics - threatening someone with a defamation suit is a public relations tactic.

In Victoria, our Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, introduced in 2001, has been co-opted as a stick for religious groups to hit each other.

First, the Islamic Council of Victoria took the fundamentalist Christian Catch the Fire Ministries to court. Then a Wiccan prison inmate took the Salvation Army to court. Then the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council threatened to take the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia to court. That's a shabby record for a law supposed to promote tolerance, not division.

Suppressing offensive views can be counterproductive. The churches and mosques targeted by the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act were able to say their beliefs were being persecuted - attracting more followers. The victimised dissident is a hero, not a villain.

To his credit, Bolt is a prominent critic of Victoria's vilification laws. Last year, the Human Rights Consultation Committee faced the task of recommending what should appear in an Australian bill of rights. It struggled to balance our right to free speech with a new "right" demanded by some - the right to not be offended by the speech of others.

But there are an infinite number of ways people could be offended. How could we possibly prevent all outrage? You can have the right to free speech, or you can have the right to be protected by the government from the offensive speech of others. You can't have both.

There are other ways to respond to distasteful views. Refuse to buy the Herald Sun. Tell your friends to do the same. Condemn it in other opinion columns. The solution to bad speech is more speech. If something is offensive, it deserves to be condemned, loudly and often.

This week saw the first Aboriginal member of the federal House of Representatives sit in Parliament. Ken Wyatt is a Liberal. He promised to advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Parliament. His mother was [allegedly] one of the stolen generations. In his maiden speech, Wyatt thanked Kevin Rudd for the 2008 apology.

That's a genuine step towards reconciliation. Wielding the legal system as a weapon to try to silence critics isn't - no matter how offensive they might be.


NBN: Fast track to the future - or $43 billion farce?

The government is keeping details of its calculations and costings close to its chest so informed comment is difficult but most observers seem to believe that a subscription to the new, faster fibre network will be sold at a premium (high) price.

But because many people already have cable or wireless connections that meet their needs -- and wireless in particular is very cheap -- few people will want an expensive fibre subscription, meaning that the NBN is unlikely to cover its operating costs, let alone cover the costs of its construction.

The government claims its national broadband network will lift Australia to the top of world internet rankings, but the opposition says it is a white elephant.

What is it?

IT HAS been on the political agenda for years. An initial plan by the Howard government known as "Broadband Connect" was dumped by the incoming Rudd government and replaced by the national broadband network. Labor's initial idea was to set up an optic fibre network connecting nodes (basically service hubs) around the country, with existing copper wire infrastructure to be used to connect houses and businesses to those nodes.

But in April 2009 the government announced it had concluded that the business case would not work. It would instead be building a much more extensive and expensive network with optic fibre running directly to buildings, eliminating the nodes.

To achieve this, the federal government set up a business called NBN Co. The company was given the job of designing, building and operating a network that will supply high-speed broadband to every home, business, school and hospital in Australia.

Under the plan, 93 per cent of homes and businesses will be supplied with super-fast internet using an optic fibre network piping the internet directly to homes and businesses. This network will offer download speeds of 100 megabits per second (that's fast by world standards - roughly equivalent to about 5000 pages of plain text per second). The remaining 7 per cent of buildings outside the so-called NBN "footprint" in remote regional areas will be served by a combination of wireless and satellite technologies, with minimum speeds of 12 megabits per second.

What will it cost?

THE NBN will cost up to $43 billion, although that will be spread over eight years, with taxpayers chipping in $26 billion and the rest coming from private sector investment. That means a taxpayer contribution of up to $5000 per household, $1182 for every man, woman and child, or $12.30 each every month over the eight-year construction phase.

The federal government will hold a 51 per cent share in the network, which will eventually be sold. The government will also sell infrastructure bonds to allow private sector investment, which will be capped at 49 per cent.

Supporters argue that the network is likely to cost less than the estimated $43 billion because of a recent agreement to cut the time and cost of construction by using existing Telstra infrastructure.

Once the network is fully operational, it is expected to generate between $2 billion and $2.4 billion a year, probably enough to cover the construction costs and debt. The government plans to sell the network after 15 years.

How much will my internet cost?

THE network will be run like any company. Internet providers will buy access to the network from the government-owned company, which they can then sell to customers. One of the requirements is that there must be a uniform pricing structure, to guarantee that all customers will pay the same rates regardless of location.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said wholesale prices will range from about $20 to $30 a month for internet only, or $30 to $35 for internet and phone. The costs of retail plans are likely to vary, but will probably be comparable to current broadband packages.

Why doesn't the opposition like it?

THE criticisms have centred mainly on the scale and cost of the project and the fact that there has been no detailed analysis of the costs and benefits. When Malcolm Turnbull was opposition leader, he said the plan made the Whitlam era look "modest and unassuming".

Mr Turnbull has since been appointed to the role of shadow communications minister, and has the task of "destroying the NBN". Recently he said it would represent "an asset worth somewhere between a half and a quarter of [the $43 billion cost]".

The opposition is not so much concerned about the idea of connecting fibre to most homes, but the huge cost involved. Mr Turnbull argues that many Australians already have good broadband access, and the question must therefore be "how can we most efficiently and cost-effectively insure that all Australians have access to good broadband".

Labor claims that many of the benefits of the NBN are intangible and difficult to quantify, including productivity gains over time from technologies not yet available.

Critics of the plan also claim that the NBN, mainly being a fibre network, fails to recognise the shift towards wireless technology that is occurring naturally without the need for major government intervention.

More here

2 October, 2010

When Kevvy knew his time was up

On a bitterly cold morning in Canberra, Kevvy is being chauffeured to Parliament House. It is so cold that Lake Burley Griffin has frozen over. As he jumps out of the Caprice, Kevvy looks over the Lake and notices that someone has peed on the ice and left a message ‘KEVVY SUCKS’.

Kevvy is enraged and orders ASIO to investigate with ‘no expenses spared’ and to report within two weeks. Two weeks later, the ASIO reports to the PM and says ‘our investigation is over and I have three pieces of news for you…………good news, bad news and terribly bad shocking news’.

Well says Kevvy, ‘give me the good news’. The head of ASIO says ‘We spent $5 million dollars on the investigation and have to a successful result.

‘Well’ says Kevvy ‘what’s the bad news?’ The head of ASIO says, ‘The DNA’ testing shows the urine is Wayne Swann’s’. Kevvy is shocked beyond belief.

Looking pale, Kevvy says ‘and what is the terribly bad shocking news?’

The ASIO chief replies…….’Its Julia Gillard’s hand writing’.

Author unknown

Another nasty Leftist liar

And he went on to become Premier of Queensland!

A PREVIOUSLY unseen Queensland police dossier has finally shed new light on the now legendary political baptism of former premier Peter Beattie.

In 1971 Beattie, an 18-year-old university student, was arrested and bashed by police during the city's wild anti-apartheid protests against a visiting South African rugby team.

He has always claimed he was persecuted for his beliefs and that the incident sent him on the road to politics. The incident cast Beattie as Labor hero.

But the 40-year-old dossier, including police reports, witness statements and medical assessments, alleges that it was Beattie himself who taunted police and sparked the melee outside Brisbane's Trades Hall.

And doctors who assessed Beattie in hospital after his supposed bashing declared he showed no signs of having been subject to undue force by the arresting officers.


Conservatives need to insist that endangered children be protected

Because the Left won't do it -- says Jeremy Sammut, a research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies

THE state has a responsibility to protect children from inadequate parents.

For people on the Right, child protection can be a difficult issue. Those who identify with liberal traditions place a premium on limited state intrusion into the lives of individuals. However, child protection reform that upholds the independent rights of children needs to be on their policy agenda.

The clientele of child protection services consists predominantly of members of the underclass, that proportion of Australians who are long-term welfare dependent and have a range of welfare-dependence exacerbated behavioural issues, such as domestic violence and substance abuse.

The complex problems these families experience include the inability to rear children adequately.

In too many child welfare cases the presumed right of dysfunctional parents to retain custody of children is elevated above the best interests of children.

While encouraging parents to change their behaviour and meet children's needs has always been a part of modern child protection, the pendulum has swung too far towards trying to fix broken families and giving parents almost limitless opportunities to change.

A culture of non-intervention in family situations has developed in the state bureaucracies in charge of child protection services.

The statutory investigation of child welfare reports by caseworkers trained to assess whether a child is in need of court-approved removal from the family home has been marginalised in favour of providing support services (drug counselling, parenting programs, home visits) to families.

Instead of focusing on traditional child protection work, social services departments provide parent-centred rather than child-centred services to allow biological parents to retain custody of children, even where children are identified as being in danger of harm.

Child protection failures create the next generation of dysfunctional parents. The paradox, and the dilemma for those on the Right, is that greater intervention is needed in the lives of dependent members of the community to break the intergenerational cycle of neglect and abuse and save future generations.

The broader cultural issue is whether the Right has the will to defend core community standards or whether the questionable perspectives of the Left will continue to dictate social values in child protection.

When the welfare of children is at stake, it is not too harsh to hold parents accountable for bad behaviour in circumstances that contravene John Stuart Mill's principle that liberty should be interfered with only to "prevent harm to others". Mill was one of the 19th-century progenitors of the progressive idea that a child had the right to enjoy their full liberties and opportunities as a future citizen. In On Liberty, he argued that parents who failed to fulfil their "sacred duties" towards their children were guilty of "a moral crime both against the unfortunate offspring and against society . . . if the parent does not fulfil this obligation, the state ought to see it fulfilled".

However, the moral and social judgments that child protection depends on are beyond the comprehension of those who subscribe to leftist cultural politics.

In an article published in June last year in the Australian Journal of Politics and History, Kate Murphy, Marian Quartly and Denise Cuthbert accused those who frowned on drug-addled parenting of supporting the "conservative family policy of the Howard era".

This would be bad enough if it only reflected the dated ideology pervading the social services sector, which is that removing children punishes poor parents who are victims of structural socioeconomic injustice.

The authors' views also reflect postmodern values that cast child protection as a moral panic deployed to authorise the social surveillance and cultural oppression of the powerless and excluded.

The notion given credence by Murphy, Quartly and Cuthbert is that child welfare laws hold parents to socially constructed behavioural standards to buttress the hegemony of traditional bourgeois family values. Treating parental intravenous drug use in a relativist manner - as if drug-addled parenting is a legitimate lifestyle choice - is wrong and dangerous because it denies the reality of child abuse and neglect.

The idea that welfare-dependent heroin addicts have a right to keep their children reveals moral and ideological confusion. Those on the Right need not hesitate out of misplaced doctrinal concerns to make such judgments about the rights of parents as against the rights of children.


Victoria's "speedy" ambulance service again

Don't have an accident in Victoria

A TOP jockey who almost died after a fall waited nearly half an hour for an ambulance. Danny Brereton fell from his mount, Marquee Player, at Moonee Valley last month and lay unconscious on the track with fractured vertebrae.

Doctors called 000 requesting a mobile intensive care ambulance - and "lights and sirens". One doctor, who did not want to be identified, told the Herald Sun it took too long for paramedics to arrive, and when they did it was in an ordinary van. "I said we needed lights and sirens and a MICA (because) this man's dying," the doctor said.

Ambulance Victoria said the delay had occurred because paramedics couldn't find where to go at the track. It took the crew 26 minutes to reach Brereton, well outside the 15-minute benchmark for code one emergencies. Brereton is now in rehabilitation.

Ambulance Victoria acting general manager Simon Thomson said paramedics had reached the area within minutes, but he would review practices with Moonee Valley racing to ensure similar delays were not repeated.

The wait is one of a litany of horrific cases to emerge in Victoria in the past week. The Herald Sun spoke to 28-year-old Sally Smith who has a heart condition but waited two hours, 12 minutes for paramedics after dislocating a knee on grand final night. That was the same night a man died after waiting three hours for an ambulance in Burwood East.

Ms Smith, who suffers from Marfan syndrome which weakens her heart, said her family made up to 10 calls before an ambulance arrived. "I was in agony and screaming in pain," she said.

Meanwhile Andrew Templeton, 45, of Sunbury, said he was told on Tuesday night that he would have to make his own way to hospital unless he could wait an hour for an ambulance, after developing excruciating pain from kidney stones. The father of three said his wife drove him to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, but he felt for those who lived alone.

Ambulance Employees Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said the cases exemplified the "crisis" in ambulance resourcing and said lives were at risk.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said, "Paramedics, Ambulance Victoria and the Government strive to provide the best care to patients."


1 October, 2010

South Australian schools cutting the crap

Demand for Year 12 humanities subjects has collapsed because of changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education.

Schools have told The Advertiser students choosing their subjects for next year are shunning languages, history, arts and social studies in preference for more "conservative" subjects. Most students are choosing a more traditional pattern of "maths one, maths two, physics and chemistry", meaning schools are likely to axe humanities subjects from their curriculum.

It has raised concerns the cuts could put less academic students at risk as they often rely on the humanities subjects to pass Year 12.

The new SACE, to be rolled out to Year 12 next year, will reduce subject choice from five to four. The new SACE will no longer require final-year students to complete a compulsory humanities or maths subject. They will instead have to complete a compulsory independent research project on a subject of their choice.

Adelaide High School is likely to cut tourism, social studies, economics and geology, while history is also at risk, despite the nationwide push for it to become a core subject in the national curriculum. Assistant principal Michael Black, who is in charge of timetabling, said next year's enrolment for languages in Year 12 had also halved.

"We usually have interest of 12 or 15 but we are down to seven or eight. Because we are a specialist language school we will offer them and (look) at combining Year 11 and 12 classes," he said. "It is narrowing the curriculum and without the comprehensive (choice) it's pigeon-holing students."

A survey of other school leaders by The Advertiser found other subjects at risk include: legal studies, visual arts and geography with principals reporting preliminary enrolments of fewer than 15 students, which meant they were unlikely to survive. They say many subjects could also be reduced from offering multiple classes to just one.

Le Fevre High School principal Rob Shepherd said humanities and biology had taken the biggest hit. "Studies of Society has collapsed ... it was a really strong subject," he said. "Biology has taken a big hit (and) some of our art programs, which means there are a lot less offerings. "The curriculum has narrowed to the same conservative subjects - physics, chemistry, maths 1 and 2." Mr Shepherd said they also expected to take on Woodville High students studying Indonesian, because of low interest in languages at that school.

The Mathematical Association of SA collected data from about 30 schools and said that "surprisingly" maths enrolments for next year were remaining steady - at the detriment of humanities subjects, particularly languages. President-elect Carol Moule said they had feared maths enrolments would drop drastically under the changes. "If kids are happy to take four subjects: double maths and physics and chem ... I would be delighted to see our numbers stay up," she said.

South Australian Secondary Principals Association president Jim Davies said "no doubt" it was an emerging issue. "There is significant variability in subject shifts from school to school ... (it's) complicated because of the reduction in subjects," he said.

Mr Davies said schools were further left in the dark over which subjects they could staff because the state government is yet to release the new funding model.

The SACE Board of SA chief executive Dr Paul Kilvert said the new SACE would provide a broad curriculum for students.

"The Research Project subject, gives students the flexibility to investigate topics from any SACE subject while developing learning and research skills they can use throughout their lives," Dr Kilvert said. "The responses we have received from schools piloting the Research Project indicate the new subject is an ideal vehicle for students to pursue a topic of interest in areas that can come from other SACE subjects, the workplace or the community."


School building programs eating up play space

Government food obsession not matched by promotion of exercise

There was a small flurry of aghastness recently when primary school canteens were exposed as serial breachers of government healthy-food nazism. By "healthy", here, we mean essentially non-fattening, worried as we are that before they hit 30 the roly-poly little dears will blow the nation's entire health budget on diabetes, heart disease, joint replacement and fully funded lap-banding.

Schools across the country, force-fed by Julia Gillard's "education revolution" funding, are eating their own playgrounds. Two-and-a-half thousand in NSW alone, yet we're all happy about this, since it plumps the economy and could, we tell ourselves, drag our education system out of the toilet.

In construction are thousands of brick-veneer multipurpose halls and aluminium-windowed air-conditioned computer rooms with not a single string attached. No requirement to be carbon-neutral (kick-starting a new industry), or to be as gracious as their 19th-century counterparts, so steadfast in presenting education as a dignified pursuit. And no consideration at all, apparently, of what this rampant playground-guzzling might mean to the kiddies.

Perhaps, in Quirindi or Euchareena Heights where land is still (seen as) limitless, it's fine. But here in mid-metropolis - where play space is already scarce and school rolls are still swelling after decades of naked government profit-taking neglected the inevitable city-centre revival as habitat for breeding pairs of young professionals - here it's a problem.

Already, schools have lunchtime "no running" rules. This is true. No big balls (I'm refusing the obvious joke here, but have you ever tried to play soccer with a tennis ball?) and no chasey, barring the tamest possible version. Now that almost every school has a major chunk of its "open" space fenced and scaffolded, what will give?

Boys, and boy-ness, for a start. As even boisterousness becomes frowned-upon and the fighting that is bound to erupt in such pent conditions becomes punishable by that boys' own worst-possible penalty, endless hours of raking-it-over talk, just being a boy becomes a problem.

The incentive is to stay static, watch the screen, make like a girl, gossip, get fat. Which is where the double whammy kicks in. Estrogen. Double whammy, double mammy. For not only does estrogen generate fat; fat also generates estrogen.


Expulsion from Australia looming for Afghans

Hundreds of Afghans seeking asylum in Australia face an increased chance of being sent home after the Gillard government lifted its controversial freeze on processing their applications.

Announcing the end of the freeze, new Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday flagged an increase in deportations. "The percentage of successful refugee claims is likely to be lower than in the past," he said.

But he refused to release advice the government had received about the situation facing Hazaras, who comprise the majority of Afghans seeking asylum, when they return home.

Refugee advocates questioned whether it had become safer to send people back, saying 2010 had been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001.

They also blasted the government for introducing the freeze in the first place, saying it had led to bottlenecks and overcrowding in detention facilities. More than 2000 Afghan asylum seekers are now awaiting decisions, including about 1200 who arrived after the freeze started.

The opposition said yesterday's decision confirmed that the freeze on applications by Afghans had been an "election fix" from the start. "The government's grounds for introducing the freeze in April were bogus then and remain bogus today," immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said. "The decision to lift the freeze is an admission by the government that this was a failed policy that should never have been introduced."

It was former immigration minister Chris Evans who ordered the suspension of processing of new refugee claims from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka on April 9. "What the pause says is that we think conditions are improving," he said at the time.

But a report released by the United Nations in June said violence by insurgents had increased and suicide bombings had tripled from the year before. And in Ghazni, where Mr Bowen said many of the asylum seekers were from, deputy governor Mohammad Kazim Allahyar and his son died in a suicide attack this week.

The move to send more Afghan asylum seekers home also comes after the opposition called on the government to bolster Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan in a bid to provide more protection for troops already on the ground.

Since the freeze on new applications was announced, approval rates for Afghans who arrived in Australia beforehand have fallen from about 90 per cent to 30 per cent. Mr Bowen flagged more rejections to come, and said he was working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Afghan government to facilitate people's safe return.

Amnesty refugee co-ordinator Graham Thom said the government deserved no congratulations for overturning a ridiculous policy. "The only outcomes of this farcical approach have been negative, including major bottlenecks in the processing system and significant overcrowding in Australia's immigration detention facilities," he said.

Families with children were now likely to spend close to a year in remote detention facilities as a result, he said. "This is manifestly unacceptable."

The Human Rights Commission welcomed the end of the freeze, saying it had created differential treatment of asylum seekers based on race.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the freeze had been untenable from the outset. "The fact the government was continuing to process applications from before April 9 on the information they had available undermined any claim that they had insufficient information to process those after," he said.

Said Edmund Rice Centre director Phil Glendenning: "Our concern is that 2010 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001, and most victims of the increased violence have been civilians, especially women and children. "Our research in Afghanistan has found that a number of returnees from Australia and their children were killed upon return and many today live with the well-founded fear of persecution they sought to escape. We can never do this again."

The Greens said the freeze on applications had magnified anxiety, frustration and trauma in detention facilities.


Top Victorian cop in bid to stop flow of information about police corruption

Victoria Police chief commissioner Simon Overland has banned police from covertly recording colleagues. Police members, well versed in the advantages of recording evidence, have a history of covertly taping workplace disputes, some of which have been made public, embarrassing the force.

Former police commissioner Christine Nixon was recorded when she told detectives she was disbanding the armed offenders squad in 2007, which was leaked to the media and later broadcast.

Only non-operational matters cannot be recorded and the ban applies to all staff working for the force.

Covertly recorded conversations have also cost the force, with one police officer exposing a senior officer racially vilifying him.

Mr Overland's instruction, effective from July 4 for 12 months, was detailed to police members in The Gazette this week, stating the practice undermined workplace relationships. Those found to have recorded conversations could face disciplinary action. An internal notification of the same instruction was circulated on the force's intranet in September last year.

The Police Association has written to members worried the move could leave them vulnerable. Secretary Greg Davies is opposing the ban. "The association does not encourage members recording other members in a covert fashion however, regrettably, on some occasions it is a necessary step in order to protect themselves," he wrote in a letter to union members.

Mr Overland's instruction is at odds with the force's increasing use of surveillance tactics. The Herald Sun exposed Victoria Police were secretly checking phone records of its reporters to save face over whistleblower leaks.


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them.

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.