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

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


30 September, 2010

Labor party to bring back compulsory university amenities fees

This is not the same as the bad old mad old system of the past. Using the fees to finance political activity was the bugbear in the past but is banned in this iteration

THE Gillard government will introduce legislation today to restore compulsory student amenities fees at Australian universities. Minister for Tertiary Education Minister, Senator Chris Evans, appealed today to the new parliament to support the bill, saying he wanted it to be passed by Christmas to ensure it will take effect next year.

Senator Evans said it was important to restore a range of depleted services at universities, particularly in regional Australia, and cited sporting, health and counselling services as key areas.

The legislation would allow students to be charged a fee of up to $250 a year for the provision of student services with Senator Evans claiming it was supported by both universities and students.

He also took a swipe at the Howard government’s voluntary student unionism legislation which had abolished services and amenities fees for students. “Under the arrangements left by the Coalition government, close to $170 million has been ripped out of university funding. This has led to the decline, and in some instances, the complete closure, of vital student services,” he said.

The Higher Education Legislation Amendment was defeated in August last year in the Senate, but Senator Evans said the bill had now been changed to make it more attractive and allow the $250 fee to be paid over time. “The main measure… is that we’ve allowed fees to be treated as part of the HECS debt so there’s not the upfront requirement,” he explained. “This legislation makes it very clear that those fees, which will be in the order of $150 a year... can be added to the HECS debt.”

Senator Evans encouraged the Coalition to review its opposition to the bill and said the legislation would be supported by the independents in the lower house. “We agreed with them that we would reintroduce the legislation and I’m hopeful of Getting Mr Crook from Western Australia to support the legislation,” he said.


Mexican telco billionaire's claim the NBN is too expensive backs our case: Tony Abbott

TONY Abbott has seized on a Mexican billionaire's criticisms of the National Broadband Network to again label the plan a "white elephant".

Carlos Slim Helu, a telecommunications tycoon and the world's richest man, said yesterday the $43 billion network would cost $7000 for every home and was too expensive. Mr Slim said the government should be using a multi-platform approach, instead of relying on fibre-optic technology.

Mr Abbott, who has put the NBN at the centre of his strategy to hold the government to account, said Mr Slim was echoing the opposition's concerns about the NBN. “The point is that the world's richest man thinks that spending $5000 per household on something that might be technologically obsolete by the time it's built doesn't make sense. I think he's right,” Mr Abbott told ABC radio. “He's effectively echoing what the Coalition has been saying for months now, that this is going to be a great big white elephant, a $43 billion white elephant.”

Mr Abbott urged the government to commission a serious cost benefit analysis of the NBN and suggested it would not do so because it was “terrified of what it might say”. “There must be a cost benefit analysis and this is one of the matters that we want to bring before the new parliament at an early stage,” he said.

Mr Abbott would not commit the Coalition to supporting the NBN if the analysis showed the network was feasible. “This is one of the matters we want to bring before the new parliament.”

Mr Abbott went on the attack as the government said it expected legislation paving the way for the NBN will be introduced to parliament before the end of the year. House of Representatives leader Anthony Albanese said the government expects the legislation will be introduced during the “coming sittings”. “We are finalising that legislation, that will be a very significant debate before the parliament,” he told ABC Radio.

Nationals frontbencher Barnaby Joyce described the planned network as a “very expensive fairytale”. “What he (Mr Slim) has said is the bleeding obvious,” he told reporters in Canberra.

But Labor senator Doug Cameron dismissed the criticism. “Would you expect anything else from a billionaire who runs a monopoly in Mexico?”

The man charged by Mr Abbott with tearing down the government plan had trouble remembering the network's correct name. Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull described the NBN as a “massive leap into the dark” and repeated the Coalition's earlier calls for a fresh look at the network.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy yesterday hit back at Mr Slim's claim the NBN was too expensive. “Mr Slim's comments about the NBN are no surprise given he has become the world's richest man by owning a vertically-integrated monopoly. Mr Slim has clearly not read the implementation study and we will forward him a copy,” the minister said.

“The implementation study provides a detailed analysis of the cost to deliver the NBN. The study found that the $43 billion total capital cost is a conservative estimate and there are opportunities to significantly reduce the build cost. The heads of agreement between NBN Co and Telstra will also reduce the cost of the build by billions.”

Senator Conroy said fibre to the home was the “optimal future proof technology” with a lifespan of 30-50 years., while wireless was a complementary technology that would never match it.”


Immigration to Australia drops somewhat but population growth still troublingly high

Australia's population growth has fallen to its slowest rate since 2007, after a sharp decline in migration levels continued into the first quarter of this year. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the nation was home to 22,272,000 people at the end of March, but the annual growth rate had slowed considerably to 1.8 per cent, from the 2.2 per cent record high of the previous year.

Although the election debate often centred on immigration, the figures, published yesterday, show that a key reason for the slowdown was a cooling in net migration, which was 37 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Some 241,400 people migrated to Australia over the year to March, but this was a far cry from the record of 320,300 in the previous year.

On the other hand, a domestic baby-boom has been gathering pace, with a record 303,500 babies born in the year to March, 3.1 per cent more than last year. With the number of deaths falling, this meant the rate of population natural increase - births minus deaths - was 7 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Overall, the annual growth in population remains well above its long-term average, prompting concerns about overstretched infrastructure.

An economist at CommSec, Savanth Sebastian, said such "phenomenal" growth was near the fastest in the developed world. "More people in Australia means greater demands for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and a raft of retail goods, and as such is providing much-needed stimulus in trying times for the global economy," he said.


Global cooling hits Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide

After their coldest winter in 13 years Sydney residents have just experienced their coldest September in five years, says.

However, the heat is on its way. "September was an unusual month in terms of the lack of warm days across much of south-eastern Australia," weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.

"A high pressure system over the Great Australian Bight acted as a blocking mechanism, keeping noticeably cool southerly winds blowing over South Australia, Victoria and NSW. "Significant warming will occur in the coming weeks as heat builds over the interior. All we will need is a day or two of westerly winds and we could exceed 30 degrees," Mr Dutschke said.

When both daytime and overnight temperatures were combined, Sydney's average temperature this month came in at just under 17 degrees. This made it the coldest September in five years, despite being one degree above the long-term norm. It was also the coldest September in terms of daytime temperatures in three years.

During the month, the city had an average maximum temperature of 21 degrees, which is still warmer than the long-term norm of 20. It took until the 27th to warm up to 27 degrees, the longest in 17 years. There was a 23-day period that stayed colder than 25 degrees, the longest in September in 10 years.

The nights were not particularly cold overall, averaging a minimum of 12.3 degrees, one above the long-term average. This made it the coldest in terms of overnight minimums in two years. There were only six nights that cooled below 10 degrees; typically there are 11.

The cold was pronounced across southern and central NSW with several centres including Hay and Forbes having their coldest September in at least 15 years in terms of daytime temperatures.

Melbourne, Adelaide also cold

Residents of Melbourne have just experienced their coldest September days in 16 years, Mr Dutschke said. The city had an average maximum temperature of 16.6 degrees, about a half a degree below the long-term normal of 17.2. This made it the coldest September in terms of daytime temperatures since 1994.

When both daytime and overnight temperatures were combined, Melbourne's average temperature came in at just under 13 degrees. This made it the coldest September in at least seven years, despite being about a half a degree above the the long term norm.

Warmer days ahead will provide Adelaide residents with a good thawing out after enduring their coldest September in 18 years, Mr Dutschke said. The city had an average maximum of just 17 degrees, two degrees colder than the long-term norm, making it the coldest September since 1992 in terms of daytime temperatures. In fact, there was only one day that warmed to 20 degrees, on Monday 13th, the fewest 20-degree days in September in 18 years.


29 September, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is perturbed at the decision to charge Australian commandos with manslaughter after a firefight in Afghanistan

Greenie laws erode the rights of blacks

A new report by the Anglican Church has found the Queensland Government's Wild Rivers laws are eroding indigenous property rights and wellbeing. The report, to be released this morning, will fuel Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott's fight to have the laws overturned.

The Wild Rivers Act was introduced by the Queensland Government in 2005 to protect the health of 10 Cape York river systems by placing some limits on development. Critics, including Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, say it will rob traditional owners of economic opportunities on their own land and perpetuate the welfare cycle.

The church said the report was the most forensic economic study it had ever undertaken on the effects of any laws relating to indigenous people. It found the laws were "eroding indigenous property rights and adversely affecting indigenous wellbeing", the church said in a statement.

Mr Pearson will be among those present at the report's launch in Brisbane at 10am (AEST).

Mr Abbott last week said the Opposition's "first priority" in the new Parliament would be to work with the independents to overturn the Wild Rivers laws. He also believes the legislation is stifling indigenous communities and has pledged to introduce a private member's Bill in a bid to have the legislation dumped.

The Queensland Government has questioned whether any move in Canberra could undo state legislation. Queensland Resources Minister Stephen Robertson last week offered Federal independent MPs a personal briefing on the laws, saying they ensure development approvals take account of and protect the natural value of the rivers.

Today, the Wilderness Society accused Mr Abbott of pandering to mining interests and destroying the Liberal Party's environmental credentials by waging war on the laws. "It is ironic that five years ago this week, the Liberals actually voted with Labor in support of the Wild Rivers Act in the Queensland Parliament," the society's Queensland campaign manager Dr Tim Seelig said in a statement. "Now the federal Liberal leader is trying to overturn this same legislation." The society said the impact of the laws had been grossly overstated by critics.


Civil language, evil intent show what's ahead

Julia calls for civility while practicing the opposite herself. Typical Leftist double standards

IT'S a day normally reserved for the pomp and ceremony associated with the opening of a new parliament. But politics - the tough, hard politics of a hung parliament - intruded everywhere.

Under cover of promoting harmony and parliamentary reform in the name of democracy, every comment was laced with sarcasm and spite. The language was civil but the intent was evil.

Julia Gillard and Anthony Albanese took every opportunity to attack Tony Abbott for being a wrecker, a dishonorable cad who wouldn't keep his word even if it was written down.

The Prime Minister appealed for consensus and conciliation rather than "wrecking", and used her speech on the election of the Labor Speaker, Harry Jenkins, to get stuck into Abbott from the very beginning of the 43rd parliament.

The Opposition Leader turned his congratulatory speech for Jenkins into a hard-edged declaration of continued opposition and a refusal of any offer of a confected "consensus".

Gillard kept appealing for co-operation and goodwill while criticising Abbott and working undercover to double-cross the Libs on the position of a Deputy Speaker.

Abbott did break his deal with the government over the election of a Speaker on the pretext of a constitutional difficulty but the real aim was trying to keep the Gillard government's practical majority to just one seat in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, Labor was scheming to get a Liberal MP to agree to a "gentleman's agreement" in which Labor would get extra protection from motions of no confidence and keeping a two-vote buffer on day-to-day votes.

But the tactical battles and votes on the first day over the Speaker's post and new standing orders only established an atmosphere of animosity which will frame the wider political scene in the months ahead.

Gillard and Abbott both made it clear they were going to fight each other on everything. Gillard is intent on portraying Abbott as terminally negative and destructive. For his part Abbott is trying to defend his right to criticise and oppose as Opposition Leader while not being continually negative.

Abbott argued that a hung parliament was no excuse for the government to say all its election bets were off and "a finely balanced parliament does not excuse the government of its duty to keep its election commitments".

"It does not excuse the government from its duty to be an effective government. They can lower expectations all they like here, but out there, in the country, the people . . . expect a government that keeps its election commitments. It cannot walk away from its election commitments simply because of the closeness of the numbers in this parliament," he said.

All the angst about parliamentary reform and intrigue about the Speaker's job comes down to this: there's one vote between the government and failure, and nobody's prepared to give way.


No integrity at Victoria's Office of Police Integrity

The OPI has been suspect for a long time and this would appear to seal it

THE head of Victoria's police watchdog admits its reputation has been harmed by the discovery of sensitive documents during a drug raid.

Victoria Police are investigating whether the former head of intelligence and phone tapping at the Office of Police Integrity stole the documents, which were found in a box in a garage in Melbourne's north on September 10.

The suspected criminal whose home was raided is believed to be in a relationship with the former OPI official under investigation.

OPI director Michael Strong said the discovery of the documents, along with others from ASIO and an anti-corruption body in Western Australia, was a “major security” breach and they were “shocked and alarmed” by what had happened.

“Anything like this impacts adversely on our credibility and I am concerned about that and it's a pity that it has happened,” Mr Strong told Fairfax radio this morning.

Mr Strong said his senior staff had “assured him” there was no risk to any member of the police force or the public despite the files being sensitive and containing names. “There are no missing files, there are some copied documents and notes that were found in a box at certain premises,” he said.

Mr Strong said the employee was the head of phone tapping until November last year and it appeared she may have breached the OPI's policy of removing documents. “She came to us with an impeccable security record,” Mr Strong said. “It appears that the employee on the way has gathered documents from her other employment.” He denied the incident undermined the work of the OPI, saying it had been “travelling well”.

Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the latest incident proved the OPI had “run its race”. “I think it's almost impossible for Victorians to now have confidence in the OPI,” he said. “There have been a series of issues, this is the latest one, and I think the OPI in its current form has run its race.”

Victoria Police chief commissioner Simon Overland also said he did not believe police or individuals' safety had been compromised by the OPI/Victoria Police files. He said the ASIO document found was an acknowledgment of a job application and would not constitute a threat to ASIO or national security.

“Obviously it's a concern that this material has found its way out of the organisation,” he told Fairfax Radio. He confirmed some of the material found related to Victoria Police but had come from the offices of the OPI.


Consumers charged heaps more for electricity under Queensland Government "Green" scheme

HOUSEHOLDS are being charged seven times the real price for gas-fired electricity to meet the Bligh Government's commitment to a "clean and green" Queensland.

Retailers have been handed the right to slug Queenslanders on regulated power prices a set amount for the 15 per cent of electricity they must source from gas-fired power plants.

However, the retailers are pocketing a multimillion-dollar windfall from the Government's scheme as they are routinely sourcing gas-fired electricity at a significantly cheaper price than they charge.

The effect is that the average Queensland household is paying about $28 annually for gas-fired electricity that would cost retailers $4 based on current prices.

Across the 1.8 million residential customers in Queensland, electricity retailers would be raking in more than $50 million from gas-fired electricity that cost them just over $7 million.

The previously secret slug adds to the pressure on households suffering from skyrocketing water bills, increasing interest rates and high petrol prices.

The average annual household electricity bill in southeast Queensland has gone from $1330 in 2006 to $2046 this year. The cost of producing electricity only makes up a portion of bills, which also include the cost of investment and maintenance in the power network.

Energy Minister Stephen Robertson has wiped his hands of responsibility for the effect of the scheme. In a written statement, a department spokesman said the Queensland Competition Authority was responsible for setting prices. "Any specific questions about how the QCA determined a particular component of the Benchmark Retail Cost Index should be directed to the QCA."

But Opposition energy spokesman Jeff Seeney said Queenslanders were being slugged while the Government abdicated its responsibilities. "Despite their talk, there is no effort by the Government to keep downward pressure on electricity prices and that is what this illustrates," he said. "If the minister is not looking after the interests of the consumers, then who is?"

Under the Queensland pricing system, retailers must meet their commitment to buy 15 per cent of gas-fired electricity by purchasing Gas Electricity Certificates.

The QCA in its latest price determination set the price of a GEC at $18.94, or $2.84 a MWh. But, at the time of the determination in May, a GEC could be bought on the energy market for about $4, or 60 a MWh. Prices are now about $2.75 a GEC but have gone as low as $1.

Energy Retailers Association chief Cameron O'Reilly said the disparity was the cost of having a Government-introduced scheme and prices could not be changed regularly to match market fluctuations. "Sometimes if (government schemes) are out they work in the retailer's favour, sometimes they don't," he said.

A graph of market prices for GECs shows that the price has declined significantly over the past three years and has not come close to the $18.94 price tag set by the QCA.

With an average southeast Queensland household using about 10MWh annually, the price they are charged for the gas-fired power proportion of their bill by retailers would be about $28. However the retailers are paying about $4.13 for the 1.5MWh of gas-fired electricity required annually for the average home, or $1.50 at the lowest price.


28 September, 2010

Atrocious decision to prosecute Australian soldiers

There is no way that soldiers in the heat of battle can always make wise decisions. And I don't see that they made unwise decisions, anyway. They were under fire from close range and had to shoot back. It's the ignorant bitch who laid the charges who should be disciplined. What would she know about fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan?

The step-father of a Melbourne digger killed in Afghanistan has warned charges laid against elite soldiers over the deaths of five children will cost more Aussie lives.

"My biggest worry is that it will make (soldiers) hesitant about going into combat situations where they have to make a quick judgement but have the added pressure of waiting...which will cost them lives," he said.

He also questioned the decision of Australia's top military prosecutor Brigadier Lyn McDade. "This should have been handled with an inquest first by the army before the decision to lay charges."

The three elite soldiers were involved in a night raid near a village in Oruzgan Province on February 12, 2009 that left five children dead, another two injured and two adults wounded. One suspected insurgent was killed.

One soldier yesterday was charged with manslaughter, and another faces lesser charges including a failure to follow orders and dangerous conduct. The third will be charged when he returns to Australia.

Australia's top military prosecutor, Brigadier Lyn McDade, yesterday confirmed the charges against three former members of No. 1 Commando Regiment.

The unprecedented legal action has sent shockwaves through the military, with sources on army bases saying the decision had left a "bitter feeling through the military". The possible jailing of the trio had caused "enormous angst and upset", with defence personnel discussing Brig McDade's statement as they went about their work.

The commandos - one of whom is understood to be a former Victorian policeman - have received strong support from families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. It's understood two of the soldiers are reservists and one is a regular.

The Director of Military Prosecutions said the accused men would be charged with various offences including manslaughter and failing to obey orders.

But Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne said the charges against the soldiers should be dropped on the grounds they were fighting for survival. "It's a sad incident, but the enemy has always used the cover of children and the civilian population," the Vietnam veteran said. "These blokes would have drawn fire and not known there were children and gone in protecting themselves."

The father of commando Pte Greg Sher, who was killed in a Taliban rocket attack in January last year, also condemned the charges as "totally unfair". "I would urge Lyn McDade to proceed with caution lest she send out the wrong message," Felix Sher said.

Mr Sher said the Taliban had no regard for human life, placing civilians at risk to protect themselves. "It makes life difficult (for Australian soldiers). It's all very well going by the Geneva Convention, but these insurgents don't operate under the Geneva Convention," he said.

Two of the soldiers yesterday vowed to defend the charges through court. "We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the Director of Military Prosecutions to charge us with offences arising from the incident in Afghanistan on the night of 12 February, 2009," the soldiers, identified only as A and B, said in a statement through legal firm Kennedys.

"We will strenuously defend the charges and we look forward to the opportunity of publicly clearing our reputations, as well as the reputation of the ADF."

They said their actions had saved the lives of Australian and Afghani soldiers involved in the raid.

"It should not be forgotten that the casualties were ultimately caused by the callous and reckless act of an insurgent who chose to repeatedly fire upon us at extreme close range from within a room he knew contained women and children," they said.

The decision to lay charges comes days after the Herald Sun revealed frontline soldiers were complaining they were not getting sufficient support.


Green Party now helping to decide Australia's climate policy

Astounding. Getting any Warmist policy through the parliament will be another matter, however

The arrival of the Greens as a political force has been cemented with a seat at the all-powerful Cabinet table - not quite as a minister but courtesy of a new committee.

In the latest bid to put a price on carbon emissions, Julia Gillard's "multi-party climate change committee" will hold monthly meetings in the Cabinet room. The Prime Minister will chair it and the Greens have landed the position of co-deputy chair. "This isn't easy but we intend to work through and tackle the question of reducing carbon pollution," Ms Gillard said.

Federal politics' new paradigm burst into living colour yesterday with the first Labor-Greens joint press conference of the hung Parliament. Ms Gillard and senior ministers joined forces with Greens leader Bob Brown to announce the committee, whose job is to investigate carbon-pricing options such as an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax or a blend of both.

Independent MP Tony Windsor is a member too but it is unlikely any Opposition MP will sign up.

Ms Gillard will invite two Coalition MPs to join but only on the condition they agree climate change is real and a carbon price is needed. Terms of reference state the committee would "ensure its deliberations and papers remain confidential" until a final position was reached.

Ms Gillard defended the confidentiality provisions on grounds of economic sensitivity and Senator Brown said it was needed to confidently air differing views. "The end result is going to be very public and a bit of secrecy or confidentiality along the way to get the best result overall is a reasonable price to pay," he said.

Treasurer Wayne Swan and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet will sit on the committee along with four expert advisers - Prof Ross Garnaut, Prof Will Steffen, Rod Sims and Patricia Faulkner.

Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt rejected the committee's membership requirements as "repugnant". "You can only be part of the committee if you accept the pre-ordained outcome," Mr Hunt said.

The terms of reference offer Ms Gillard a dignified way out of her much-maligned Citizens' Assembly to discuss climate change - the committee will decide if it is needed at all.


Committee ignores third way in tackling climate change, says Coalition

"Belief test" shows that it is religion, not science that is involved

THE Coalition has sharpened its attack on Labor's climate change committee, saying it's too secretive and based on accepting a pre-ordained outcome.

Squabbling over the committee intensified this morning before the official opening of the 43rd Australian parliament, the swearing-in of members and the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The government says members of the multi-party committee should be committed to establishing a price on carbon, and its deliberations will be in secret until an agreement is reached. The Coalition has refused the government's offer to sit on the committee.

Opposition spokesman for climate action Greg Hunt claimed today that a “belief test” had been imposed on the committee, saying the two options up for consideration were a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. “Our view is that there is a third way in terms of market mechanisms,” he told ABC radio.

“And that's the water buyback equivalent - what we would call direct action for a carbon buyback. “That's off the table. And you are not even allowed to participate in the committee unless you accept that the third way is not on the table,” he said.

“And I'm not aware respectfully of a belief test ever having been imposed. It's almost Orwellian to say we have a new openness but now in fact we have a) almost the most secret committee ever and b) certainly the only belief test committee in parliamentary history.”

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said the government was effectively ruling him out of the committee, adding: “I'm probably the most highly qualified scientist in this place.” He said he was being ruled out because he didn't “believe in a carbon price”. “It's as simple as that. I'm being ruled out on that basis,” he said.

“It would make no difference if I thought that there were other mechanisms to tackle things. “And I think that there are things that you can do responsibly without needing to go to a carbon price regardless of what's your philosophical viewpoint on whether human beings are causing climate change or not.”

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet dismissed the criticisms as “hyperbole”. He said on Sky News it was “complete rubbish” that the committee required its members to have a pre-ordained position.

Mr Combet said membership of the committee membership was based on whether a political party respected the climate science, saying it would provide common ground to “move forward”. However, he confirmed the purpose of the committee was to “discuss the options for introducing a carbon price”.

Mr Combet also defended the confidentiality arrangements, arguing there would be some “very commercially sensitive” information being considered. However, he added that some of the information being considered could also be useful in stimulating debate, citing an updated version of Professor Ross Garnaut's climate change review.


Criminals won't get discounts for incriminating others

And even "soft on crime" Cowdery agrees with that

CRIMINALS who dob in other crooks can no longer expect lighter sentences just because they fear being bashed in prison. Under a new directive to be issued to NSW judges by the State Government, courts will also get tougher in sentencing child sex offenders who plead hardship because they have lost their jobs.

Attorney-General John Hatzistergos will today announce a package of reforms to sentence discounts, designed to stop excessive leniency given to criminals who plead for sympathy.

The Government will tell judges not to shorten sentences because offenders suffer "hardship" directly caused by their own criminal behaviour. It follows a report by the NSW Sentencing Council into sentence discounts.

"Discounts for hardship are to be given only where the evidence shows they are warranted, not in instances where an offender's apparent suffering is a consequence of their appalling criminal behaviour," Mr Hatzistergos said.

He said one example to be addressed was the practice of the courts assuming "rollovers" - prisoners who inform on other criminals to police - would endure a tough time in jail.

While such criminals would still be eligible for sentence cuts for co-operating with authorities, no further discount would be given for the feared violence from inmates. "Courts have traditionally presumed that offenders who 'roll over' do it tougher on the inside but the modern reality of our prison system dictates that this is not the case," Mr Hatzistergos said.

Courts would also have to reveal the sentence an offender would have received, had the offender not offered to assist authorities.

There would also be no discounts for offenders who have had their assets confiscated as proceeds of crime and argued the loss of their home was already a punishment.

And sex offenders who have previously received lighter sentences because of "hardship" after being prohibited from working with children under Child Protection laws would also get no discounts.

Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery yesterday supported the changes as being "matters of logic and commonsense". "A discount for hardship should not be given for difficulty created by the offending and its normal lawful consequences," he said.


27 September, 2010

Will NSW students go backwards under a national curriculum

NSW school curricula have not been dumbed down as much as in other States because of the influence of long-time NSW Premier Bob Carr. Carr is a scholarly man and blocked any erosion of standards during his time in office

State Labor governments are under pressure to fall into line with the new national curriculum. A statement from the national curriculum authority seems to assume state education ministers will not object to the final version of its national curriculum plan. The statement says: ‘‘Once Ministers endorse the curriculum in December, it will be available for implementation from 2011’’.

The 20-year history of numerous failed attempts to develop a national curriculum are also spelled out in full. The message is clear that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority wants any obstruction from the states to stop.

The NSW government said nothing to criticise the national agenda in the lead up to the federal election this year. The order for silence had come from above.

The NSW Board of Studies quietly posted its objections to the national curriculum in late July. That is according to the state government which issued no press release at the time. The response went unnoticed for several weeks.

The Board was blunt in its criticism of the national curriculum draft. This view was widely supported by NSW science, English, history and maths teachers. Their collective view is that the national curriculum draft is vastly inferior to existing NSW standards.

The Board of Studies said the draft curriculum for kindergarten to year 10 students lacked an overarching framework and was overcrowded with content. It said the draft maths and science curriculums failed to cater for the full range of student abilities. Year 10 science was said to be too difficult for most students. The draft history curriculum was described as "far too ambitious to be taught effectively".

The question is whether Labor state governments will be brave enough to take on their Federal colleagues later this year when the nation’s education ministers meet to discuss adoption of the final version of the national curriculum.

The head of the national curriculum authority, Barry McGaw, said his press release was not an attempt to pre-empt their decision. He is confident that any grumblings from the states will have been sorted out in the final curriculum documents.

However, teachers and school principals remain unconvinced that this state will not be selling out what they believe is a gold standard curriculum in NSW.


Man dies while waiting three-and-a-half hours for ambulance

The ambulance union says a man dying of poisoning made nine desperate calls for help during an awful three-hour wait for help -- the delay being apparently due to "don't care" management. It's what you expect of public servants

Ambulance Victoria has launched an investigation after paramedics failed to arrive at the man's house for more than three hours, while he deteriorated as a result of deliberately swallowing a liquid detergent. The Burwood man in his mid-50s made his first desperate call for help about 11.28pm on the night of the Grand Final, but the ambulance did not arrive until 2.50am.

Just four minutes after the pair of advanced life support paramedics arrived, the man went into cardiac arrest. A MICA crew was immediately called, but the man could not be revived.

Ambulance Victoria spokesman James Howe conceded the man made "at least two or three" calls to triple zero, but the union today said the reality was far worse. Victorian ambulance union spokesman Steve McGee said his own figures showed the man called nine times, including a call at 2.45am, five minutes before the ambulance arrived. “He rang them nine times before they eventually dispatched an ambulance. It’s just not good enough," Mr McGee.

He said Ambulance Victoria had failed the community, after a string of similar delays and deaths, and called on the Coroner to immediately be involved in an investigation. “He was pleading for an ambulance.” “My belief is that this man should be alive today,” he said.

He said it was clear that the man was a much greater priority than he was given, since the first crew to arrive called for an intensive care unit a few minutes after arriving. “If this man had have got an ambulance in an appropriate time, he would have already have been in a hospital getting appropriate treatment. He wouldn’t have gone into cardiac arrest probably, more than likely his condition wouldn’t have deteriorated to the state that it had,” he said.

“Why did this guy have to wait three hours for an ambulance in his condition? “The system has clearly failed this gentleman and his family,” he said.

Ambulance Victoria earlier confirmed made several calls to the service, desperately asking when an ambulance was to arrive. “I know there were at least two or three calls,” Ambulance spokesman James Howe said today.

Dispatchers also made multiple calls to the patient to check he was stable, he said. "We had spoken to the patient through that time, and he was conscious and breathing and talking

Mr Howe said the man had been conscious and breathing when paramedics first arrived. But Mr Howe rejected suggestions that a lack of resources was the obvious problem, and said an internal investigation would determine what went wrong. "Before we jump to conclusions, before we try to allocate blame, we need to review what went wrong," Mr Howe said.

He said crews on the night had been stretched because of the heavy workload on the night, with its call centre comparing the pace of the night to that of New Year’s Eve. “We were prioritising a huge volume of calls at the time,” Mr Howe said.

He said the workload was 50 per cent busier than the previous weekend, with 180 call-outs on the night, compared with 120 the week before. But he said there had not been any been a shortage of crews in the Burwood area on the night as a result of “dropped shifts”.

He said the organisation realised ambulance crews faced a pressure situation. “I certainly have sympathy for them and the situation that they were in. I’m sure they were doing everything they could. But we have to look at what happened and learn from it." "This case is distressing for everyone involved," he said.

The involvement of family in any investigation had not been established, he said. He said the call tapes would be reviewed by the organisation’s quality team.

He said while the union “had the right” to blame the issue on resources, Ambulance Victoria had actually increased resources in the past 18 months. Mr Howe said another 300 paramedics per year had been added to staff in the past few years.

But Mr McGee ridiculed suggestions that a lack of resources was not to blame. “Even if its workload was high, they knew it was on Grand Final night, which happens every year. They know Grand Final nights are generally busy. Why didn’t they match the resource levels? “At 9pm, there were 50-60 cases waiting … why didn’t they bring in more people then?”

He said the union was unapologetic about its campaign for more paramedics, and said the State’s offer to boost rural services by 297 paramedics must be matched in the CBD. And he said while there may have been up to 300 paramedics employed each year for the past few years, that failed to account for the numbers being lost.

Mr McGee said detergents could cause serious internal damage as a result of corrosion, with one of the worst dangers swelling of airway passages that could prevent breathing.


Beware attention-seekers

Their mother probably didn't look when they were little and said to her "Look at me". There has never been any evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GM foods

Six female Greenpeace campaigners have been arrested for trespassing after staging a supermarket protest in Sydney's north on Monday over a Wyeth Nutrition baby formula they believe may be harmful.

The six were part of a 15-strong group who staged the sit-down inside a Neutral Bay Woolworths about 10am. They positioned themselves in front of the S-26 baby formula, made by the Pfizer-owned company Wyeth Nutrition, which they claim contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

A similar protest was held by Greenpeace at a Coles store in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.

Police said the six women, aged between 20 and 30, were expected to be charged with trespassing later on Monday. ``Police spoke with the (Woolworths store) manager and then commenced negotiations with the group," a police spokeswoman said. ``They (the campaigners) left the store and then without warning went back inside."

Officers spoke with the manager again and the women were arrested a short time later when they refused to leave. The remainder of the group left of their own accord.

Greenpeace named the arrested six as Sarah Roberts, Melissa Freeburn, Rebecca Evenden, Anna Parente, Claire Parfitt and Olivia Rosenman, and said they would be assisted by a Greenpeace lawyer.

Greenpeace is angry over what it said was a lack of labelling on the S-26 baby formula and called on Woolworths and Coles to remove it from their shelves. Independent tests of the popular baby formula have found it contains traces of GM soy and corn which could be harmful to infants, Greenpeace Australia spokeswoman Laura Kelly told AAP at the supermarket on Monday. The formula is not labelled as containing GM ingredients.

Wyeth Nutrition said the company has had a strict policy of using only non-GM ingredients in all its infant formulas since 2001. ``It is important to note that trace amounts of GMO (genetically modified organisms) do not present a health or safety threat to infants," it said in a statement.

The company was concerned by the allegations made by Greenpeace and had requested a copy of the test results. ``Wyeth Nutrition would welcome the opportunity to work with Greenpeace and relevant authorities to address the matter in detail," it said.


The school heater saga rumbles on in NSW

A very expensive bungle by clueless (or should that be flueless?) bureaucrats. The article below understates the problem. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the unflued heaters can be used only with the windows wide open -- which makes them almost useless

THERE are certain things you should never argue about with a parent. Try telling someone with kids that Dennis Ferguson has served his time and has a right to live next door.

The issue of unflued gas heaters in NSW classrooms is similarly emotive for parents. The thought of exposing our children to invisible toxic gases – no matter how tiny the amount – is unacceptable to most people.

Whatever the findings of the Woolcock report into the health effects of heaters, Education Minister Verity Firth was always going to be under pressure to replace heaters in all state schools.

In the event, the Woolcock report found that there was a relationship between unflued heaters and symptoms of breathing difficulties in kids.

The study, which relied on a group of parents keeping an observational diary, found a 0.5 per cent increase in wheezing among asthmatic kids exposed to the nitrogen dioxide emitted from unflued heaters.

Despite that connection the report found no measurable reduction in lung capacity of any kids but concluded that replacing heaters was advisable as a safety-first approach. And not many would argue with that – indeed most parents of school-age kids would celebrate the decision. Except that this is no small decision.

It will cost upwards of $400 million and take a decade to complete, so the science has to be right.

A study in the US, huge in its scope, has reviewed the findings of 50 studies into the effects of nitrogen dioxide and suggests that the Woolcock Institute is playing it safe. The US study concludes there is no danger to healthy or asthmatic people at nitrogen dioxide levels at between 0.2 and 0.6 parts per million (ppm) in the air.

The Woolcock study found unflued heaters emitted nitrogen dioxide at between the equivalent of 0.0074 and 0.1352 ppm. On that basis, the worst of NSW heaters registers well below the lower limit of what the US report found to be safe.

There was more than a hint of policy on the run when Firth announced the $400 million replacement without the consent of the Premier or cabinet. I suspect if the wider government – particularly Treasurer Eric Roozendaal – was aware of the larger studies the Woolcock findings may have been treated differently.

Regardless of the scientific findings, Firth all but signed up to a full replacement when she announced that unflued heaters would be removed from schools in colder climates.

As I commented in this column back in June, how can you tell parents their kids aren't at risk when you've gone and replaced them in some schools on the same concerns? You can't. Which is why $400 million will be spent no matter what the science says.


26 September, 2010

A very weak excuse for breaking an election promise

Sounds like the Greens are punching way above their weight

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it is not her fault that she may break an election promise and introduce a carbon tax while leader of the federal government.

Five days before the August 21 poll, Ms Gillard said there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. However, she has since vowed to set up a committee made up of MPs from all sides of politics to examine ways of pricing carbon.

Ms Gillard said because Labor now shared the balance of power in the lower house with the Australian Greens and independents, the circumstances around her original promise had changed. "We can't just go to the House of Representatives and say, `Here is the government's position' and five minutes later it's passed by the house," she told Network Ten on Sunday.

Ms Gillard said she would use the committee to work towards a carbon tax with the Greens and independents.

The coalition is welcome to participate in the talks too she added, but committee membership is only extended to those who agree a carbon tax in necessary.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said he would never put a price on carbon unless it became part of an enforceable international system.


Another disastrous "Green" scheme

Home water tanks in lieu of new dams

Three years ago, owning a water tank business was a licence to print money. Then the rebates were cut and the rains came. Now what was the busiest industry on the block is practically non-existent, as 400 water tank operators have been whittled to 12.

Millions of dollars have been lost, businesses have disappeared and customers wanting tanks for their homes have evaporated.

Leisa Donlan, from independent body the Association of Rotational Moulders, said it was the "industry that has been forgotten".

"Lives have been absolutely shattered by this. What the state government did by introducing the rebate and then cutting it all of a sudden was just awful," she said. "Family businesses have been ruined. Our staff have been suicidal some days after counselling the people involved. "Losing a business is a very human thing."

Department of Environment and Resource Management figures showed that across the state more than 250,000 Queenslanders claimed the rebate for a water tank.

"At the peak of the drought and the WaterWise Rebate Scheme, there were four-month waits. Manufacturers were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Ms Donlan said.

"State government ministers themselves came out and said that the industry needed to invest in better equipment to keep up with the demand, to step it up.

"Then, all of a sudden in June 2007, as quickly as it started, the rebate for the tanks stopped. Manufacturers had spent tens of millions of dollars buying new equipment to cope with the excessive demand and all of a sudden the demand was gone. Overnight. It was devastating."

Toby Peacock, owner of Brisbane water tank business QTank, said the abolition of the rebate, coupled with the breaking of the drought, had all but "killed" the industry.

"During the height of the drought, water was all everyone was talking about. People were desperate for water tanks, desperate to conserve water and everyone was wanting to safeguard themselves," he said.

"But once the rebate ended and the drought started to break, people moved on to talking about something else. They forgot how important it is to conserve water. Tanks were no longer fashionable."

Under Brisbane City Council planning regulations, all new dwellings must include a 5000-litre water tank to gain approval.

This regulation is the only thing keeping a handful of operators in business, Mr Peacock said. "Every night I go to bed nervous, praying that when I wake up in the morning, the government won’t have cancelled this regulation," he said.

Ms Donlan said the lack of support for the industry was disappointing because it was highly likely water consumption would be an issue again in the future.


'Miracle cure' market unpoliced

WIDESPREAD criticism of the Therapeutic Goods Administration has forced the Gillard government to look at overhauling Australia's drugs regulator because it is failing to adequately police the $2 billion industry in "miracle" cures and other quasi-health devices.

Claims that "therapeutic" products can cure everything from AIDS to cancer, guarantee weight loss or improve strength, balance and flexibility are misleading and deceptive and can sometimes lead to lethal results, health experts say.

The federal Department of Health and Ageing released a consultation paper on the advertising of therapeutic goods in June, saying it was important the public received accurate information about the risks as well as the purported benefits of these goods on the market.

"Concerns have been raised by some opponents of the current advertising framework that the system is not working to protect consumers as well as it might," the paper said. "There is a perception that the complaints handling process is not as transparent as it could be, and that the sanctions available to the [TGA's] complaints resolution panel … do not provide sufficient deterrence."

Unlike registered pharmaceutical drugs, most herbal and complementary medicines are "listed" by the TGA, which means their makers pay a fee and are expected to have evidence to back their claims. Listed products are not reviewed by the TGA but are subject to random audits.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore said there was a perception the TGA did not take consumer protection seriously. Its "light touch" approach was no longer appropriate in an industry where Australians spend more than $2 billion a year.

He said product names such as "Fat Magnet", "Weight Loss Accelerate" and "Slim Me" were, in his view, misleading and deceptive and provided minimal or no information about known adverse side effects.

Under the Therapeutic Goods Act, there is no provision for the TGA to impose civil penalties for breaches of the advertising code. The TGA can only remove products from the register and refer repeated breaches of the advertising code to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal prosecution, where the maximum penalty is a $6600 fine for individuals and $33,000 for corporations.

TGA spokeswoman Kay McNiece said most companies supplying therapeutic goods to the Australian market did comply with advertising requirements, but "the complaint handling arrangements for those companies that do not comply could be improved".

One long-standing critic of the TGA, La Trobe University public health expert Dr Ken Harvey, said it was failing to protect customers from unproven complementary medicines and devices that may be shonky. "If the TGA moves at all, it moves with glacial speed," Dr Harvey said.

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health Catherine King said she was worried by the number of companies pushing the boundaries and would consider all 38 submissions before taking appropriate action


Ambulance delays threat to lives

DESPERATELY ill Victorians seeking urgent ambulance assistance are routinely facing a life-threatening waits for help, new documents reveal. More than one in six Victorians calling for emergency aid are waiting longer than the State Government benchmark for acceptable service, the previously unseen Ambulance Victoria information shows.

A dossier of Code One (lights and sirens) ambulance response times for metropolitan Melbourne over a two-year period shows 87,514 cases where patients waited longer than the 15-minute threshold set by the Brumby Government.

Analysis of the documents, obtained through Freedom Of Information, reveals 321 cases of patients waiting more than an hour from April 2008 to April 30 this year - an average of more than 13 a month.

On January 29 last year, 12 ambulance call-outs took more than an hour each to reach their destinations on the same day, including a call at 4.20pm to Kew that took more than one hour and 50 minutes and a call to Reservoir three minutes later that took more than one hour and 40 minutes.

On a single day in October 2008, four ambulances dispatched within 20 minutes of each other to different part of Melbourne were delayed for more than an hour.

Other shock findings from the log include:

AN ambulance to Springvale on March 23 that took an hour and 40 minutes;

A WAIT of more than two hours for specialist help in Gladstone Park on August 24, 2008 when an ambulance called at 11.58am from a house did not arrive from nearby Essendon until 2.11pm;

A PATIENT stranded in Hastings on April 10 for an hour and 30 minutes; and

AN ambulance to McMahons Creek on April 10 that took an hour and 31 minutes.

Ambulance Victoria defended its performance in the Gladstone Park emergency, suggesting that the call had originally been logged as Code Two, but was upgraded once ambulance officers arrived.

The response times are based on arrival of the first ambulance only, not subsequent units with specialist equipment that may be required.

Release of the data comes days after a man with a severed finger had to pay a $300 taxi fare from Maryborough to Melbourne because no ambulance was available.

Ambulance Employees' Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said the trend continued with a 55-year-old Lalor woman suffering severe abdominal pain who was forced to wait more than two hours for a Code One ambulance last Sunday.

"I don't even think that waiting 15 minutes is acceptable," he said.


25 September, 2010

Poverty does not make you happy

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

‘Money can’t buy me love,’ the Beatles once told us. Now economists like Jeffrey D. Sachs argue that money can’t buy you happiness, either.

In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s The Australian, the Columbia University professor recommended a closer look at the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese attitude towards development and their government’s focus on happiness should inspire the West, he wrote.

Indeed, Bhutan is always held up by as the shining example in the quest to make the world a happier place. In the 1970s, the Bhutanese king decided that his subjects should strive to increase Gross National Happiness, not GDP. Ever since, this has been the country’s guiding principle. It is this principle that Sachs now recommends to more developed nations.

There is nothing wrong with happiness, of course. In fact, it was the Americans and not the Bhutanese who first declared the pursuit of happiness a national goal. But it’s nevertheless a bit odd to present Bhutan as the role model for global happiness and well-being.

Have the Bhutanese really reached a special stage of enlightenment the rest of the world should follow? There is reason for doubt if you believe reports in the country’s press. Not long ago, the Bhutan Times came to this harsh assessment:

"To the world beyond its borders, Bhutan is a sort of a fabled country. Happiness is the mantra of development here that has tickled the imagination of economists and social engineers near and far. Closer home, a microscopic view of things reveals that all is not so well. In the recent years, an overriding numbers of drug and substance abuse and an alarming suicide rate have been reported in the country, an indication that the pursuit of happiness is still a delusional journey for some."

Perhaps the Bhutanese are not so happy after all because they are poor. According to the country’s National Statistics Office, 23.2% of the total population are living below the poverty line of Nu 1,096 (approximately $25) a month.

Or maybe they are unhappy about their press freedom, which was ranked as one of the worst in the world in the 2009 ‘Freedom of the Press’ survey. That is, of course, only relevant insofar as they can read because Bhutanese literacy is below the South and West Asian average.

None of these figures featured in Professor Sachs’ rose-tinted survey of Bhutan. Such ignorance is a bliss that only Western tourists can afford. Maybe money can’t buy you happiness, but at least it can buy you a return ticket to Bhutan.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Sept. 24. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Afghanistan-bound soldier pays $5000 to replace 'dodgy' army kit

Low quality equipment for soldiers is a disgrace but has been going on for decades. The government spends billions on submarines that it cannot even find crew for but "economizes" on how it equips men who are going into life-threatening situations

Though, mind you, sailing on a jerry-built Australian submarine is pretty life-threatening too. No wonder few men want to crew them

A SOLDIER soon to be deployed to "the badlands in Afghanistan" says he has paid almost $5000 to replace army-issue gear he says is "guaranteed to fail in the field". The 5RAR soldier is one of 100 being deployed to relieve Diggers from 6RAR in the region west of Tarin Kowt, where Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney was killed in the Battle of Derapet last month.

The soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Advertiser that the battalion was undermanned and ill-equipped for the job. "It's not that we're not up to the task - Australian soldiers are some of the best in the world - but we are going in undermanned and poorly equipped," he said. "I've shelled out nearly $5000 of my own money to get the kit that will last me the whole trip."

His comments came at the end of a week of criticism of the army amid allegations Australia's soldiers are under-resourced in Afghanistan.

Despite being a veteran of the East Timor and Iraq conflicts, the young father said he had never been more nervous. "I've had mates die in Afghanistan this past year," he said. "We need the Government to listen to us, stop fobbing us off and give us what we need."

Among items bought by the soldier for his tour of duty are extra boots and a Sord rig - which is an ammunition and equipment vest "almost all Australians in Afghanistan purchase because the army-issue vests fall apart".

He said even spare army dog tags, used to identify soldiers killed in action, must be bought by soldiers at $30 a set.

The soldier said army officials would argue that buying a Garmin 401 wrist GPS for $320 was a luxury but he begged to differ. "We use GPS to call in mortar attacks and support," he said. "It could prove life-saving equipment."

The price of extra kit

Spare "dog tag" soldier identification - $30.

Sord ammunition rig, army issue "falls apart" - $600.

Desert boots, shortage of boots in army supplies - $400.

Garmin 401 wrist GPS, GPS used to call in mortar strikes - $320.

Minus 20C rated swag, to withstand the cold - $500


Corporate leaders stepping up to challenge a clueless government

Demanding that the government consult widely before acting -- which any governmenmt with brains would do anyway -- but Leftists think that they know it all

BIG business has warned Labor it will escalate a public campaign against the federal government to protect the economy from being damaged by vested interests.

A range of chief executives, chairmen and directors canvassed by The Weekend Australian said business leaders had a basic responsibility to step up to fill the policy vacuum left by the unstable political situation.

In the wake of last week's controversial call for a carbon tax by BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers, many believe there will be further public intervention in policy debates to set the agenda and ensure adequate consultation on reforms.

National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum chairman Michael Chaney said: "Several actions of the previous government left business with no choice about speaking out.

"Business leaders thus have a responsibility, not only to their shareholders, but to the public, to speak out where they believe business interests and the national interest is threatened."

He urged the government to see "the necessity of wide consultation before announcing fait accompli legislation".

Former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, who will be co-chairing the government's mining tax transition panel, said business people should be raising issues to provoke debate.

"The more you get a debate going, the better the outcome," Mr Argus said.

After an election where business was deeply frustrated by the lack of detailed policy discussion, it is now concerned about the prospects for economic reform in a range of areas. They include taxation, skills, infrastructure, climate change, the lack of an energy security policy, and an overloaded agenda before the Council of Australian Governments.

Many business leaders are particularly concerned the emergence of the Greens and the country independents could damage the prospects for crucial reforms and cause continuing uncertainty for local and international investors. They point to the inability of Julia Gillard to strike a deal with Tony Abbott on a new speaker as a bad omen for the new parliament.

There is also widespread concern about the government's refusal to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the $43 billion broadband plan. Wesfarmers and Boral chairman Bob Every supported Telstra chief financial officer John Stanhope's questioning of Labor's refusal to build a business case for the NBN.

"I think we need to look at all the infrastructure areas - roads, rail and water - and prioritise. Obviously, there's only so much money to go around. So I think it needs to be looked it in that light," Mr Every said. "And it does need a cost-benefit analysis. I find it very impractical that we would roll it out . . . in the rural areas first, where there would be the least return and that would obviously then have the worst cash-flow effects."

Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley said he had been encouraging business leaders to be more outspoken on public policy matters.

"I believe that one of the lessons of the resource tax debacle is that it is important for business leaders to speak up frankly and fearlessly on major issues to improve the quality of government decision-making and public understanding and debate," he said.

Brambles and BlueScope Steel chairman and Reserve Bank board member Graham Kraehe said business had thought it "more appropriate to be working inside the tent with government".

"But now we need to work outside the tent to raise the public awareness of issues. And that is even more important given the debacle over the RSPT consultation process."

Business groups and lobbyists are gearing up to negotiate with the independents, Greens and opposition on new legislation, as much of the government's program will have to be delicately handled in the new parliament.

"It is not just the relevant government minister we have to get our message across to now," said Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin. "Business needs to make sure that the opposition, the minor parties and independents and indeed the wider public hear what we are saying and understand our issues and concerns."

But opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said personal relationships between businesspeople and politicians would come to the fore in an era of uncertainty. "The greatest influence now will be through existing relationships with MPs," he said. "Don't contract out your relationship to a lobbyist or a junior employee. Experienced politicians on all sides of politics know that the people that they listen to or have the most influence with them are the ones they have had relationships (with) for some years."

A spokesperson for Wayne Swan declined to comment, but the Treasurer is said to be supportive of business becoming more involved in the policy debate.


Druggie doctor not stopped, infects patients with Hep C -- the druggie disease

One would think that of all regulatory regimes, medical regulation would be the strictest. It seems in fact to be just about the slackest. Turning hopeless doctors into taxi-drivers seems to be the great taboo for all concerned and Nelson's telescope is much in use. Too bad if patients suffer and die

TO THOUSANDS of women treated at the Croydon Day Surgery, James Latham Peters looked like any other clinician. But would they have agreed to enter an operating known of his past?

Peters had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, as well as a 1996 conviction for forging prescriptions for pethidine. Since 2006 he has faced urine tests to determine whether he was still abusing drugs.

A few years ago, a bout of throat cancer nearly killed Peters. Last year, he was under more strain when he was again charged by police — this time for possession of child pornography. Peters, 62, also has the potentially fatal virus hepatitis C.

Now, at least 35 of the women given an anaesthetic by Peters from 2006 to 2009 have the same strain of the virus. None of the women knew any of those details about their doctor.

The Medical Board — the ultimate doctors' watchdog — knew much about Peters's life, but not all. A crucial question to be answered is whether the board's screening of Peters's urine tested for the right drug. Did they test him for all the most likely drugs he had access to?

The lawyers behind a planned class action on behalf of the infected women will also be asking if Peters was abusing the very same drugs he used on his patients.

Last year, one of those patients, we'll call her Jane, looked in the mirror and knew she was getting sick. "I'd do my make-up, I'd notice my eyes were yellow, my skin was yellow," she says.

Weeks before, she had made one of the toughest decisions of her life, travelling to the Croydon Day Surgery for a termination. Then it had seemed like a medically seamless procedure, even if it was emotionally fraught.

"I lost hair from stress, I was a mess, and I got sick from it," says Jane. "I knew there was something wrong, from all the symptoms." With no medical knowledge, she turned to Google for answers, trying to diagnose her condition. Then the blood tests came back. "Oh no," said her GP, as he called up the results on his computer. "And I just sank in my chair," she says. "I was a mess. I was an absolute mess."

Hepatitis C can be fatal and is one of the leading reasons for liver transplants in most developed nations. But this cluster of hepatitis C infections is mired in a web of regulation, law and potentially criminal behaviour.

Wading through the mire is a veteran of the Victoria Police, Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan, who's more used to following blood trails. This time he's tracing a more complex trail, left by a virus. Its genetic fingerprints have taken months to map, and its legal dimensions are so wide that more than six months on, investigators still haven't spoken with Peters. "No . . . we haven't spoken to him," says Superintendent Ryan, "but we've left the door open to him to make an approach to us if he wishes to do so."

Superintendent Ryan says he won't push Peters, the Medical Board or others, before his investigators are ready. "So when we get to talk to Dr Peters and anyone else we need to speak to . . . we can do the best interviews possible, because we're aware of all the facts and issues . . . so that if anyone is ever charged, they're not going to get out on a technicality."

The police have much to examine. Who should have known about Peters's past conviction? Who should have set the precise terms of his supervision once he was known to be an injecting drug user? The laws around who is obliged to keep an eye on him have changed over the past decade. Peters could be charged under a wide variety of laws, all of which need to be examined closely by police before a decision on any charges is made.

The police would never have been involved, and the women would never have known they were linked, if not for a particularly astute nurse working in the Lonsdale Street headquarters of the Victorian Health Department.

Every time someone tests positive for hepatitis C a bureaucratic red flag pops up. But this public health nurse saw that out of thousands of hepatitis C cases, three stood out. They didn't display the usual risk factors — such as injecting drug use — and all three women had been to the Croydon Day Surgery.

This case is so sensitive that the nurse will not speak to The Age about her analysis. But quickly, her information was relayed to Dr John Carnie, the chief health officer. His first hunch was that it was a mistake in infection procedures at the day surgery. "This sort of thing has happened, that there has been some slip-up in the infection control," he says.

The following morning Dr Carnie dispatched a team to the clinic. They checked surgical procedures, the cleanliness of their theatres and their internal regulations. They came up with nothing.

The next step was for Dr Carnie's team to ask the clinic staff for their hepatitis C status. Again this looked like turning up nothing. Except there was no immediate response from one of the clinicians, the anaesthetist James Latham Peters, who was then on holiday in New York. Asked by his employers about his hepatitis C status, he responded by undertaking a blood test at a local US clinic. When that result "turned out to be positive," Dr Carnie realised "we need to see this man immediately on his return".

The initial blood test for antibodies is only the first step in tracing a person's hepatitis C history. To put together more pieces of the puzzle, each blood sample is analysed to identify which strain of the virus caused the infection. Then finally, all the blood samples with the same strain are compared again, to see if they have the same genotype or genetic fingerprint.

Thus far, the department says 35 women have a virus closely linked to the strain carried by Dr Peters — the anaesthetist who was supposed to spare them the pain of their experience. He was suspended from practising medicine in February....

In February, the department was surprised when Peters revealed he had a "history of injecting drug use", according to Dr Carnie. He says that in his interview about the infected women, that revelation was “a significant and important thing for [Dr Peters] to admit to us, but the [false prescriptions] conviction I didn't know anything about; we didn't learn about that until much, much later."

Since 2006, while working at the Croydon Day Surgery, Peters has been subject to a range of sometimes regular, and sometimes random, drug tests.

When anaesthetists do end up abusing drugs they often use what is closest at hand. Pethidine can be an option, but so can a drug like fentanyl. Both are opiate analgesics — in the same class of drugs as morphine and heroin. Fentanyl is often used with terminations because its effects last 30-60 minutes. Because it has such a short-term effect on the body, fentanyl can be harder for drug testers to detect than pethidine.

Last year, Peters was charged with possessing child pornography. No one had a legal obligation to relay this to the board unless the charge became a conviction. There is an agreement between Victoria Police and the Medical Board to alert the board about such charges — but for some reason the news that Peters had been charged was not conveyed. Peters was convicted this year, after he'd already been suspended as a doctor.

The Medical Board won't comment on Peters's drug testing. But which drugs could and should have been tested for, and how often, could be part of the civil action.

It became an offence not to tell the board about a conviction only in 2007, and it was only in July that a new law decreed that doctors must report colleagues who significantly deviate from accepted professional standards.

It's a law Paul Henderson is keen to highlight. "If doctors are put in the position where they have knowledge [about their colleagues], they're required to report it," he says, "which means [Peters] might have been managed differently, which means these women might not have been put at risk."

Slater & Gordon can take aim at James Peters first, by trying to recover as much as $300,000 for each of the women seriously affected. That could total $15 million. But if he is charged and then convicted, his insurers would not be liable to pay out any compensation won in a civil court.

It's not clear where Peters is living, but police say they've taken steps to ensure he can't leave the country.


24 September, 2010

Sydney artist rips the lid off controversial cover-up

SECURITY has been called in after tensions threatened to boil over a provocative mural to ban burqas at a Newtown workshop. Following artist Sergio Redegalli's painting opposing the Islamic face covering veils with the slogan "Say no to burqas", security outside the premises has been called in after tensions threatened to boil over.

Police also attended the unit at Wilford and Station St after a female resident allegedly unleashed a foul mouthed tirade against the picture and attempted to deface it with paint.

Security guard Nathan Daniels, called in by Mr Redegalli to protect his work, said there had been a lot of abuse - nearly all from women. "The trouble has been mainly from feminists saying it was sexist and racist. This one woman was abusing the artist - shouting and swearing at him as well as making threats that she's `going to get him', so we had the police called in," Mr Daniels said.

"The thing is Mr Redegalli is trying to get the message across that by women wearing the burqa their identity is being wiped out. A policeman said to me it has practical problems for them, such as identifying people," he added.

A resident, who did not want to be named in case of reprisals, said: "I'm only a pensioner but I would like to give the guy $50 for doing this. "These people come to our country so the least they should do is try and integrate a bit. I don't want to be named because I fear for the safety of my family and friends - everyone's scared of them."

Mr Redegalli said the painting was a rallying call against the creeping growth of extremism in Australia and was not anti-Islam. "It's about the burqa and extremism and not Islam. This mural has come from frustration," he said. "You can't say anything about Muslims without getting in trouble."

The image, which faces one of CityRail's busiest corridors, has been defaced twice since painting began on Monday.

Marrickville Mayor Sam Iskandar said he "condemns" the painting but council did not have the right to remove it.

Muslim Women's National Network Australia president Aziza Abdel-Halim said the image was disrespectful, insulting and an "immature way" of starting a debate. "I don't think [Mr Redegalli] is really even worth thinking about," she said. "[Wearing a burqa] is a matter of personal choice."


Incredible Greenie nonsense in NSW

Homeowners who sandbag coastal areas to protect their properties during storms could face fines up to $247,000 under tough new coastal protection laws. Councils will also be given the power to impose levies on coastal property owners to build sea walls.

Environment Minister Frank Sartor is in negotiations with the Greens to get his Coastal Protection Bill through Parliament, with the Opposition opposing it and organisations such as the Property Council lobbying to have it defeated.

The Bill includes provisions for $495,000 fines for corporations and $247,000 fines for residents who install illegal measures to protect their homes from sea level rises. Residents who do not gain approval for sandbagging would also pay up to $22,000 a day in fines if they continue.

Mr Sartor's laws - which he introduced into Parliament this week - have raised the ire of NSW coastal residents. The laws apply to properties within 1km of coastal rivers and estuaries as well as seafront properties.

Pat Aiken of Saratoga on the Central Coast has set up a community organisation to oppose the Bill. "Gosford Council has identified 9000 properties as potentially affected by sea level rise," he said. He said it was not just rich residents of Byron Bay who were affected but "people with the arse hanging out of their pants" in suburbs such as Woy Woy and Booker Bay.

"The estuary, river, bay and lagoon people probably have no idea what is about to come down on them - another big government tax on the back of climate change," he said.

Collaroy property owner Robert Wiggins said the Bill was about removing liability from government for not building sea walls.

Property Council of Australia acting executive director Edward Palmisano was "concerned that property owners who purchased or developed land in good faith will lose the capacity to take reasonable measures to protect their property from sea level rise".

"The Bill creates potential limitations on the opportunities available to homeowners to protect their property. Such restrictions do not apply to properties under threat from bushfires or floods, so why should sea level rise be treated any differently?" he asked.

Mr Palmisano said the Bill had the potential to impose "huge burdens on property owners" including "onerous new levies".


Gillard dances to beat of green drum

THIS minority government is in danger of falling down a policy rabbit hole.

JULIA Gillard, provided she doesn't find a Liberal rat and decides to appoint the long-suffering, second or third-choice Harry Jenkins as Speaker, faces a majority of just one vote in the House of Representatives.

It's going to be hard-ball politics and the independent MPs of the "new paradigm" will find themselves confronted with the fact that their vote is going to count on every issue, and they are going to have to be there to support the Labor government they backed into office.

While there is a dramatic sense of theatre about every division deciding the fate of the Gillard government and threatening to send Australia back to the polls, it's exaggerated: under the new standing orders, the government is not about to be brought down by an MP trapped in the toilets during a division.

What is of far greater importance than the day-to-day vote is Labor's policy and legislative agenda. Just what is going to get priority during the 43rd parliament, and what will proposed legislation look like at the end of the committee process that is minority government?

Yesterday's list of proposed legislation for the parliament in the coming weeks is little more than housekeeping. The issue of "strengthening water efficiency labelling for products", which Gillard described yesterday as a significant piece of legislation, seemed to struggle for prominence over an emissions trading scheme, a mining tax, a carbon tax, an East Timor refugee processing centre, tax reform, population restraint and billion-dollar rail lines during the 2010 election campaign.

In truth, the legislative list is a grab bag of things that had no priority previously and serves as an excuse to fill a program that can't even look at a new mining tax, climate change bills, tax reform or a National Broadband Network for months at least, even with the best will in the world.

The real problem for Labor is that its tenuous majority and lack of a meaningful agenda to be put to the parliament means there is a vacuum that various groups will be looking to fill, and Gillard will not be in control of the outcomes. For a start, Tony Abbott, having decided to pull the pin on any gentleman's agreement about pairing the Speaker in divisions and thus denying Labor the luxurious buffer of two votes, intends to attempt to overturn the Queensland state Labor government's wild rivers laws that control development by indigenous landowners on Cape York Peninsula and have split Labor and indigenous ranks. There is also split support for the proposed motion among the independent MPs.

But for Gillard the far more worrying prospect is that of her alliance partner the Greens pursuing their policy agendas, which will simultaneously create tensions with the Labor Party and build the profile of the Greens as they eat away at Labor's base.

To make matters worse for Gillard, the Greens are having their own crisis of policy determination and priorities that will distort her agenda. Only two weeks ago, when the negotiations were under way to form minority government, Greens leader Bob Brown nominated climate change and same-sex marriage as the Greens' priority.

Since then, pushing for changes to euthanasia laws nationwide has become a general Greens' aim and Brown has declared changing the euthanasia laws is his priority. It's worth noting in that time the Greens have signalled they will negotiate with the government on a carbon tax or price, they will not allow blocking the mining tax to bring down the government, and have conceded that uranium mining is the province of the states.

Brown has also walked away from some of the more embarrassing and economically challenging policies -- such as death duties -- and has embraced euthanasia as the new priority.

This week Brown has accused Abbott of "not understanding minority government" and declared he intends to introduce a euthanasia bill in the first private members' opportunity of the new parliament with the new rules Labor has endorsed.

"My bill would restore the right of territory parliaments to pass laws that would allow terminally ill people to choose a death with dignity," Brown said. "This right was taken away under the Howard government. While this bill is about territory rights, a huge majority of Australians support voluntary euthanasia, and it is time for federal parliament to debate the issue."

This is a double danger for Gillard; in the first place it will be the tail wagging the dog of the rainbow alliance and the public debate will become enmeshed in an issue that evinces strong emotions but is not a top-order issue for the public; and, in the second case, this is an issue tailor-made to contrast Kevin Rudd as a leader who stands for something with a prime minister who is reluctant to state a position.

Unlike the question of same-sex marriage, which just before the election Gillard said she did not agree with on cultural grounds, the issue of euthanasia is one Gillard refuses to be drawn on.

Consider this scenario: in the next few weeks the Labor minority puts up a series of housekeeping bills, the opposition puts up embarrassing bills, and the Greens grab centre stage with a euthanasia bill that Gillard has already promised would be a conscience vote.

Gillard, trying to reassure voters during the election that she was being tough on border protection, wants to cut population growth, introduce offshore processing for illegal boat arrivals, and ease pressures on working families, would be opposed to her former leader Rudd, who is already proving to be a media magnet and who is attractive to conservative voters on life issues.

It was a signal this week of what will come when Jesuit priest Frank Brennan, head of the government's constitutional committee on a bill of rights and the man who accompanied Rudd to the ministerial swearing-in, opened hostilities over euthanasia in New Matilda: "So now we have a hung parliament and Brown wants to agitate the issue of euthanasia once again," he said.

"There is little pressure from the people and legislatures in these places about what is presently an academic issue. To date no state parliament has legislated for euthanasia," he said, as Western Australia rejected a Greens euthanasia bill. "I doubt that a hung parliament will have the time and resources to consider these complex issues in its early days. As Tony Abbott says, there are real 'bread and butter concerns' that this parliament needs to get its head around."

This is not just a point of principle, it is a political point: Labor should not let itself be sidetracked by issues that aren't priorities for the people, aren't Labor promises, and will only draw attention away from Labor's own agenda.


Victoria's top cop goes too far

An editorial from the Herald Sun

WHEN does a police force cross the line from protection of the community to an intrusion into its legitimate affairs?

Victoria Police and Chief Commissioner Simon Overland have done that by secretly gaining access to the private telephone records of this newspaper in a witch-hunt for whistleblowers within its own ranks.

The Herald Sun freely admits it has embarrassed Chief Commissioner Overland by exposing the blunders within his own office. That is the job of a free and independent newspaper in holding not only Mr Overland to the utmost scrutiny, but also the Government that appointed him.

But legitimate scrutiny is not what the police force is doing in the case of the Herald Sun and perhaps other companies going about their daily business.

The police have paid telecommunication providers for access to phone records in the hope of identifying any of its members who might have spoken to our journalists.

It is ironic that we were alerted by police officers who, like us, think the surveillance is potentially dangerous and at the very least unwarranted.

If Mr Overland wants to close down any conversations between his officers and Herald Sun journalists, to the extent of controlling their every word through his media office, that is his concern. Spying on its members might also be a concern of the Police Association.

What is our concern is that the Chief Commissioner is not only using taxpayer money, he is diverting these funds from the pursuit of criminal matters. Better that he spend the community's money on preventing murders by criminal gangs and outlaw bikies, who have transferred their drug-related activities to Victoria after crackdowns in other states.

The Herald Sun, in its Right to Know campaign, is pushing for national shield laws for journalists to protect whistleblowers as much as the journalists they speak to. It is these witnesses to government and bureaucratic maladministration who keep institutions honest. This is right and proper and Victoria Police is one such institution whose own members are best placed to watch for similar excesses.

But just how far does police surveillance intrude into the business of companies other than the Herald Sun? Does it extend to even the higher echelons of the Victorian Government? How long has this surveillance being going and will these records be destroyed? Where are the checks and balances and what other investigations have been hindered as money has been diverted?

Tapping phone conversations requires a court order from a judge and the Herald Sun argues that the monitoring engaged in by the Victoria Police requires the same judicial oversight. Under its current code of intrusion, it needs only an inspector to sign off on an order to save what Mr Overland might consider an embarrassment.

The next phone call the Chief Commissioner receives should be from Premier John Brumby to tell him to get on with the job of catching criminals.


23 September, 2010

How they Educate the Educators

By Peter W.

GK Chesterton said `Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.' That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said `A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.' Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education. The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment. In particular, you shouldn't think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was. By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns - things you don't know you don't know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is structured. The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it. Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues. At KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education), and at other government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

This week's subject is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Empty headed and single-minded guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally and to take action by telling other people what to do. For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia's apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way. Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.


A female Hitler calls for infant formula to be made hard to get

Infant formula should be available only on prescription to boost breast feeding rates, an expert says. But Victoria's peak doctors' group and Melbourne mothers say the proposal goes too far.

Jennifer James, of RMIT University, said formula manufacturers should also be banned from marketing their products to the public.

"When women are having problems, and it's very challenging learning to breast feed, the formula is readily available and the marketing suggests that babies will thrive on it, so women go for it," Dr James said.

"The majority of women and new dads that you speak to will give you some reasons why it's important to breast feed but there's still this pervasive belief that 'I'll try it and if I can't do it, formula's just as good'. "I would like to see formula prescribed by a health professional rather than being available in supermarkets and chemists."

Melbourne mum Christine Rookas said it should be a mother's choice whether to breast feed or not. "I would be very frightened and afraid to think that formula will be prescribed," Ms Rookas, from Avondale Heights, said. "I think there's already a paranoia for mothers. They feel guilty enough about using formula milk."

Ms Rookas was still breast feeding six-month-old Neave, as she had her two older children, despite finding it tough. "I just kept persisting ... because it's more convenient rather than a huge health benefit," she said.

AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley said requiring a prescription for infant formula would be very inconvenient for new mothers. "There's no doubt that new mothers need more support to make sure their children are as fit and healthy as possible," Dr Hemley said. "Breast feeding is the best option for most new mothers, but not for everyone."


Chaos and confusion as Australia's Leftist government tries to find a solution to illegal immigration

They seem however to be going slowly down the path that worked well for the previous conservative goverenment

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will head to East Timor to revive plans for an offshore immigration processing facility following talks between Julia Gillard and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to Mr Gusmao and asked whether she could dispatch Mr Bowen to discuss the processing centre with his East Timorese counterpart.

It comes as political controversy has again erupted over boat arrivals and Australia's system of mandatory detention with a suicide and two days of protests at Sydney's Villawood facility.

Detention facilities are overcrowded. Mental health experts and refugee advocates believe this has contributed to the incidents this week, although the asylum seekers appear to have protested in an effort to have their claims reconsidered.

Plans for an offshore processing centre have faced strong resistance in East Timor since they were first mentioned by Ms Gillard earlier this year, and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to indicate after the election that it would be Mr Bowen who would deal with the issue.

The East Timorese Government has signalled it wants the issue of a processing centre resolved through regional dialogue, not through a bilateral deal with Australia. It has however left itself open to talks with Australia.

Yesterday's discussion between the Prime Minister and Mr Gusmao comes as Mr Rudd is due to meet the East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa at the United Nations in New York.

The deal comes as the head of a government advisory group on asylum seekers warned incidents of self harm at Villawood were the beginnings of a detention system spiralling out of control.

Monash professor of psychiatry Louise Newman said conditions would likely deteriorate at other detention centres across Australia and chastised the government for failing to learn from the past.

Already, men have broken out of Darwin detention centre to stage roadside protests and others fought with tree branches and pool cues in a mass riot on Christmas Island.

"There is a shocking sense of de ja vu," Dr Newman said. "We're seeing the tragic repetition of the same risk factors that we know are predictive of the sorts of problems we saw in Woomera and Baxter."

Nine Chinese nationals on the roof of the stage two accommodation building had climbed up just after 8am yesterday in the same area where Fijian detainee Josefa Rauluni, 36, died in an apparent suicide on Monday.

Speaking through a translator last night, one of the detainees said one of the men had cut himself and was lying unconscious on the roof. The nine include four women, one of whom Xiao Yun, 32, says she is two and a half months pregnant. Ms Yun was detained upon arriving in Australia in early April after she was caught on a fake passport. She has been in Villawood since. Ms Yun said the group were Falun Gong or Christian and feared persecution if returned to China.


Army top brass imbecilic as usual

Why won't they listen to the men in the field?

A senior soldier has blasted plans to send 100 troops to Afghanistan next month without mortar support.

The Townsville-based Digger, who does not want to be identified, also revealed troops heading off to war against the Taliban have been forced to buy their own combat boots. More than a dozen Diggers from the 5th Mechanised Battalion have purchased American made Altama and Bates boots for up to $250 a pair because their Q (supply) store ran out of army-issued combat footwear. "It is a joke," one soldier said.

Mortars are the most effective form of fire support to infantry. Especially if they are pinned down like Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney and his mates from the 6th Battalion were in Afghanistan last month.

The young Lance Corporal became Australia's 21st fatality in Afghanistan and his comrade who sent the explosive email revealed this week by The Advertiser argued that mortar support might have saved the father of two. "That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f*****g mortars," he said.

The senior soldier contradicted joint operations chief Lieutenant General Mark Evans who told the media yesterday that troops fighting in the three-hour battle in Afghanistan last month did not run low on ammunition. "A mate of mine who was there said they had to withdraw because ammo was low," he said.

While he regards the lack of boots as very serious, the soldier said mortars were a matter of life and death. "A lot of blokes would be dead if it wasn't for mortar support, especially in Afghanistan," he said.

The senior soldier said that mortars were the only guaranteed fire support for infantry troops. "Mortarmen are soldiers within the battalion they are supporting, so they know full well the urgency and the reason when they are needed to fire," he said. A good mortar line can have highly accurate weapons ready to fire within two or three minutes.

According to some insiders, tactical commanders are reluctant to use mortars and artillery due to the risk of civilian casualties and prosecution. The insurgents deliberately fight in populated areas to expose local civilians, and five Australian commandos are facing possible unlawful killing charges over the deaths of six Afghan civilians, including five children, in February 2009.

Australian infantry units use 81mm mortar tubes manned by three soldiers with three tubes per section.

Three combat teams from the 5th Battalion will deploy next month to replace the Brisbane- based 6th Battalion in Oruzgan Province, but only two will take mortars. "For unknown reasons a Major in charge of the third team has decided not to take any mortars," the soldier said. "There are so many things wrong and so many leaders making decisions that will get people killed, and have got people killed. "This is very disheartening, what do we tell these kids heading to war?"

A chorus of serving and former soldiers have jumped to the defence of the Digger who sent this week's email while condemning the response from the top brass in Canberra.

Vietnam veteran and war pensioner Bernie McGurgan, from Capalaba in Queensland, posed a simple question to General Evans: "Are we fighting a war in Afghanistan or not? "If the answer is yes, nothing is too good or too costly in providing the ultimate and maximum fire support for our fighting soldiers," Mr McGurgan said.


22 September, 2010

ALP should get practical and follow Hawke

Tony Abbott, below, rules out a mining tax, a carbon tax and the NBN boondoggle. His article is in fact a pretty good statement of classic conservatism

THE last federal election to produce a hung parliament was in 1940. On that occasion, the incumbent government limped on but the prime minister faced growing party dissent. The opposition, previously in disarray, looked increasingly like a credible alternative government. Eighteen months later, after a parliamentary vote of no confidence, the independents changed sides and the new government won a landslide at the next election, held at the normal time.

In her Chifley lecture on the weekend, the Prime Minister invoked this 1940-43 parliament as one of Australia's finest. One detail she failed to mention, though, was the mid-term baton change to a new government. Less surprising was the kinship she claimed with Ben Chifley, given the resemblances between bank nationalisation and National Broadband Network.

What matters, regardless of the state of the parliament, is the government's preparedness to address the country's problems. In this respect there's a fundamental difference between the Gillard government and other governments (such as Bob Hawke's in 1984 and John Howard's in 1998) that lost seats in their first bid for re-election. Unlike the current one, those governments had embarked on culture-changing reforms in their first term. They weren't poor governments that had been judged harshly but reforming governments that were prepared to risk a backlash against policies that they believed were right for Australia.

It's possible that the Gillard government could follow the trajectory of Hawke or Howard rather than that of Robert Menzies in 1940, but only if it changes its character. It's too early to declare that Julia Gillard will be a worse prime minister than Kevin Rudd but the government's performance certainly went from bad to worse after it changed leaders and has deteriorated further in the four weeks since the election.

The revised mining tax began to unravel almost as soon as it was announced and is now subject to the Greens veto. The East Timor asylum-seeker processing centre will never be built because the Prime Minister neglected to ask the East Timorese before she made her announcement and it's now been superseded by the new onshore processing centres that, during the campaign, she denied would happen. The citizens' assembly that she announced during the election has subsequently been dumped in favour of a parliamentary committee pre-programmed to support a carbon price, most likely the carbon tax that the Prime Minister also ruled out during the campaign.

Everyone who wants the best for Australia is hoping that it will be better government this term than last. For Australia's sake, it's important that the government has learned from its near-death experience. Unfortunately, it's hard to see any new-found attention to detail in the 10 changes to the ministry made between its announcement and its swearing in. And it's hard to see rediscovered respect for the public in the declaration that election commitments don't need to be kept by a minority government.

Cobbling together a majority by the skin of its teeth seems to have persuaded the Labor Party that there's almost nothing that it can't spin away. There's been fake Julia and real Julia; make-promises-Julia and break-promises-Julia. The government thinks it can win the next election by lowering expectations but voters won't be satisfied by spin.

During the coming term, they'll expect real tax reform to ease the burden on families and small businesses, serious job creation in viable industries, significant progress on long-term environmental problems such as water, a more assured future for regional towns and overdue infrastructure improvements in outer suburbs. Political management skills won't save the government if it can't address these problems.

For our part, though naturally disappointed, the Coalition accepts the election result as the outcome of a system of government that we profoundly respect. We rededicate ourselves to the task of opposition and are determined to be even more effective in the coming parliament than we were in the last one. Where the government delivers for the Australian people, we will give credit where it's due. Where it fails, we will be unrelenting in holding it to account, because that's what people expect of an opposition.

We are determined to be the party of ideas and of policy innovation against a government that's trapped by its alliance with the Greens and in a fiscal straitjacket because it's incapable of cutting its own spending.

When a government lacks authority and has no mandate, a strong opposition can help voters to keep their faith in the political process. Someone has to have positions that can be relied on when the government doesn't. The Coalition will continue to oppose the mining tax because it threatens the goose that keeps laying golden eggs for Australia. We will oppose a go-it-alone carbon tax because it won't help the environment but will inflict enormous damage on our export industries. We will oppose the NBN because there are better, cheaper ways to improve telecommunications services.

Unlike Labor, the Coalition's instinct is not to see bigger government and more public spending as the answer to every problem. Government's job is to empower individuals and communities, not just to take on more responsibilities itself.

An opposition that's only a couple of by-elections or two independents' change of heart away from government has to be more than just a critic.

The Coalition took strong policies of its own to the election and will outline more in the months ahead. Almost the first task of government is to respect taxpayers' funds; hence our determination is to return to surplus by the high road of reducing wasteful spending rather than the low road of imposing new taxes.

We want direct action to improve the environment rather than new taxes dressed up as environmental benefits. We support community control of schools and hospitals. Above all, we want to foster an opportunity society rather than a welfare state by providing incentives to seniors and young people to move off welfare, and a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme to help families and to keep mothers in the workforce, if that's their choice.


Preferential treatment for "alternative" school?

The government giving the preferential treatment is a Leftist one. You know: The "equality" preachers

Rose Park Primary School parents want the Education Minister to investigate if the department deliberately altered a report on a smaller learning facility on the premises that has divided the school community.

The Family Unit, established in 1980, is a Reception to Year 7 "school within a school" that has about 50 students, offering an alternative approach to education based on the Reggio Emilia method.

An independent report last year was supposed to address growing animosity between parents at both schools, the Education Department and principals.

Supporters say the unit provides more space and a better teacher-student ratio than the mainstream school, while its opponents say the unit receives preferential treatment, taking up the two largest teaching spaces, resulting in overcrowding in the rest of the school.

The original report, released under Freedom of Information laws, shows parts of the report - including tables showing the difference in classroom space per student and issues around school zoning - were removed from the versions given to parents. After an uproar from parents, the Ombudsman's office determined the department was required to release the original report.

Parent Terina Verrall said the department had been "dishonest" about withholding information in the report. "We didn't get an independent report, we got a DECS tampered report and we knew that right from the word go," she said. "The real report would have allowed for real discussion."

The issue escalated over the past two years, with the mainstream school's governing council members voting to have the unit moved to another school.

Following consultation with Parkside Primary School in June, that school's governing council formally rejected a bid to relocate the Family Unit to their site.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill admitted the situation "wasn't handled well".

Earlier this month, he announced the unit would remain at Rose Park Primary. However, contact between the two facilities would be minimised and they would be administered separately, with a long-term view to relocating the unit in the future. "I met all of the parent and school groups involved and my decision takes into account all of the concerns raised, including concerns about what was excluded from the report," he said. "I have made my decision and that decision stands."


Left-wingers' sound and fury signify nothing

The Australian is relentlessly under attack from miffed media progressives.

Like taking a drag on a post-coital cigarette, after each election in recent years the political Left has a habit of letting off some steam after the big event. They reach for their keyboards or grab a microphone to take a swipe at the media. Make that the media with which they vehemently disagree.

After the 2007 election, progressives within the media were calling for a "cleansing" of conservatives from News Limited newspapers under the ruse that such voices were no longer required in the new left-wing era under Labor and Kevin Rudd.

It made for an amusing misread of politics: Rudd campaigned as a conservative. And a hypocritical one: there was no similar call for a purging of left-wing voices when John Howard was elected in 1996. Not to mention disingenuous: the same group complaining about a stifling of dissent during the Howard years wanted to stifle dissent in 2007.

This time left-leaning critics are busy scolding the news coverage and news analysis in The Australian with the same reckless disregard for facts. Same hypocrisy, too. Same Orwellian language about improving the national debate.

As media crimes go, the post-election accusers are guilty of committing the partisan offences they wrongly convict others of having committed. Travelling in an ideological pack, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Brown, ABC journalists at Media Watch, Insiders and Radio National, the echo chamber bloggers at Crikey and Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review assert The Australian has gone too far in scrutinising the record of the Rudd government and the anti-growth policies of the Greens, a party now part of the minority Gillard government. Add John Menadue to that list.

Last week, the Whitlam-era head of the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet - a self-described "grumpy old man" - accused the media of failing "almost absolutely" in examining critical issues such as the two-speed economy and Julia Gillard's citizens' assembly. Wrong on both counts.

This newspaper has reported, analysed and editorialised at length about the consequences of this country's two-speed economy and has been highly critical of the vacuous citizens' assembly.

Describing this newspaper as "the Mad Hatter's Tea Party", Menadue claimed The Australian was "pernicious" in the way it reported waste within the schools building program when in fact the Auditor-General's report showed that "Australians got very good value for money". Wrong again.

The report by the Australian National Audit Office did not audit value. It did find 82 per cent of schools that were self-managing projects - mostly private schools - believed they had received value for money compared with just 40 per cent for other schools. The Orgill interim report released last month revealed Building the Education Revolution cost premiums of 5 per cent to 6 per cent (or $800 million) and extreme variations among BER projects, with centralised systems such as those in NSW costing double those of ACT public schools and Catholic schools in Tasmania and Queensland. That is not value for money.

Indeed, The Australian has uncovered a steady stream of mismanagement, rorts and waste under the $16.2 billion stimulus program. And unashamedly so. That's the role of quality media. Other so-called quality media outlets - such as Fairfax and the ABC - dropped the ball here, picking it up late and half-heartedly.

Menadue's spray continued: "And you watch them, [The Australian] will be doing the same thing on the NBN." Yes, The Australian will continue to report, analyse and editorialise about taxpayers getting value for money under the Gillard government's latest big spending initiative, the $43bn National Broadband Network. And unashamedly so.

Menadue took particular aim at Dennis Shanahan for living off Newspoll, creating news out of Newspoll and beating up stories against the Rudd government. Wrong again. As political editor of this newspaper, Shanahan's job is to report Newspoll results. When Labor's primary vote started to fall, he reported it.

Critics who claimed Shanahan was guilty of "playing down" Labor's two-party preferred vote were disconnected from reality. Rudd publicly admitted he was being "whacked" in the polls. Then, in June, the falling primary vote led to Rudd's removal.

Menadue was smoking some cigarette during last Wednesday morning's hissy fit. And so was ABC local radio host Deb Cameron. As Shanahan said in an email to Cameron, her failure to challenge Menadue about errors of basic facts suggested she was either ignorant about the election coverage or in complete agreement with Menadue's misinformation.

As chairman of the Centre for Policy Development, Menadue lectures about the "lack of honesty and transparency in public discourse", of holding people to account for their "mistakes and untruths". So let's do what Cameron should have done and get honest and transparent about Menadue's contribution to public discourse. Let's hold him to account for his mistakes and untruths.

Menadue is not an independent, objective observer. He is a player and his attack is political. Harbouring a long history of unhappiness with sections of the media which do not toe his leftist views, he set up the New Matilda website to provide "independent political commentary". Of course, it's just his platform to run a predictable genre of political whinge.

Menadue's philosophical leanings are diametrically opposed to those of The Australian on everything from economics to social policies. More Keynesian than Keynes, Menadue advised the worst government in Australia's history.

In fact, academic writings record that Menadue has the distinction of criticising a May 1975 cabinet submission about budget strategy by then treasurer Jim Cairns for not being Keynesian enough. (Cairns, not Menadue, was willing to consider the inflationary warnings from Milton Friedman when the economist visited Australia in April 1975.)

Menadue has been a long-time political activist, opposing the Iraq war as a signatory to the Gang of 43 letter, a vocal lobbyist for a human rights act where a handful of judges, not the Australian people, dictate social policy, and a prominent refugee advocate highly critical of the Howard government's policies, reaffirmed at election after election by the Australian people. Loved at writers' festivals and by the comrades at Workers Online, his obsession with the Murdoch papers - like that of others before him - betrays a moralising dismissal of Australians who may share this newspaper's values about smaller government, lower taxes, freer trade, economic liberalism and social polices that sit at the pragmatic centre of Australia.

Menadue, like his progressive comrades, is entitled to his political positions. But let's put those political views on the table in the interest of disclosing all relevant facts when assessing the cacophony of leftist claims that the media failed in its role at the last election.

When the facts are known, it's clear enough that Menadue has not provided serious or independent analysis of the media's performance at the last election.

Indeed, his ill-informed tirade last week - and the gushing response from Cameron - exposes the consistently shabby state of the so-called intellectual Left. By all means let's have a debate about the media, but progressives will need to lift their game if they want to make a meaningful contribution to that debate.


Another public hospital system in trouble -- South Australia

THE state's public hospitals are far from being able to meet waiting-time targets, the latest SA Health figures show. Earlier this month, an 87-year-old woman waited 19 hours in a corridor at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital after being assessed.

Margot Djordjewitsch's upset family said up to 10 other patients were also "accommodated" in a corridor. They are seeking a response from their local MP.

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender said waiting up to 19 hours was "not unusual" - but even he was surprised at the QEH's statistics. The State Government wants 95 per cent of patients admitted or discharged within four hours.

This target - the subject of robust discussions with doctors - is set for 2013 and was an election commitment fulfilled in last week's Budget.

But emergency department figures show wild variations in hospitals' performance, with just one in five patients at the QEH being admitted or discharged within four hours in June this year. At the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the figure is just over half - the same as it was last year - and other major metropolitan hospitals have not improved.

Dr Lavender said because of the mix of older, more chronically ill patients and a large psychiatric load, the QEH would struggle to meet the four-hour target. "It's often clinically impossible to get those patients assessed and directed to an appropriate unit," he said. "That's one of the concerns about the four-hour rule is it needs to be seen as an aspirational target and as a tool to indicate where resources need to be directed, but not a benchmark by which to judge the clinical performance of the doctors and staff."

Health Minister John Hill said any life-threatening issues were treated immediately, but in other cases people were forced to wait a long time for complex reasons. He said with planned increases in resources, staff and funding, new infrastructure and beds, and more efficient practices, he was optimistic benchmarks could be met.


Malthus not a good guide for Australian population policy

By Jessica Brown

Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth century British thinker who predicted that over-population would lead to global famine, has lately had something of a resurgence. With everyone from Bob Brown to Bob Carr in wild agreement that Australia’s population growth must be cut, Malthusian prophecies of doom are back in fashion.

But a new book by Fred Pearce, Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash, highlights just what a nasty character Malthus actually was.

Malthus’ issue wasn’t really with the growth in England’s population but the growth in the number of poor people. His solution was to stop them from marrying and, therefore, procreating. He was virulent in his opposition to charity on the grounds that giving food to the poor would just prolong their inevitable deaths.

Malthus was immortalised as the detestable ‘Scrooge’ in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

But his legacy did not only live on in literature. His teachings informed officials in charge of coming up with a solution to the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1849. Spurred on in part by hatred of the Irish and in part by Malthusian logic, one English Treasury official argued that the famine was a good ‘mechanism for reducing surplus population’ and ‘a direct strike of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence.’ In what became a self-fulfilling prophecy, an estimated one million people died.

While this example is perhaps extreme in the context of Australia’s current population debate, it nevertheless highlights why liberals should be wary of the new Malthusianism.

At its heart, the theory is profoundly illiberal. Malthusian thinking has spawned countless policies across the globe – forced sterilisations in India are the best known example – that have tossed aside the rights of the individual in order to achieve some perceived greater good.

It’s also fundamentally pessimistic. It assumes that catastrophic consequences of population growth are inevitable, so we shouldn’t bother looking for solutions.

Malthus was an eighteenth century country pastor who didn’t get out much. In a sense, it’s not surprising that he took such a dim view of the world.

But this is 2010, and we live in an open, successful and entrepreneurial country. Surely, in our population debate, we can do better.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 September. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

21 September, 2010

Villawood Protest "won't stop deportation"

This protest is excellent. It was such protests in the Howard era that did more than anything else to stop the flow of illegals. One hopes that TV coverage of it has gone worldwide.

The suicide is of course sad but the man must have been a bit of a nut. Fiji is a very safe and civil place. Even their military coups are bloodless! So there is nothing there to seek asylum from

THE protest by 11 asylum seekers at a Sydney detention centre, sparked by the suicide of a fellow detainee, will not prevent their deportation, the federal government says. Nine Tamils, one Iraqi and one Afghan began their rooftop protest at the Villawood detention centre in the city's west on Monday afternoon and were still refusing to come down this morning.

A 36-year-old Fijian man facing deportation committed suicide yesterday morning at the centre.

All the men on the rooftop have exhausted the application process for asylum status and face being returned to their homeland.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said their actions would do nothing to prevent their deportation. "I understand that people who are very keen to stay in Australia will in desperate circumstances think of other ways to make their case," Mr Bowen told Fairfax radio today. "Our immigration officials determine who gets asylum after a very rigorous process. "And it's not determined by a protest, and a protest won't change an immigration outcome."

Immigration department spokesman Sandi Logan said negotiators had been on the scene of the standoff overnight and into this morning. The negotiators included local Tamils, he said.

Mr Logan said the men were protesting against the handling of their visa applications, and their actions would neither help nor hinder them. "We continue to be hopeful that reason will prevail, that logic will prevail, and that they will understand that remaining on the roof is not going to change an outcome. It's not going to secure a different outcome to that which they currently have," Mr Logan told ABC television.

Mr Logan said he had not heard about claims the Villawood centre was understaffed, and he believed its manager, Serco, was managing well in a sometimes challenging environment.

Refugee advocate Sara Nathan has been in mobile phone contact with some of the rooftop protesters, who say the rejections of their applications contained factual errors and they were not given legal help during the process. Ms Nathan told AAP: "They're saying, 'Can we have a review of our case because you made a mistake. This is our lives. If you return us, we will be tortured and/or killed'." [Rubbish! They would be welcomed in Tamil Nadu]

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul says the men want assurance their cases will be reviewed again before they will come off the roof. "They want an independent and transparent review of their cases and they want to meet with the immigration officers," he told AAP. "They've made it clear that they can't go back to Sri Lanka." [But they can go to Tamil Nadu in India, which is in fact their "eelam"]

Mr Bowen said just under 5000 people were being held in detention centres on Christmas Island and the Australian mainland.


Woman charged for false rape report

False rape claims are common in Britain. Is that cathching on in Australia? Feminists used to say that false rape claims don't happen and they probably still do

A 21-YEAR-OLD Melbourne woman who claimed she was raped on a beachside track in broad daylight will be charged with making a false report to police.

The woman told police she was jogging on a dirt track beside The Esplanade in Mount Martha, south of Melbourne, when she was attacked just after 5.30pm (AEST) on September 13.

Police today said detectives had completed their investigation and were now satisfied no such event happened.

"Police wish to allay community fears and reinforce the fact that this incident did not occur and there is no one sought in relation to the matter," a police spokeswoman said. "The 21-year-old woman is expected to be charged on summons with making a false report to police."

The woman had told police she was startled by a man standing on the dirt track exposing himself. She said the man tackled her to the ground, removed her pants and then sexually assaulted her on the track. She told police the attack only stopped when she bit him on the neck. She then fled to a nearby house to raise the alarm.


Top NSW cop tries to bribe TV station over harassment of lawyer

And the dumb copper did it in front of witnesses! The lawyer has repeatedly got big damages settlements from the NSW wallopers over their mistreatment of him so it is clear where the fault lies. They clearly have a vendetta against him and haven't yet learned their lesson. Pic of the genius cop below

A senior NSW police officer has been accused of behaving corruptly in his media management of the force's dispute with the prominent Muslim lawyer Adam Houda. Frank Mennilli, a NSW police assistant commissioner and the South-West Metropolitan Region commander, sought favourable television coverage of police in Mr Houda's case from Channel Seven in exchange for inside information, Mr Houda's lawyer, Chris Murphy, says.

However, Mr Mennilli rejects the allegations and intends to complain to Seven about its report on the case.

The Herald reported on Saturday that Mr Houda was preparing to sue police again after being detained, while walking near his home, for the fourth time in three years.

Mr Houda, 35, who has represented several clients accused of terrorism-related offences and managed the career of the former rugby league player Hazem El Masri, says the arrest was the worst example yet of racial vilification and brutality. Previous incidents have led to an apology and two police compensation payouts.

In a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman, Mr Murphy alleges Mr Mennilli said "a number of things which I believe amount to corrupt conduct" in a conversation with a Channel Seven journalist, Adam Walters, and two colleagues as they prepared the lead story for Saturday's news. Mr Murphy alleges Mr Mennilli said "that if Walters favoured police in his reporting he would be rewarded with future scoops and he was told of a major police operation next Thursday".

Mr Walters "regarded the offer as an attempted bribe and indicated to the assistant commissioner he was insulted and would not be party to it", Mr Murphy said. "He indicated to me [yesterday] that he filed a report with Channel Seven management complaining about the conduct of the assistant commissioner."

Police told the Herald on Friday that Mr Houda was stopped because they were conducting "proactive patrols in the Yagoona area following a series of robberies involving knives". They would not reveal the locations of the robberies or suspects' descriptions.

But Mr Murphy said: "Mennilli showed [Walters] police intelligence reports of crime in surrounding suburbs involving robbery. Interestingly none of the robberies were in Yagoona and three of them involved young people [aged in their teens]."

He also said the two officers accused of using excessive violence in Mr Houda's arrest on Thursday delivered a summons at his home at 9pm on Sunday, an experience that was "terrifying to the Houda family and to Mr Houda, who suffers a serious heart problem". "The police are ganging up on Mr Houda right to the highest levels," he alleged, calling for the Ombudsman to "show some strength".

Mr Mennilli said in a statement yesterday that he "strongly reject[s] the allegations". He said he had instructed police public affairs to lodge a formal complaint with Seven after the Saturday broadcast. But the broadcast did not contain the allegations of media manipulation. [Dumb copper again!]


Kids dying after casual treatment by West Australian public hospitals

Authorities have confirmed that a six-year-old boy died at Geraldton Hospital last Friday, as an investigation was launched into two other deaths at Northam Hospital.

An investigation has begun into how a 12-day-old baby and a teenager could have died soon after being assessed and leaving Northam hospital. The State Government says there is no link between the deaths, after the two children died shortly after being assessed by medical practitioners at the Hospital.

It has also denied there was a doctor shortage at the hospital, saying there was a medical practitioner either present or on call at both incidents.

It comes after the WA Health Department today confirmed a six-year-old boy died after being admitted to Geraldton Regional Hospital on Friday. That death is also being investigated. Health Minister Kim Hames said the boy was undergoing treatment for scarlet fever, a very uncommon infection.

In the past two months, 16-year-old Andrew Allan and newborn baby Lachlan Hughes were found dead less than 24 hours after being seen at the hospital.

Health Minister Kim Hames said the incident does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong happening at the hospital, however he said there will be an investigation into the deaths. "I have got to have a look and make sure things are being done properly but they are two separate, easily identifiably different cases," Dr Hames said.

Lachlan's parents, Sarah and Phillip Hughes, said their son was assessed by a midwife on August 9, when they were concerned he was choking on "phlegmy stuff". "So we took him up there to get assessed and the midwife up there said 'nothing wrong with him, he's got a blocked nose' and that was it'," Mr Hughes told ABC Radio.

"They sent him home with a nasal spray. I went up there the next night and got the same thing but I actually saw a doctor and they did the same thing to me as well. They said there's nothing wrong with him." Their son died shortly after.

Dr Hames said he understood at the time the symptoms of Lachlan were "fairly minimal" and it took an autopsy to establish the baby had whooping cough.

On Friday morning, 16-year-old Andrew Allan was found dead after being taken to Northam Hospital the night before with symptoms of gastroenteritis, including vomiting, sweating and a fever above 40 degrees. After they arrived at the emergency department, they were seen by a nurse who gave Andrew a kids' Panadol, two hydrolite sticks and sent him home.

Dr Hames said that incident could not be linked to the death of baby Lachlan and, as a medical practitioner himself, something unusual had occurred as gastroenteritis was quite common. "Sixteen-year-old boys don't just die from whatever the cause is unless this is extremely unusual," he said. "Normally what would happen with any illness is, even if someone made a mistake and sent home, they'd get worse and their symptoms will deteriorate and go back to hospital and get the treatment they need."

Dr Hames denied there was a doctor shortage at the hospital, saying there was a doctor either present or on call at both incidents.

Mr and Mrs Hughes said they were not satisfied that their newborn son was properly assessed by the medical staff.

Allan's mother Kylie Allan said the family were quickly dealt with once they arrived at the emergency department. "(The nurse) said Andrew just had gastro and gave us a pamphlet on gastro and told us to go home and he would be OK. We were at the hospital for less than 10 minutes," Ms Allan told PerthNow. The next morning Ms Allan found her son dead in his bed.

Mr Hames said he would not speculate on whether the nurse's assessment of the boy was sufficient or whether a doctor should have been called. "We don't have any reason to suspect that they have been doing anything wrong," he said.


Religion and education in Australia

By Jennifer Buckingham

Religious schools have been a major feature of the educational landscape in Australia since British settlement. The first schools in colonial New South Wales were Anglican schools. Despite fluctuating levels of political support and public funding, Catholic schools have survived in large numbers for close to 200 years.

At last count, 1.1 million children (out of a total school population of 3.4 million) were enrolled in non-government schools in Australia. More than 90% of these students were in religious schools.

Over the last two decades, enrolments in non-government schools continued to rise steadily. But more remarkable than the overall growth has been the diversification of religious schools in this period. While the traditional Christian religions remain dominant, their rate of growth has been outpaced by Islamic schools and schools associated with new Christian denominations.

Inevitably, this change in the nature of the non-government school sector has caused disquiet. Some people are worried about the potential negative effects of religious schools on children, such as lower standards of education and religious indoctrination. Others are concerned about the potential negative effects on society, such as social fragmentation and intolerance.

These are all important concerns, but there is little evidence that religious schools are the cause of any of the educational or social ills attributed to them.

Indeed, it is equally plausible to argue that religious schools are an essential part of a free, democratic and pluralist society. A public school system is necessarily secular and therefore cannot make everyone happy. Religious schools can act as an ‘escape valve.’ In the United States, for example, there have been dozens of conflicts between families and public schools over religious principles and that have ended up in court. The resolutions have invariably been unsatisfactory for all parties. In Australia, by contrast, most parents with a religious preference that cannot be accommodated in public schools have the option of choosing a religious school.

All schools should be expected to implement a high quality curriculum and engender in their students a commitment to the values that underpin a harmonious society. At present, there is no reason to believe that religious schools are falling short of these aims.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 September. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

20 September, 2010

Whitewash! Health boss "not responsible"

If not he, who? He received complaints but did nothing significant about them -- while people died!

The former head of Queensland Health has been cleared of any wrong doing in his handling of complaints made about convicted killer surgeon Dr Jayant Patel. Dr Gerry Fitzgerald was the Chief Health Officer of Queensland Health in 2004-05 during Dr Patel's stay at Bundaberg Base Hospital.

Dr Fitzgerald, who is now Professor of Public Health at QUT, was a witness at the Morris Inquiry and the Davies Inquiry into the health system in 2005. As a result of findings in the Davies Inquiry he was referred to the Health Practitioners Tribunal to face five disclipinary charges. In short they involved allegations about the manner in which he handled complaints about Patel and surgery at the Bundaberg Hospital.

The HPT heard the charges in a closed court late last year. It was decided that to hold the hearing in an open court would prejudice the criminal trial of Dr Patel which was finalised in June this year.

Patel was convicted on three (three) counts of manslaughter and one of causing grievous bodily harm to patients at the Bundaberg Hospital between 2003 and 2005.

At the end of the HPT hearing the charges against Dr Fitzgerald were dismissed and costs ordered against the Medical Board. But all information was the subject of a suppression order.

In a written judgment which became available in Brisbane this morning, Judge Debbie Richards, sitting on the HPT, said as the trial of Dr Patel was finalised the suppression order on Dr Fitzgerald's case should be lifted.

She said two key witnesses believed Dr Fitzgerald's actions had not (NOT)fallen short of those required of a competent Chief Health Officer. [In other words, he was let off because his friends stood up for him, not because of any evidence] "In the view of the Tribunal there is no case for Dr Fitzgerald to answer in relation to these allegations," Judge Richards said.


Shonky breast tests

"Shonky" is a splendid Australian word that is not fully translatable but is apt in this case. "Fraudulent" goes nearest

CANCER specialists warn that private clinics offering unproven breast screening methods as a "safe" alternative to mammograms could be putting women's lives at risk.

Clinics selling botox, liposuction and spray tans are increasingly providing breast cancer screening that uses thermal imaging and "electrical impedance" technology. The methods are being marketed to women as young as 20, with claims they can detect cancer years earlier than mammograms.

Experts say the technologies are not backed by sufficient scientific evidence and those offering the tests often have little medical training. In many cases no doctor's referral is required and there are concerns that potentially life-threatening cancers could go undetected.

The education and research director with the Cancer Council WA, Terry Slevin, said commercially driven breast-check clinics were popping up around Australia.

"There's a prospect of women becoming very confused about what is or isn't proven, valid, scientifically rigorous breast cancer screening and I worry that that will lead to some women being diagnosed with breast cancer at a much more advanced, dangerous stage than might have otherwise been the case if they'd used more reliable technologies," Mr Slevin said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has already removed two screening devices from its list of registered medical goods, for making unsubstantiated claims. Another two companies using similar products are under investigation but cannot be named for legal reasons.

The Cancer Council and the Australian Medical Association say the industry's "aggressive" advertising is misleading and have written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asking them to also take action against clinics.

The letter includes complaints against one centre which, as well as offering spray tans, facials and laser therapy, provides "digital infrared thermal imaging", which it claimed could "improve early detection of breast disease by showing thermal abnormalities present in the body". Unlike a mammogram, in which the breast is compressed between two plates and an X-ray taken, a thermogram does not require contact with the imaging machine.

A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said mammography was the only breast examination technique that had been supported by objective, randomised clinical trials.


Australia's Leftist government lacks the will and the realism needed to stop an invasion of boat-borne illegals

IN three swift years, the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government has destroyed Australia’s border security and reduced the asylum seeker issue to a deadly farce. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was responsible for putting people smugglers back in business when he oversaw a comprehensive relaxation of border controls in 2008. The welcome sign for asylum seekers was well and truly written to order by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Now, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Andrew Metcalfe, has been forced to write to his colleagues in other areas of the public service begging for assistance to help DIAC meet an “urgent and increasing demand for staff” to cope with the ever-increasing flow of new arrivals. They are, Metcalfe writes, rapidly “approaching the point where we will not be able to meet the demand”.

While Rudd - in his new incarnation as Foreign Minister - jets off to grandstand in New York with the global United Nations panjandrums whose company he prefers, negotiations with East Timor over a possible asylum processing centre have been left to the Government’s newly-minted Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Only days into his new job, Bowen has essentially acknowledged that offshore processing is on the cards.

Though Labor would rather choke than pronounce the words “Pacific Solution”, the Papua New Guinea Government is already discussing the reopening of its Manus Island detention centre - oops, better call that an “asylum seeker processing centre” - and letters have been flying between Michael Sapan, Governor of Manus Province, and PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare. Sapan has been arguing, quite reasonably, that the Lobrum asylum processing centre could be reopened and that it would be an economic boon to a severely financially stressed area of the country. He evens dares to mention the Pacific Solution.

In the area of border protection, as in so many others, Labor has proven itself to be the party of gross mismanagement. As shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, the level of seaborne arrivals currently in detention because of Labor’s discriminatory asylum freeze, and the extended taxpayer-funded appeals processes, have both contributed to a record detention population of more than 5000 people.

The numbers are staggering. In September, Australia’s detention population included 4527 people who had arrived illegally by boat. This compares to just four people in November, 2007. Under Labor, the number of those held in detention centres has increased by - wait for it - 113,075 per cent. So much for Rudd’s pre-election boast that he would turn them back.

My Daily Telegraph colleague Simon Benson revealed that of 6310 asylum seekers arriving in Australia in the past two years, only 75 have been rejected and returned to their country of origin.

The cost to the nation of Labor’s utterly shambolic approach to border security is now running into billions.

It’s also eating into other areas of critical importance to Australia. As Australia’s Chief of Defence Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said earlier this week, key defence assets are so overstretched dealing with the incessant influx of boat people that day-to-day operations are being compromised. The constant demand for air surveillance aircraft and patrol boats “means you sometimes can’t do other things”, Houston has admitted.

West Australia has become a dumping ground for asylum seekers. Labor has now admitted that it is expanding facilities at the remote Curtin air base to house boat people, and other possible sites at Laverton and Northam are being explored.

Local communities, such as the one at isolated Leonora, east of Perth, are finding that the boom which was promised as an accompaniment to its detention centre, has not eventuated. Instead of local stores reaping the benefits, supplies are shipped from major operators in Perth. Resentment is growing as residents see detainees access benefits which the locals cannot afford, including fresh produce.

Liberal MP Don Randall, whose Canning electorate is home to a high percentage of immigrants, said there was a perception that the newly-arrived refugees were receiving better access to education and health facilities than long-established migrants. “What do you tell a war widow who can’t get help with housing while recent arrivals are placed at the top of the list because of some obligation to a UN treaty?” he asked.

Meanwhile, at the modern District Court in the centre of Perth, four Indonesian crewmen who brought a boatload of Afghan asylum seekers to Ashmore Reef in June, 2009, are in the middle of trial which is set to run from two to three weeks.

Lorens Lapikana, Anto, Samsul Bahar, Anwah Abdullah, each with his own taxpayer-provided barrister and each with his own taxpayer-funded translator, have been appearing daily to listen as tapes and transcripts from their recorded interviews with DIAC officials on Christmas Island last July are played to a judge and jury. Two of the men had claimed to be aged under 15 but X-rays were taken of their wrists and a radiologist has testified that their probable ages were greater than 19, enabling them to be tried as adults. Though a number of Indonesians have been sent home without charge, probably to relieve overcrowding in the already stretched West Australian prison system, the jurors may decide to add these to the 48 currently serving sentences.

The cost of keeping them in jail serving sentences or among the 74 currently on remand, runs to millions each year.

Despite the claims that more illegal arrivals come to Australia by air, these crewmen are a reminder that boats have brought more people in than all the airlines in the past 11 months. According to Morrison, between July 1, 2009, and June 11, 2010, there were 5233 asylum seekers who arrived illegally by boat and just 541 asylum seekers who arrived illegally by plane (i.e. without visa documentation).

“This means almost 10 times as many illegal arrivals came by boat than by plane under Labor’s failed border protection policies,” he said. “The vast majority of people who arrive by plane and subsequently make an asylum claim do so with a valid visa and full documentation, enabling their claims to be properly tested. The Government’s figures show that 5105 people who arrived by plane during this same period and subsequently sought asylum, arrived with valid documentation.”

Labor is in denial on its failure on border protection, despite the overwhelming evidence of policy collapse. Its strategy was farcical and has proved to be, as forecast, unworkable. This is a crisis, a crisis of Labor’s own making. And it will not be solved while the Gillard Government continues to close its eyes to this fiasco.


Useless airport "security" again

And they only became "concerned" when the light of publicity shone upon it

An 80-year-old grandmother has shown up Melbourne airport's multi-million dollar security-screening operation after carrying a 33cm screwdriver onto a plane on two recent flights.

Mrs Bond, who lives in Adelaide, first carried the prohibited item in her hand-luggage when she flew to Melbourne last month to spend time with her son after the death of her husband. The tool was not detected at Adelaide, even though the luggage went through an X-ray machine. She then passed security at Melbourne airport unnoticed a week later.

Son Geoff Bond said his mother didn't realise the screwdriver was in the pocket of her carry-on luggage until she returned. "She was quite shocked and very concerned about the breach," Mr Bond said. "She was careful when she packed because she thought security was a lot tougher, but now she thinks the whole thing is just ridiculous."

Mrs Bond said she was "very surprised" security screening did not detect the screwdriver. "I just can't understand how it got through; perhaps someone wasn't being vigilant. I certainly never, ever meant to take a screwdriver across to Melbourne. "I'm well aware things like that don't go in cabin luggage. I don't even put a nail file in my handbag before flying."

Her son said it seemed as if people were being rushed through the security check point because of long queues. He called on Qantas to review safety and security procedures. "I'm concerned by this. More than anything I'm frustrated about the system," he said.

Mr Bond said he had made a complaint to Qantas but "they didn't seem to care".

Qantas spokesman Simon Rushton, however, said the airline was very concerned about the lapse. "Qantas screens millions of passengers and their carry-on bags each year (and) we take any incident where a prohibited item is not detected by security screening extremely seriously," he said.

Mr Rushton said that Qantas was responsible for security screening only at Melbourne airport. "We will investigate these claims and also report them to the Office of Transport Security." But he added: "Qantas meets and, in many cases, exceeds, all government mandated aviation security requirements."


Some hope for a constructive policy on Aboriginal settlements?

By Sara Hudson

A while ago, in an attempt to install some order into my chaotic household, I followed some advice I had read in a parenting book. I asked my children what they thought would be suitable punishments for breaking household rules.

I was surprised at their responses, which were far more punitive than the punishments I would have given. The reason that the parenting book gave for involving children in rule making was that it is easier for kids to obey rules they had some part in making. This seems to apply equally well to Indigenous communities.

Tuesday’s ABC 7.30 Report reported on an Indigenous community that has improved school attendance and showed that communities can come up with ideas a lot harsher than ones government could impose.

The Aboriginal community of Hermannsburg, 130 kms west of Alice Springs, decided to close the two shops in town if they found too many kids truanting. Since 2007, attendance rates have risen from 50% to more than 80%.

But imagine if the government had tried the same approach. The outrage from Aboriginal welfare (or rights) organisations along the lines of ‘government makes community go hungry’ or ‘draconian measure to improve school attendance’ would be deafening.

Community involvement in rule making helps give communities a sense of empowerment and ownership of the problem. Local initiatives also have a better chance of success because local people know what buttons to push to get people to change their behaviour.

Besides closing the two shops in town if school attendance is low, use of the school bus by the football team to travel to matches is conditional upon a particular level of attendance during that week.

Hemmansburg is not the only Aboriginal community coming up with its own solutions to problems.

In Fitzroy Crossing, two local women introduced alcohol restrictions that are, in many cases, more restrictive than those introduced under the Northern Territory Intervention. Although they received some local opposition, there was not the public outcry by activists and do-gooders there was towards the Intervention.

Rather than trying to bring about reform through a centralised bureaucratic process, government should listen to and involve local people from Aboriginal communities with good ideas about how to improve things. As the examples above illustrate, their suggestions could be harsher and more effective than measures introduced any other way.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 September. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

19 September, 2010

Outrageous: Big compensation payments to illegals from the Australian government

Why does Australia owe these people anything? Nobody asked them to come to Australia and they undoubtedly came at their own risk

DOZENS of asylum-seekers have been awarded $5.4 million in compensation payouts for injuries they suffered while in detention. Official figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph reveal more than 50 immigration detainees have pocketed an average of $100,000 each over the past two years.

The Sunday Telegraph can also reveal that an outbreak of the infectious diseases typhoid and tuberculosis has hit the overflowing detention centre on Christmas Island.

The Federal Government refused to detail the reasons for the multimillion-dollar payouts to detainees, saying only they were related to wrongful detention or injuries suffered in detention.

A Department of Immigration spokesman said compensation payouts and disease outbreaks were "inevitable" given the large number of asylum-seekers in detention. "This is a department that deals with 26 million interactions with human beings every year - border crossings, visas, compliance," spokesman Sandi Logan said. "It's the law of averages - some may well choose to litigate against us or, in some rare cases, we may be at fault and have to pay out under Comcare and Comcover."

But the number of compensation payouts has exploded over the past two years. According to figures supplied by the department, there were 32 cases in 2008-09, with a total payout of $3.3 million, and 22 cases between July, 2009 and May, 2010, involving a total of $2.1 million. Most cases were paid out by the Federal Government's insurer, Comcover.

The number of compensation claims involving immigration detainees has been growing from a trickle in 2000, but total payouts of $12.3 million over the past 10 years have included two huge payments to Australians wrongfully detained.

The figures show that between 2000 and 2005, there were only four cases, with a total payout of $163,225. In 2005-06, there was one payout of $200,000. In 2006-07, there were four cases, including a settlement with the wrongly deported Australian Vivian Solon, costing $2.6 million.

Ms Solon was mistakenly deported to the Philippines. Gravely ill, she was found in a hospice north of Manila by a Catholic priest in 2005.

In 2007-08, there was a record payout in dollar terms with 13 cases for a total of $4 million, including one for another wrongly detained and wrongly deported Australian, Cornelia Rau.

As officials struggle to stem the flow of boat arrivals, the Federal Government has been forced to spend another $50 million on increasing the capacity of detention facilities on the mainland to cope with the more than 5000 asylum-seekers now in detention.

The compensation bill is likely to blow out many times more, as the claims paid out in the past two years relate to asylum-seekers in detention prior to August, 2007 when there were a fraction of the numbers now.


Another killing at the hands of a poorly-run government hospital

No doctor at the hospital! Boy dies

A HOSPITAL sent a desperately ill schoolboy home with junior Panadol and a pamphlet on gastroenteritis, saying he would be fine - just hours before he died. Now the grieving parents of Andrew Allan are demanding to know why their son was not considered sick enough to be checked by a doctor at Northam Hospital, near Perth. Instead he was seen by a nurse.

Kylie Allan, 42, and her husband, James, 46, said their son would be alive if he had received appropriate medical attention. "They are supposed to know what they are doing," Mrs Allan told The Sunday Times. "We want answers - how could this happen?"

Mrs Allan said Andrew could barely walk when she took him to hospital on Thursday and that he was sweating and vomiting with a high fever. "After I said that I was really, really, worried about his temperature (the nurse) took his temperature and said that it was over 40C," Mrs Allan said.

"But (the nurse) said that Andrew just had gastro and gave us a pamphlet on gastro and told us to go home and that he would be okay. "We were at the hospital for less than 10 minutes. "We walked in, saw someone straight away, and he was given some kids' Panadol and two hydrolite sticks, and that was it. We didn't get to see a doctor or the emergency room. We were seen in the hallway where you talk to someone through the glass windows. The triage is as far as we got. "I am berating myself thinking maybe if I had gone to another hospital . . . maybe if I had taken a second opinion."

After leaving the hospital, Mrs Allan drove Andrew to the family home between Meckering and York about 30 minutes away after picking up 14-year-old daughter Emily from work in Northam. She said Andrew took a shower and went straight to bed at about 9.30pm. "I said to Andrew, 'They say you're not sick, you're just mildly sick, you'll get better.'"

At 7am next morning she found her son dead in his bed. Mrs Allan's youngest child Sean, 12, came into her bedroom and said: "Andrew must be feeling better, he's quiet." "As soon as Sean said that I raced into the bedroom that the boys share," she said. "Andrew was completely cold and stiff. He must have died virtually straight away. "It was horrendous, especially when my 12-year-old son followed me into the bedroom," Mrs Allan sobbed.

The Year 11 student was too sick to attend Northam High School last week suffering flu-like symptoms.

Long distance truck driver Mr Allan said he was stunned that the decision of one person could have such catastrophic consequences. "You don't expect to take your boy home from hospital after being told he will be fine to find him dead the next morning," he said. "It's just horrific." He said he would welcome a coronial inquest into his son's death.

A Health Department spokeswoman last night said a doctor had been on call, but not on site.

WA Country Health Service Acting-Chief Executive Officer, Wayne Salvage offered his condolences to the family last night and promised a thorough investigation. "On behalf of the WA Country Health Service I extend my deepest sympathy to the Allan family at the tragic loss of their son Andrew," he said in a statement. "I wish to reassure them that a full and thorough review will be carried out into the circumstances surrounding their son's treatment at Northam Hospital."

Northam Hospital has been blighted by a doctor shortage in the past.

Australian Medical Association state president David Mountain said it was not unreasonable to expect to see a doctor for diagnosis. "In general, if you present to a hospital emergency department anywhere, you should have the expectation that you can see a doctor to make a decision about whether you should come in or go home," he said. He said decisions on anyone with potentially serious illnesses should be made by a doctor. "That should never be the workload of a nurse," he said.


Kevin Rudd's absurd school buildings. A "revolution" all right: A great leap backwards

The Federal program that produced these absurdities was called "Building the Education Revolution" but the $600,000 school tuckshops are 'unusable'. A big price for a tiny building. You could build two family homes for the same price

SMALL canteens constructed under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program encourage the provision of pre-packed heat-and-serve food. Critics of the canteens, which are about 24 square metres and cost up to $600,000, say they lack the space needed to prepare fresh food.

The Healthy Kids Association general manager, Jo Gardner, described the buildings as unsuitable for producing healthy food on a mass scale. "The standards being implemented by the state Department of Education and Training in new and refurbished canteens are grossly inadequate," she said.

"They do not meet opportunities for schools to efficiently and effectively deliver fresh food - they have inadequate bench space; they don't have wash-up sinks that are of a commercial nature. The push is very heat-and-serve."

The department has agreed to extend the new canteen being built at Tottenham Central School near Dubbo after parents complained it was unusable.

"The biggest problem with the design is that the preparation space is minimal," the school's Parents and Citizens' Association president, Rick Bennett, said. "The bench space is OK if you are serving pre-packed food like pies and sausage rolls where there is no preparation. But as soon as you need to prepare something like a salad box you're in trouble because of the lack of space."

He also said the lack of serving space meant children would spend most of their lunch hour in the queue rather than running around. "The kids only have a small amount of time for their lunch," he said. "You want as many people serving in the canteens as possible so the kids don't spend their entire lunch break standing in a line waiting to be served. By the time they have eaten, there is no time for them to run around and play."

An Education Department spokesman said the canteens were in line with the department's schools facilities standards.

But Louise Appel, secretary of the Parents and Citizens' Association at Orange Grove Public School, which received the same canteen, said the design was flawed. "They told us that this was the standard design and I would say, 'But read my lips - there is no bench space,' " Ms Appel said. "What sort of standard design for a canteen has no food preparation space?"

The canteen at Orange Grove, in Sydney's inner-west, has also undergone alterations to create more bench space.


Report details shocking failures to protect black children

Good policing could prevent this but political correctness makes authorities allergic to policing of blacks

ABANDONED children wander from house to house looking for food and a place to sleep.

Boys barely in their teens sexually abuse girls as young as five. Drunks openly flout laws that were supposed to crack down on the "rivers of grog" identified in the Little Children Are Sacred report.

Starvation is widespread, prompting calls for a foreign aid-style feeding program. More than three years after the multibillion-dollar federal indigenous intervention, government agencies and non-government organisations say children continue to be vulnerable to sexual and other abuse in many Northern Territory communities.

A shocking picture of the failure of agencies to protect children has emerged in submissions to the territory's child protection inquiry, which is expected to recommend a shake-up of the system when it submits its report to the government in Darwin next month.

The government's own Office of Children's Commissioner, which was set up to monitor the protection of children, makes some of the strongest criticisms of the system.

A number of homeless children living in communities have no parental supervision and are often vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, the submission says.

Government agencies have known about them for years, it says. The submission says a lack of volunteer foster carers in the territory has contributed to children often being placed in unsuitable arrangements.

There is so much stress on the system that often children in situations where there is neglect are either ignored or not able to be investigated and supported, it says.

A report submitted by the Northern Territory Department of Justice details the failure of the intervention to stop child sexual abuse, alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and criminal activity relating to illegal drugs in the community of Binjari, 20 kilometres south-west of Katherine.

The community of about 300 is prescribed under the intervention, which means there is supposed to be a strict ban on alcohol, drugs and pornography. But to circumvent the alcohol ban residents created a drinking camp just outside the boundary of the prescribed area, from where they make "grog runs" into Katherine, according to the report.

From June to November last year there were 203 reported incidents to police in Binjari. Of 75 recorded offences, 52 were related to alcohol. The report details the sexual behaviour of the large group of children, including boys aged up to 15 who abuse "predominantly females aged five to 11 years".

"These issues may be related to child sexual abuse perpetrated by adults, pornography being shown or … sexual activity occurring in the view of children," the report says.

In its submission the Save the Children organisation says it has repeatedly notified the Northern Territory Department of Family and Children's Services about serious concerns for the safety of children with little or no response. "No notification we have made on a town camp has resulted in children being removed to safety despite, at times, serious violence and neglect," the submission says.

The Remote Office of the NT Department of Families and Children says in its submission that a feeding program like those carried out by the Red Cross in foreign countries is needed deliver essential food to starving children and other programs must address the underlying issues, which include poor parenting, poverty, overcrowding, violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and gambling.

The NT Legal Aid Commission says in its submission that up to 200 children from the territory have dropped off all child protection radars after the NT government transferred them to other states.

The inquiry has twice delayed releasing its report, which is scheduled to be sent to the government on October 18.


Sydney private school sued for $1m over inaction on paedophile teachers

Schools and others often try a coverup to protect their reputation but when the fat hits the fire, the damage is even worse

KNOX GRAMMAR SCHOOL, where four teachers molested young boys, is being sued for more than $1 million over claims it neglected its duty of care to one alleged victim.

In documents filed in the Supreme Court, a 40-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, accused the North Shore private school of failing to provide a safe environment to ensure "he was not exposed to the risk of sexual predation by teachers".

He claimed Knox failed to investigate complaints of abuse and was vicariously liable for some teachers' conduct.

Five former teachers have been charged with child sex offences dating back to the 1970s and '80s. Of those, four have acknowledged guilt. Most recently, Adrian John Nisbett, 61, yesterday admitted to indecently assaulting three boys then aged 16 and 17.

The man suing the school states that when he was in years 5 and 6, a teacher twice groped his genitals in public. In the first instance another teacher watched on but did nothing, he said in a statement of claim.

"[The teacher] demonstrated to the school community a … tendency to inappropriately touch students by purporting to tuck their shirts into their trousers, fondling and by other means as opportunity presented," his claim stated.

The man is now a disability pensioner living with depression caused, he said, by the damage and injury he suffered as a result of the alleged assaults. He believes the school knew what the teachers were doing. "Their conduct was not in any way circumscribed or curtailed by the first defendant [Knox] despite its … nature and even when observed by other staff members," he alleged.

His total claim against the school and one former teacher is expected to amount to more than $1 million.

"It takes courage for our client to pursue his rights against the school and the teacher directly involved," Ross Koffel, the director of law firm Koffels, said.

Former Knox teachers Craig Howard Treloar, Damien Piers Vance and Roger Warren James have already admitted to offences against boys.

Yesterday, Nisbett acknowledged he indecently assaulted three Knox senior school boys in 1986 and 1976.... Nisbett pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault, carrying a maximum imprisonment of four years. He admitted to a third offence, which will be taken into account in his October sentencing.

A fifth former teacher, Barrie Tiffin Stewart, is expected to face a committal hearing this month.


The State of Corruption again

Sydney Water ignored extortion

SYDNEY WATER CORPORATION has been so lackadaisical in its integrity checking that for years inspectors have been able to rip off sewerage contractors with little worry about being caught, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has heard.

Stephen Warren Purcell, manager of acceptance and compliance within Sydney Water's urban growth branch, has agreed under questioning that Sydney Water had done nothing about corruption among constructors and inspectors, "other than hoping someone will come forward".

Questioned by Tony Payne, SC, counsel assisting an inquiry by ICAC into corruption allegations against Sydney Water, Mr Purcell agreed it was disturbing and serious to hear that an inspector, Kenneth John Buckley, had been the subject of complaints a decade ago.

Mr Buckley has admitted to the ICAC Commissioner, David Ipp, QC, at the present inquiry that he has been taking money from contractors for years as a prerequisite for approving their work. The ICAC has heard evidence that other inspectors have made it a regular practice and that it has been going on for decades.

Yesterday, the ICAC heard that sewerage contractors who were being extorted were afraid to complain because they thought they would lose their accreditation as plumbers able to work on Sydney Water projects.

Mr Payne put to Mr Purcell in examination that the meetings of the External Quality Control Council, a monitoring body established to overlook Sydney Water operations, had "failed miserably" as a body to tackle corruption. Mr Purcell replied: "On reflection, I would say, yes."

Mr Payne pointed out that according to another manager, Paul Saxby, two complaints about Mr Buckley had been made to the council in the period 2000-2002. Mr Purcell could not recall, but he agreed that no record had been made of the complaints.

"We believe that people are basically honest in their dealings," he said. "Our concentration has certainly been about safety and environmental issues."

Yesterday, Phillip Farrell, an engineering consultant who had instigated the External Quality Control Council, said that 10 years ago he had brought complaints about Mr Buckley to the attention of Mr Purcell and Mr Saxby on the council.

He knew Mr Buckley had been very "pedantic" in his inspections but the complaint was that he had asked for money from constructors to pass the work.

The contractors who had complained to him had been "frightened" to tender for work in the inner-city area, where Mr Buckley operated, he said. Mr Saxby had told him Sydney Water was going through Mr Buckley's record, but had then told him Mr Buckley was doing "a good job".

Mr Farrell said Sydney Water had wanted to take a matter further only if the contractor came forward. It was not prepared to operate on hearsay. But the contractors were not prepared to come forward and identify themselves.


18 September, 2010

Must not blow the whistle on "blacks" who are really white

Bolty sued for telling the truth -- that many people with only remote Aboriginal ancestry call themselves Aboriginal for the sake of the government and other benefits that can bring. My sister in law is a tall fair-skinned blue-eyed blonde but is classed as an Aboriginal under Australian law. And her paper-white daughter is too. An absurdity that NEEDS to be questioned

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt is being sued under the Racial Vilification Act by a group of Aborigines led by 73-year-old activist Pat Eatock over two columns he wrote last year.

In the first column, published under the headline "It’s so hip to be black" in the paper on April 15, 2009, and on his blog under the headline "White is the new black", Bolt enumerated a list of light or white-skinned people who identified themselves as Aboriginal, and suggested their choosing to do so was proof of "a whole new fashion in academia, the arts and professional activism". He added that "for many of these fair Aborigines, the choice to be Aboriginal can seem almost arbitrary and intensely political".

Pat Eatock was one of those identified. She is acting on behalf of at least six others.

On August 21, 2009, Bolt revisited the topic in a column headlined "White fellas in the black", in which he derided the granting of an award for Aboriginal artists to white-skinned painter Danie Mellor and an indigenous scholarship to white-skinned academic Mark McMillan.

According to the statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court on September 7, law firm Holding Redlich is acting on behalf of a group who "by a combination of descent, self-identification and communal recognition are, and are recognised under law as, Aboriginal persons".

The document also states that the applicants "were offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated" by Bolt’s writings.

Financial damages are not being sought, but the group has asked for an order restraining Bolt and the Herald Sun from publishing any material containing "substantially similar" content in the future, and for the removal of the two columns from the website.

"We see this as a really important case," said Joel Zyngier, an employment and discrimination lawyer at Holding Redlich, which is running the case pro bono. "We see it as clarifying the issue of identity — who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits."

Bolt’s first column pointedly stated he was not making any such claim, though the sincerity of that statement has been questioned.

"I’m not saying any of those I’ve named chose to be Aboriginal for anything but the most heartfelt and honest of reasons," he wrote in the piece published in April 2009. "I certainly don’t accuse them of opportunism, even if full-blood Aborigines may wonder how such fair people can claim to be one of them and, in some cases, take black jobs. I’m saying only that this self-identification as Aboriginal strikes me as self-obsessed, and driven more by politics than by any racial reality."

Liberty Victoria president Michael Pearce, SC, said his organisation had concerns about the potential impact on freedom of speech. "It is easy to imagine that it caused offence and hurt to the people against whom it was directed. However, hurt and offence are caused by all sorts of speech all the time. "It would be impossible to proscribe all speech which causes hurt and offence."

Although the action seeks to prevent Bolt from expressing such views again, Mr Zyngier is adamant it is not an attempt to impose a gag order on the columnist. "We’re not seeking to make this a case about freedom of speech, because it’s not," he said. "The issue is essentially about whether or not other people can define identity, and in particular Aboriginal identity, based on how you look.


Deliberate police harassment of Muslim lawyer

Expensive for the taxpayer

The high-profile Muslim lawyer Adam Houda has been arrested again while walking near his home in what he says is the most outrageous example yet of racial vilification, harassment and brutality by police.

The incident brings to five the number of times Mr Houda has been arrested or detained in the past decade, including a well-publicised occasion involving the former Bulldogs rugby league player Hazem El Masri.

None of the earlier incidents led to a conviction, instead they produced apologies and more than $150,000 in compensation from the NSW police.

At about 8pm on Thursday, Mr Houda was walking near his Yagoona home with his brother Bassam and friend Mohammed Hawa when they were asked for identification by two plainclothes police officers in an unmarked car.

When Mr Houda asked why, they said they were investigating a robbery and he fitted the suspect's description. "We were polite the whole time," Mr Houda said. "When it became too silly for words, I said 'Look, am I under arrest for anything?"'

When the more senior officer said no, Mr Houda said he began walking towards his home and was grabbed and handcuffed by the other officer, causing "excruciating pain" to his wrist. "It got to the point where I felt I was going to pass out," Mr Houda, 35, who suffers from a heart condition, said.

Mr Houda said five other police arrived and he was placed in the back of a paddy wagon, taken to Bankstown police station, locked in a cell without his medication and not allowed to call a lawyer or a support person.

The devout Lebanese Muslim, who has represented terrorism-accused clients such as Belal Khazaal and Izhar ul-Haque, has welts on his wrists and symptoms consistent with neuroplaxia in his left hand, his doctor, Jamal Rifi, said.

Mr Houda received $145,000 in compensation after he was wrongfully arrested at Burwood Local Court in 2000 and an apology after he and El Masri were surrounded by nine police in 2007 when they refused to provide identification outside a Regents Park cafe.

Thursday was the third time since 2007 that he has been detained while walking near his Yagoona home and he received a confidential payout after suing over the previous arrest, last year.

Mr Houda said he has audio recordings of Thursday's arrest and intends to sue the police and report it to the Police Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission.

Dr Rifi, who is on a community policing advisory group to the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said his experience was similar to many others in Sydney's Lebanese Muslim community.

But the South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli, said Mr Houda did not comply with a lawful direction from police and would receive a summons "for not complying with a request to submit to a search and resist arrest".

"Police officers were conducting proactive patrols in the Yagoona area following a series of robberies involving knives," he said.


Flu vaccine side effects worse than the disease

PUBLIC health experts have called for an independent body to monitor drug safety after it emerged that young children were more likely to end up in hospital because of side effects from a flu vaccine than they were from the disease itself.

The analysis contradicts government safety advice that the harm did not outweigh the risk and raises concerns about the Therapeutic Goods Administration's assessment of the vaccine.

More than 1000 adverse responses in children under five were reported to the TGA by June this year, including nearly 100 instances of febrile convulsions, a seizure which in a small number of cases has been associated with long-term adverse health outcomes.

The side effects were linked to one of the three seasonal flu vaccines, Fluvax and Fluvax junior, from the drug company CSL, but the TGA maintained despite that, that "the overall risk-benefit balance of both products remains positive".

The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer claims the advice was intended to indicate the drug should not be withdrawn from the market but said the government would reassess it in light of the research.

But research published yesterday in the journal Eurosurveillance showed Fluvax might have caused two to three hospital admissions due to seizure for every admission from flu it prevented.

The chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, said further examination of risks was needed, at arm's length from the TGA. The government should consider creating an independent centre. "There is a concern … that the TGA is the body that approves vaccines and is also the body that determines what the risks and benefits are when concerns are raised," he said.

Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, said the vaccination program in children under five did more harm than good. "The TGA made that decision [about risk-benefit] without any evidence to back it up." Professor Collignon questioned the TGA's independence and transparency because some of its advisers had worked for drug companies.

The Chief Medical Officer, Jim Bishop, said the risk-benefit claim indicated the drug should not be withdrawn. The TGA had recommended other vaccines besides Fluvax be used for children under five. He defended the TGA's independence: "There is no evidence the TGA is obligated to drug companies and they have a number of ways to make sure their advice is independent," he said. "I feel comfortable about our investigation [of the vaccine, but] the fact of the matter is there is now new information available and the regulator will take that into account".

Heath Kelly, the study leader and an honorary associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said the government should check for vaccine side effects - not wait for reports. There should also be a national insurance scheme to compensate people if they had a bad reaction. "On very rare occasions, things can go wrong in vaccination programs. The community that recommended and promoted vaccination [should] provide support for any child who suffers serious adverse consequences."

Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the Children's Hospital, Westmead, said that while the rate of seizures was unacceptably high, it was important to remember that continuing complications from them were extremely rare.

While this study indicated there would be more hospital admissions from seizures than would be prevented by the vaccine, children tolerated the other two vaccines well.

A spokeswoman for CSL said: "Extensive investigations are ongoing with international collaborators". It supported recommending that Fluvax should not be used in children under five until it could be confident of preventing problems.


Dangerous herbal "medicine"

HOMEOPATHS are recommending "unproven" herbal remedies, including belladonna and phosphorus, for whooping cough.

A whooping cough epidemic has swept the country, and tragically turned fatal this week when a five-week-old boy died.

Homeopaths say their treatments can prevent and cure whooping cough, while doctors say that is "complete rubbish". Drosera and pertussinum are other herbal remedies commonly recommended.

Australian Medical Association immunity spokesman Dr Rod Pearce said anyone recommending homeopathic "vaccinations" or treatments was illegitimate. He said officially homeopathic organisations admitted people should be conventionally immunised. "It is complete rubbish. If someone misrepresents what they can do, that is a problem. The discussion we've had with them as a whole is that they'll recommend vaccinating.

"There's stuff that's got good evidence and there's stuff that's rubbish. There is total recognition that the only proven way to get protection is to get vaccinated."

SA Health says vaccination is the best way to protect children. It says adults, particularly, should be vaccinated to protect children too young to be immunised. In the wake of the baby's death this week doctors called for vaccinations to be freely available.

Dr Pearce said parents should be vaccinated and should give their child the first vaccination at six weeks.

There have been nearly 4000 cases of whooping cough in South Australia so far this year, but this was the first death in almost a decade. A four-week-old baby died in NSW last year. Dana McCaffery's parents have since become vocal advocates of vaccination. Yesterday, Toni McCaffery posted her condolences to the SA baby's parents on a Facebook page and repeated her plea for the Federal Government to raise awareness and offer free vaccination to everyone.

'I am in tears . . . please Mrs Roxon act on your promise," she wrote. "We have been pleading all year for the government to act and not wait for another death. To the family, we are so, so sorry."


Rampant ramping of ambulances in the Brisbane area

Paramedics and ambulance vehicles sit idle for hours at southeast Queensland hospitals -- because of delays in emergency departments that the State Government is unable to fix.

At a time when Health Minister Paul Lucas says billions are being spent on health infrastructure, The Sunday Mail last week photographed ambulances “ramped” - parked and waiting to hand over patients - at Queensland’s biggest hospital, the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Paramedics wait in corridors with patients until they can be handed over to hospital staff. It’s being made worse by overloaded hospitals going on “bypass", forcing ambulances to divert to other hospitals.

The Sunday Mail can reveal:

* 19 ambulances were ramped at three hospitals at 3pm on Wednesday last week - five at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane’s North, six at the Princess Alexandra on the southside and eight at RBWH.

* There were no ambulances available in Ipswich on Wednesday night because they were all ramped in Brisbane.

* Eight hospitals were on bypass on Monday despite Queensland Health’s website recording only one on bypass.

* Every hospital from Brisbane south was diverting ambulances at the end of August.

Last October, an ambulance carrying a patient having a cardiac arrest was diverted from Caloundra Hospital to Nambour Hospital. The patient died before the ambulance arrived at Nambour.

Ambulance union state organiser Kroy Day said the situation was unacceptable. ` “We have a duty of care and we will not leave patients until they are handed over to medical staff,” Mr Day said.

He said a “flawed” Queensland Health website shows hospitals going on bypass at l0am. “If they have gone on bypass after 10am it is not recorded on the website and the website is not updated, he said. “The only response from the Government so far has been this website and it is invalid data.”

Emergency departments are struggling to cope with incoming patients and up to 30 per cent of hospital beds are blocked by patients who should be in aged care.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said Queenslanders deserved the truth about overcrowding in emergency departments. “Ambulance ramping, diversions and dangerous blockages are a direct consequence of (Premier Anna) Bligh and Labor’s lack of planning and investment in hospital beds, especially at Logan and the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital” Mr McArdle said.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said no patients were turned away from a public emergency department. “Any urgent patients who require care are taken directly to hospital” she said. "Redirection is a flow-management strategy used for short periods, for less-urgent patients in ambulances only". "Any patient who presents to the ED themselves is always accepted.”

Mr Lucas said the Queensland Government’s $7.33 billion health infrastructure program was expanding and building hospitals.

The article above by Suellen Hinde appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 12 September, 2010

17 September, 2010

A revolution that fizzled

Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party declared the "Education Revolution" at the beginning of 2007. They said it would go through various phases, and spent a lot of treasure on it. By now we should be showing results.

The first part of the revolution was equipment. The government promised a computer on the desk of every student in years 9 to 12. But there isn't. Not even one for every two desks. You couldn't share one between three. The government got its sums wrong and didn't allocate enough money for the back-up and the installation. It illustrates why we need to improve education - ministers need better numeracy standards - and showed this would be a revolution bigger on promise than delivery.

The next phase was to roll the revolution over to buildings. The government announced it was "Building the Education Revolution" with new halls and canteens in every school whether they were wanted or not. This would be revolutionary and "save" the economy by spending about $15 billion.

The BER stimulated a lot of inventive claims for project management fees and inflated building costs. It completed some useful projects, and some useless ones - like the hall at Hastings Public School, which is too small to hold the 39 students, and the canteen at Orange Grove Public School, nice but too small to fit a pie-warmer.

That great revolutionary Josef Stalin claimed that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs. BER delivered breakages and spillages all over the country. Whether the omelette is worth $15 billion is the question. The BER "stimulus" is still being rolled out, even though we now have an unprecedented mining boom, with interest rates rising.

Julia Gillard says the revolution delivered the My School website that gives information on how students in each school compare with national averages. And that is a good idea. But one website does not a revolution make. If the literacy and numeracy standards showed persistent improvement against historical benchmarks and improvement against other countries, that would be an achievement. If the revolution is about anything, it should be about improving results.

After three years of revolution, it was a surprise that last weekend, when the PM announced her ministry, there was no one described as an education minister. This was once her No.1 priority. Later it was clarified there would be two ministers for education - Chris Evans for tertiary and Peter Garrett for schools - a kind of duumvirate to lead the revolution.

Both men are polite and sensitive. Neither is a fire-breathing reformer. Evans was in charge of stopping the tide of asylum seekers in his last ministerial role. The fact all of the asylum facilities are overflowing gives you some idea of how effective he was and why he had to be moved. And when you talk of ministerial fire it is not effectiveness that comes to mind with Garrett, but insulation batts and house fires. He is lucky to still be a minister.

Their appointment tells us how low a priority the education revolution has become. The sooner it moves out of public consciousness the happier Gillard will be. Don't expect too many more signs to be erected proclaiming the education revolution.

After three years, our Australian revolution is starting to look a bit like Castro's. He's been going 50 years and promises improvement is just around the corner. Cubans like to humour their leader. They know the truth but they keep up the joke. Australians are best advised to do the same. We know the revolution is an expensive fizzer, but we are polite and do not remind our Comrade Leader. She will bury it in her own good time.


Australia's Department of Immigration is 'at breaking point' with asylum claims

THE Department of Immigration is so stretched trying to process the 4775 asylum-seekers believed detained across Australia that 17 other government departments have been asked to lend it workers to meet an "urgent and increasing demand" for staff.

The call for immediate assistance to cope with rising numbers of asylum-seekers came as West Australian Premier Colin Barnett accused the Gillard government of using the west as a "prison" to house almost half the illegal boat arrivals detained on the mainland.

The head of the Department of Immigration, Andrew Metcalfe, wrote an urgent letter to his counterparts last month across a raft of agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Defence, Human Services and even Medicare Australia, requesting additional assistance.

"Over the last year there has been an increase in the rate of arrivals and the number of staff required to meet this demand has increased proportionately," Mr Metcalfe said in a letter to the head of the Department of Agriculture.

"The department is approaching a point where we will not be able to meet this demand from existing and internal staff."

An Immigration Department spokesman said the plea for additional workers was "normal practice and a routine business operation".

He said the department was experiencing an increase in "intense labour activity" as a result of more asylum-seekers' claims being refused.

But the leaking of the letter also followed the release yesterday of figures obtained by the opposition which showed that - of the more than 6300 illegal boat arrivals in the two years to June - only 75 had been refused entry and returned home.

By yesterday afternoon that figure had risen to 98 boatpeople, but new Immigration Minister Chris Bowen agreed those numbers could be improved.

"Certainly I want those numbers to be higher," he said on Sky News's Agenda. "When we reject a claim for asylum, I would like people to return to their home country more quickly."


Stigma and suspicion a reality for male childcare workers

This is a risk for me too as I love little kids and instinctively smile at them when I see them. I could easily be misjudged -- JR

Childcare centres are being encouraged to attract more male employees in order to combat staff shortages. But it’s not an easy task. With more than 95 per cent of childcare workers currently female, there’s a clear stigma attached to men working with children.

A male friend of mine used to work in a Queensland childcare centre and says he faced what he considered obvious discrimination. For example, he wasn’t permitted to change any nappies. He was highly offended by this rule, which applied only to him as the only male working in the centre.

It does seem unfair, not to mention sad - if he was trustworthy enough to employ, surely he could be trusted to change a nappy?

But the fact remains, many parents are uncomfortable with male childcare workers. According to Care For Kids, men who choose to work with children are often considered suspicious in their motives. Those funny looks and accusatory enquiries almost certainly a deterrent for men to work in an industry already considered women’s work.

But one childcare centre in NSW is breaking down barriers, with five of its current employees male.

Despite many parents welcoming access to male role models for their children, the men still report falling victim to stereotypes. In an age where parents are acutely aware of child predators, unfortunately it’s difficult to avoid.

To alleviate parents’ concerns, this centre also asks male employees not to change nappies, leaving that task to the female workers. If centres are prepared to hire male carers in the first place, it seems inconsistent not to grant them the same level of trust.

Sadly though, it’s not just the childcare industry that’s impacted by these sorts of stereotypes and concerns. Several men I know say while once they’d smile or wink at children, they no longer do so for fear of being judged or upsetting the child’s parents.

Others freeze if little ones try to play, often wanting cuddles or piggy-backs, as children do. It’s a sad fact, based on an unfortunate reality.


Greens threat to private schools

BETTER resources for regional education may well be on the national agenda, but new Schools, Early Childhood and Youth Minister Peter Garrett must not allow their delivery to be thwarted by giving in to the Greens, who will deny many young Australians a choice of independent schooling.

While the formal agreement between Julia Gillard and the Greens signed on September 1 makes no mention of education or schools funding, any intrusion of the Greens stance on schools into federal government policy will certainly undermine, for regional Australia, the social and economic sustainability they claim to champion.

Recognising the vital role of the independent schools sector, Prime Minister Gillard earlier this year committed to extending the existing school funding arrangements by 12 months and the capital grants program until 2014. However, to be enacted, this is likely to need the support of the Greens in both houses, putting them at odds with their party's commitment to attack independent schools with a blunt instrument.

According to their website, key planks of the Greens' policies include reducing funding across the board to 2003-04 levels; ending the arrangement for recurrent funding to non-government schools by the end of this year at the latest; and "[ensuring] the viability and diversity of existing public schools is not endangered by the development of new private schools", essentially preventing new independent schools from being set up even if there is a desire for them.

Such ideology makes naive assumptions, in particular about regional Australia and the millions of people who live here.

Negotiations between the three regional independent MPs and the two leading parties that wished to form minority government rightly put regional Australia back in the spotlight. So often overlooked in policy debates, it is a place where more than one-quarter of Australians live, are educated and work. However, regional Australia will suffer if its independent schools are threatened, because educational opportunity and diversity will be narrowed.

Independent schools enable regional children to have access to academic, sporting, cultural, spiritual and social programs that many would otherwise not have. For some, the nearest public secondary school may be hours away, and even then only provide education to Year 10. Most regional boarding schools, often the only option for a child from rural or remote Australia, are run on slim margins, with enrolments influenced mostly by the fickle vagaries of agricultural commodity markets rather than the salary packages of corporate executives.

Already making huge sacrifices for their children, parents who may no longer be able to afford an independent alternative but want a choice for their children will be forced to move from their one-high-school towns to larger centres or the city.

Further, a narrowing of educational choice and diversity will only lessen the attraction of regions to professionals already in short supply. The critical shortage of doctors will be placed on life support, and teachers, regardless of philosophical persuasion, will be harder to find.

Independent schools hold a valued place in regional Australia, not only as economic entities in their own right, but as providers of choice in lifestyle that is so critical to the attractions of living away from the city. Consequently, a threat to independent schools driven by new sympathy for the Greens agenda will have a greater impact in regional Australia than in metropolitan areas.

All this is hardly a recipe for a vibrant, diverse and inclusive regional Australia that can help take population pressures off overcrowded cities.

Educational equity for regional Australia means having equal access to the full breadth of school choices - government, Catholic and independent - and certainty of government funding arrangements is critical for maintaining this.

Depriving regional Australians of such opportunities will only increase social inequity, not help overcome it.


16 September, 2010

All Australians must observe Muslim clothing rules while visiting a public swimming pool?

What's wrong with Muslims wearing their gear and everybody else dressing as they please? Answer: The "anti-discrimination" body behind this is so notoriously pro-Muslim that it is now ENFORCING discrimination against normally-dressed Australians

Families in Victoria are being ordered to cover up before attending a public event to avoid offending Muslims during next year's Ramadan. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has approved a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for a community event to be held at the Dandenong Oasis, a municipal pool.

"Participants aged 10 and over must ensure their bodies are covered from waist to knee and the entire torso extending to the upper arms," a request by Dandenong City Council and the YMCA states in an exemption application to the Equal Opportunities Act. "Participants must not wear transparent clothing." The request has been approved by VCAT and applies to a family event to be held at the pool next August.

"The applicant intends this to be an event where people of all races and religions and ages may attend, use the Centre's facilities and socialise together," VCAT notes. "The holy month of Ramadan has a particular focus on families and the applicant wishes to encourage families to attend and socialise together with others. "The minimum dress requirements are set having regard to the sensitivities of Muslims who wish to participate in the event."

The ban on skimpy clothes will apply between 6.15 and 8.15pm on August 21 next year, a time when the pool is closed to the public and normally used by a Muslim women's swimming group.

The ban was yesterday compared by the Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke to a ban on thongs in a pub. "Matters such as this are not easy to resolve and require a balance to be achieved between competing rights and obligations," she said. "Dress codes are not uncommon: eg singlets, jeans, thongs etc in pubs/hotels."

Sherene Hassan, vice-president of the Islamic Society of Victoria, said she didn't support the dress restrictions. "My preference would be that no dress code is stipulated," Ms Hassan said.

But Liberty Victoria said the ban was reasonable because the event was to be held out of hours. A spokeswoman for the City of Greater Dandenong said the ban would help Muslims feel part of the community. [Really? It sounds more like insulating them from it]


Only 75 asylum seekers rejected since 2008

THE Federal Government has been forced to reveal that of the 6310 asylum seekers that arrived in Australia in the past two years only 75 have been rejected and returned to their country of origin.

With mainland detention centres now reaching bursting point, the Department of Immigration has effectively admitted it is struggling to deal with what the Opposition claimed was a growing humanitarian problem on Australian soil. Yesterday, there were 4527 asylum seekers still packed into overcrowded centres across the country, 1000 beyond existing capacity.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed existing detention camps were under pressure but claimed the overcrowding was in part because of the increased number of rejections for asylum and the difficulty of repatriating people.

The Immigration Department is also failing to meet its 90-day target to process applications with numbers of asylum seekers in detention for three months or more rising from 30 per cent in April to more than 55 per cent now. Another 15 per cent had been in detention for more than six months and some detained for longer than 12 months, with a freeze on processing Afghan refugees still in place.

The new figures - released to parliament as answers to questions to a Senate hearing first raised by the Coalition in May - reveal that of the 6310 arrivals since October 2008, 2050 had been granted protection visas and only 75 had been removed from Australia.

The figures also explode the myth more people arrive illegally by air than by boat. Between 2009 and June 11 this year, according to the department 5646 onshore protection visa applications were lodged by people who came by air, with only 541 applicants regarded as illegal entries.

Opposition spokesman on immigration and population Scott Morrison said the Government was now dealing with a potential humanitarian crisis of its own making. "The Coalition never built Christmas Island to cope with Labor's policy failures," said Mr Morrison. "Under their compassionate humanitarian policy there are now 5000 people in detention . . . 2000 of them are in the desert."

It's understood the Government had planned to triple the size of Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia as early as July, denied in the election campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday also could not guarantee a new East Timor processing facility in three years.

Mr Bowen, who has been in the job only two days said on Tuesday: "I do acknowledge that there are real and significant pressures on our detention centres. "They arise because of not only more elevated arrivals, but also an increased rejection rate." He said it was more time consuming to repatriate rejected persons while acceptances were much quicker.


More climate fraud: Australian Temperatures in cities adjusted up by 70%!?

Government meteorological records can now not be relied on

Ken Stewart has been hard at work again, this time analyzing the Australian urban records. While he expected that the cities and towns would show a larger rise than records in the country due to the Urban Heat Island Effect, what he found was that the raw records showed only a 0.4 degree rise, less than the rural records which went from a raw 0.6 to an adjusted 0.85 (a rise of 40%). What shocked him about the urban records were the adjustments… making the trend a full 70% warmer.

The largest adjustments to the raw records are cooling ones in the middle of last century. So 50 years after the measurements were recorded, officials realized they were artificially too high? Hopefully someone who knows can explain why so many thermometers were overestimating temperatures in the first half of the 1900’s.

50 years later?

The raw Australian urban temperature records are in blue. The adjusted records in red. Note that temperatures in the middle of last century appear to be adjusted downwards. These are the annual average recordings for all 34 sites.

Remember Dr David Jones, Head of Climate Monitoring and Prediction, National Climate Centre, Bureau of Meteorology said: "On the issue of adjustments you find that these have a near zero impact on the all Australian temperature because these tend to be equally positive and negative across the network (as would be expected given they are adjustments for random station changes).”

Yet it’s obvious that there are far more warming adjustments than cooling ones, and remember, many (almost all?) of these urban sites will be markedly different places than what they were in say 1920. The encroachment of concrete, cars and exhaust vents can surely only go in one direction, though I guess, it’s possible all these sites have new sources of shade (why aren’t the themometers moved, if that’s the case?) Like the rural records, the temperatures overall are roughly a quarter of a degree higher after the “corrections”.

Ken explains:
The raw trend is about 0.4C (actually slightly less than 0.4C)- that’s a full 0.2C less than the non-urban raw trend using the same comparison; the adjusted trend is about 0.78C: and that’s a warming bias of 95%. (The 70% figure is based on averaging all the changes in trends- from the table of 34 towns. 95% is from plotting the average temperature for all sites each year, then calculating the trend from this average. It’s artificial as BOM say they don’t do it but it’s a way of comparing at the large scale. It removes much of the error.)

So much for “these tend to be equally positive and negative across the network”.

Of course, BOM says that this data is not used in their climate analyses, so my trend lines shown above are for illustration and comparison purposes only. However, they illustrate the problem quite well: there is a warming bias apparent in the High Quality data.

As well, the “quality” of the High Quality stations leaves much to be desired. Many of the sites have large slabs of data missing, with the HQ record showing “estimates” to fill in the missing years. Some sites should not be used at all: Moree, Grafton, Warnambool, Orange, Bowral, and Bairnsdale.

8 of the 34 are Reference Climate Stations (RCS) and were used by BOM and CSIRO in their State of the Climate Report released in March 2010.

What does it mean for our weather records?

These sites and trends are not used for analyzing Australia’s climate, but nonetheless, in some cities new records will be set that don’t really reflect what the raw data says, and while plenty of scientists don’t want to be seen talking about a single hot season (it’s weather, remember, not climate), there are plenty of other groups who issue press releases conflating a single season “heat wave” with carbon dioxide.

Ken sums up the problems
* The raw data and the adjusted data both show much less warming than the non-urban sites.

* Many of the sites show distinct cooling, especially in south east Australia.

* The data has been subjectively and manually adjusted.

* The methodology used is not uniformly followed, or else is not as described.

* Sites with poor comparative data have been included.

* Large quantities of data are not available, and have been filled in with estimates.

* The adjustments are not equally positive and negative, and have produced a major impact on the temperature record of many of the sites.

* The adjustments produce a trend in mean temperatures that is between roughly 0.3 degree Celsius and 0.38 degree Celsius per 100 years greater than the raw data does.

* The warming bias in the temperature trend is from 60% to 95% depending on the comparison method.

More HERE (See the original for links etc.)

The usual Leftist stupidity: Losing money by trying to save it

Pushing people out of a private system where they are paying part of the costs of their care into the public system where all costs will be paid by the taxpayer!

Pregnant mothers are paying about $30 more to visit an obstetrician after a cap on Medicare payments by the Gillard Government.

Many women with private health insurance are choosing to return to the public system because of increasing costs that have driven the price of private births up by $850.

A survey of 610 obstetric patients, obtained exclusively by The Daily Telegraph, found one in three said the change to the payments made private obstetric care unaffordable. Forty four per cent of the patients said they would now have to rely on the public hospital system.

The survey by the National Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found one in six women would consider delaying having a baby because of the higher charges.

NSW Health Minister Nicola Roxon moved to cap Medicare safety net payments for IVF treatments and for women who use private obstetricians in January after obstetricians doubled fees to take advantage of the scheme, that refunded 80 per cent of their charges. The 2009 budget measure was expected to save $193.7 million but was also expected to push up the price of an IVF cycle by $1500.

An investigation of Medicare data has found the average out-of-pocket cost of seeing an obstetrician leapt by $30.68 to $119.60 per visit in the year to June 30 2010 after the cap was introduced.

Sydney mother Katie Rigg, whose endometriosis meant she had to use a private obstetrician, received only $5000 from Medicare for the $11,000 she had to pay in IVF and obstetric fees. "I can't explain to you how angry it makes us, we'll have to think twice about having another child because we'll struggle to pay all these medical expenses," she said.

A survey of 72 obstetricians found almost two in three doctors have suffered a drop in private patients as a result of the change and some argue it was increasing pressure on the public hospital system.

National Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesman Dr Andrew Foote said doctors were losing about one fifth of their private patients due to the costs. Dr Foote agreed the previous uncapped Medicare safety net was unsustainable. However, he said the $500 cap was too low and the cap should be raised to $2000.


Liberal party to mount attack on broadband proposal

COMMUNICATIONS policy is about to become a battle of the heavyweights with Malcolm Turnbull appointed to take on Stephen Conroy.

Mr Turnbull, who reversed his decision to retire from politics earlier in the year, was today announced as the Coalition's new communications and broadband spokesman.

That means he will face off with Senator Conroy over the Government's plans for a national broadband network and internet censorship regime.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today said Mr Turnbull had "the technical expertise and the business experience to entirely demolish the Government on this issue".

The Coalition believes the broadband network is too costly and too risky for the Government to be able to deliver.

Mr Turnbull's job will be to prosecute that case and come up with a viable alternative using private investment — something which has so far failed to deliver a fast, national network.

Mr Turnbull was re-elected as the MP for Wentworth, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, at the August 21 federal election.


15 September, 2010

Another "Green" hit on the pocket of the Australian taxpayer

If the project below were commercially viable, it would not need government funding.

And the route makes no sense. Why send power underwater to Weipa? A route via Thursday Island and Cape York would require only a small fraction of the underwater cabling needed to send it to Weipa. And Weipa is a very small town unlikely to use much of the power itself. Weipa does of course have bauxite so the proposal might make some sense if an alumina smelter were envisaged there -- but you would hear Greenie shrieks from all sides if that were proposed

I guess an overland route via Cape York would involve more Aboriginal "land rights" issues but it would also allow the many towns -- including the city of Cairns -- between Cooktown and Townsville to be supplied. So this whole thing just reeks of crazy Leftist politics

Greenies hate dams anyway so that will probably knock the whole idea on the head

A massive hydro-electric plant in Papua New Guinea will supply power to Townsville via an underwater cable under a multi-billion dollar plan announced this morning. The plant would provide about three times the baseload power of a coal-fired power station.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh told parliament Origin Energy and PNG Energy Developments would sign a memorandum of understanding to work toward the green-energy project, which could connect to the north Queensland city by 2020.

The project would use a “running” dam of the Purari River in Papua New Guinea's highlands to generate electricity before transferring it through a pipeline and into the Australian national electricity grid.

Ms Bligh likened the project to the 1940s Snowy River Scheme. “This project would mean our vision for stronger, greener Queensland could take a giant leap forward,” she said. “This proposal could generate 1800MW of renewable baseload electricity travelling via undersea cable to Weipa and could potentially plug directly into Townsville as early as 2020.”

The Queensland government has yet to contribute funding for the project, which has been studied by Origin for two years. A feasibility study, including environmental, sociological and engineering, is expected to be finalised in 2012.

PNG would be able to use the additional baseload power to compete for industrial projects in their resource-rich country. “This project would provide PNG with a reliable source of power for villages and rural communities and transform the economic development prospects of western Papua New Guinea,” Ms Bligh said. “It is clear that this is an idea of national and international significance.

“Like any large project there are many hurdles and requirements to be met and many questions to be answered before it becomes a reality but this is a first step toward making Queensland the renewable energy star of Australia.”

The Queensland government will assist to identify the pipeline corridor and land tenure issues.


Grandad falsely accused of rape and incest

Another gross "child safety" bungle. And they refused to admit their error until the light of publicity was shone upon it -- again as per usual

THE Queensland Department of Child Safety has refused for 18 months to correct a file that falsely accused a man from Toowoomba of being a rapist who was jailed for fathering his own grandchild. The 64-year-old man was told by the department to prove he was not a rapist.

When he presented a certificate from the police service saying he did not have a criminal record and a DNA blood test showing he was not the father of his granddaughter, the department still refused to believe him. The man was banned from having contact with his nine-year-old granddaughter, and she was not allowed to stay with him and his wife for holidays, which she had done for the preceding eight years.

The grandfather repeatedly wrote to Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves, his local state MP and former attorney-general Kerry Shine, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman - all to no avail. When The Australian contacted Mr Reeves's office on Monday, it took just three hours to confirm the error and for a departmental officer to be ordered to contact the accused grandfather and apologise for the "inaccuracy recorded in the file". The file contained details of a criminal with an identical surname and first initial, according to department officials.

The accusation of being an incest rapist was discovered by the grandfather last year when he sought access to his file under Right to Information legislation. One document, from August last year, alleged the girl "was a product of rape and the father/grandfather is now currently in prison".

The grandfather yesterday told The Australian he was "shattered" when he read the document and immediately questioned it with department officers but was told the file would not be altered.

He pointed out the obvious: he could not be the person in the document because he was sitting opposite them, not in prison.

"Finally the DCS complaints officer told me that I had to prove I was not a rapist and had not fathered my grandchild," he said yesterday, breaking down in tears. "So I asked the police to detail my criminal history - there was no history of crime - and my wife and I sold our caravan to get the $800 to pay for a DNA test which showed I was not the father of my granddaughter."

"Yet despite having this evidence before them, until your newspaper contacted minister Reeves, nobody would do anything, and we were warned about going to the media."

The nightmare began when the grandfather sought kinship carer status for his daughter's two children. She had difficulty looking after them because she was the victim of domestic violence from a drug-addicted husband who is in prison for stealing. The application by the grandparents was refused, with no reason given. Instead the two children were put in foster care for several months until their mother was again able to cope.

The mother of the children yesterday told The Australian it was "abhorrent" to accuse her hard-working father of rape. "What this department has done to my parents is indescribable," the mother said.

Yesterday Toowoomba police held the grandfather in the watchhouse for 30 minutes after saying they had received a complaint from his DCS case officer, Nicole Steele, alleging that he had threatened her in a telephone conversation with other staff. "I made no threats and I refused to give a statement, so they let me go," the grandfather said.

"The apology given to me by the department meant nothing. Why didn't it come a year ago - and what about all the money it has cost me in telephone calls and running around. The least they could do is refund the $800 it cost for the DNA test."

A statement released yesterday, said Department of Communities acting director-general Bette Kill "has apologised to the person in this case for an inaccuracy recorded in his file". "The department will undertake a review of the file and confidential information handling procedures to ensure an issue such as this does not happen again," the statement said.


Greenie insanity over fruit-bat invasion of school

There are millions of these creatures so there is no way that they are "endangered" -- and what is wrong with chasing them away?

Fed-up teachers at a northern NSW school claim they are being told to stop ringing the school bell, not hold sport days and plan different class times so they do not upset an influx of 20,000 flying foxes.

Staff at Maclean High School say their school has been taken over by the noisy animals and are so upset that they plan to hold a stop-work meeting on Friday. They say bat droppings, which students then spread throughout classrooms, have made the school a health and safety risk.

Maclean High teacher and NSW Teachers Federation representative John Ambrose said the foul smell and screeching by the bats forced teachers to close windows - making classrooms "unbearable" and learning difficult.

"The kids are put off ... and the smell is just repulsive," he said. "The smell is, particularly in wet weather, just foul and the car park and carpets are just splattered with droppings and, let me tell you, they are not steam cleaned every day; they are cleaned once a year."

But attempts to move the bats have so far been unsuccessful. The NSW Department of Education, which removed bats 10 years ago, needs a licence and federal government approval to remove them.

Mr Ambrose said the federal government had since spent about $30,000 to form a committee [How useless can you get?] to advise the school on how to approach the problem.

He said the initial recommendations, which are yet to be formally accepted, tell the school "to work around the bats". "They want us to timetable our classes differently, they don't want us to do sporting events, they don't want us to ring our bell, they want us to minimise our voices so we don't disturb the bats," he said.

"And I understand all DET [Department of Education and Training] can do, and they have been great, is put a sprinkler in a tree. "But this is the health and wellbeing of students at risk here." He said students previously walked out of classrooms in a stop-work organised by the school's parent committee.

An Education Department spokesman said it was "working hard to resolve the flying foxes issue". "We have installed air-conditioners in classrooms and built covered walkways to help protect students and staff," he said.

"We have made application to the state and Commonwealth agencies for the further removal of some trees and tree limbs which could harbour flying foxes near the school. We are awaiting the outcome of this application. "The department has been advised of the potential for a stop-work meeting. However, this is yet to be confirmed by staff at the school. We have not been formally advised of a stop-work meeting."


Judge blocks 14-year-old girl's arranged marriage

A 14-YEAR-old girl has been banned from leaving Australia and has had to surrender her passport to save her from an arranged marriage. Just days before the girl's father planned to whisk her overseas to marry a man she has never met, the Family Court ordered she must stay.

The Melbourne teenager is one of a number of Australian girls forced into arranged marriages overseas each year. Her plight came to light when child protection officers received a report in June that the then-13-year-old had been taken out of school ahead of her intended marriage. In a landmark decision published on Monday, the Family Court barred the girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, from travelling abroad until she turns 18.

Federal Police were ordered to place the girl's name alongside the names of accused serious criminals and tax cheats on the official Watch List at departure points around the nation.

Her family, who are believed to be Muslims from the former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia, has had to surrender the girl's passport and cannot apply for a new one.

According to court documents, the girl had been interviewed by two child protection workers at her home while her parents were at work. One of the officers said the girl told them she had been engaged for a month to a 17-year-old boy from another country but did not know what she felt about marrying him because she had never met him and had only ever seen a photograph of him.

The officer said he formed the opinion the girl had not considered the prospect of having sex with her new husband or the possibility of being abused. He said the girl indicated she had not discussed her feelings with her parents and did not know her mother's opinion of the marriage.

"It is my belief that it would not be in [the child's] best interests to travel . . . to be married as she is a child and she does not appear to understand the consequences of marriage," the officer's affidavit concluded. "Furthermore she would be deprived of a school education and she may be at risk of sexual exploitation and emotional harm."

Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Sherene Hassan said arranged child marriages were a perverse practice not mandated by Islam. "According to Islamic law a woman must give her consent to marriage without any form of collusion," she said yesterday. "Sadly there are some Muslims that fail to discern [the difference] between culture and religion."


Union claims public hospitals often on 'ambulance bypass'

The union representing ambulance officers says all Brisbane hospitals have been on "bypass" for the last two Mondays. The Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU) says some patients are waiting up to six hours for treatment, in the back of an ambulance or in a hospital corridor.

LHMU spokesman John Webb says the union has been raising the "ramping issue" with the State Government for 18 months but the situation seems to be getting worse. "The issue used to come to light more so over the weekend period with regards to ramping and hospitals going on bypass or re-direction," he said.

"However the last two Mondays reports coming in from our membership are clearly showing the first thing Monday morning there's just no hospitals to take patients to in the Brisbane area."

Opposition Health Spokesman Mark McArdle has told Parliament nine public hospitals servicing the south were on bypass or at extreme capacity yesterday afternoon. "How many patients were languishing in the back of ambulance vehicles and for how long as a result of Queensland hospitals again reaching breaking point?" he said.

Health Minister Paul Lucas says it is not just a resourcing issue.

"There are far too many presentations to hospital emergency departments," he said. He says people with less serious complaints should go to GPs.

Mr Lucas says treatment times for category one emergency patients arriving at hospital are within the national benchmark of one minute. He has told State Parliament that Queensland ambulance response times are still among the best in Australia.

"So Mr Speaker where would you like to be?" he said. "You would like to be in the care of one of the fastest arriving ambulances with a top value paramedic going to a hospital that provides great service. "And all that happens in Queensland Mr Speaker."


14 September, 2010

Oakeshott: An experienced liar

There were six people in the room. Morris Iemma was there with his top advisers to meet Rob Oakeshott and his key staffer. It was 2007; Iemma was premier of NSW, Oakeshott was an independent state MP. Oakeshott had a list of requests. One was that he be considered for an appointment as a minister in the Iemma Labor government.

Iemma did not dismiss the request. Before deflecting the matter, he consulted several senior ministers, including the treasurer, Michael Costa. News of Oakeshott's amenability also went back to Labor headquarters in Sussex Street, where Mark Arbib was running the state. This is the meeting Oakeshott says he does not remember.

Costa remembered it vividly last Tuesday when Oakeshott mentioned, during his soliloquy about where he was going to cast the deciding vote in the 2010 election, that he had been offered a ministry by Julia Gillard and would consider the offer.

Costa, a fiery character, started talking. Word of the 2007 meeting made it into the media. Oakeshott was asked about it the next day. He responded by telling one reporter the story was "Bullshit". He attributed it to "faceless men" of the Labor machine.

But there were no faceless men. There was Iemma, who not only confirmed to this column that Oakeshott had offered himself as a minister, but also provided details of the meeting. He recalled Oakeshott saying he may resign his seat, returning it to the Nationals. Costa supports Iemma's recollections, and Costa is the opposite of faceless.

On Friday, at a press conference, when Oakeshott was confronted with the reality that the story of his request for a ministry was coming from senior people speaking on-the-record, his response was: "I don't have any recollection of any conversation."

This is not good. This is not credible. When the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made an offer of a ministry to Oakeshott, she did so in the context he had been previously amenable to such an arrangement.

By the time he made his announcement on Friday he had no choice but to refuse, because the offer was not just a fundamental compromise of his independence, and not just an affront to the anti-Labor landslide his electorate has just delivered the previous week, but he had just been exposed as having prior form when it came to such footsie with Labor.

In fact, the entire edifice of political innocence that Oakeshott has carefully built around himself is not credible. This self-created mythology reached its climax last Tuesday, during his dance of the seven veils, before revealing his final, crucial vote.

Oakeshott has never been an outsider, or a political innocent. He grew up on Sydney's north shore, where his father was a prominent doctor, and he attended Barker College. While still a student he went to work for the federal Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, who told me last week: "Oakeshott did work experience with me in my electorate office. It was unpaid work. He was a student. It was well before he went to work for Mark Vaile."

After graduating from the University of Sydney (honours in government), Oakeshott worked briefly at the Road Transport Forum before becoming a staffer for Vaile, the newly elected National Party federal MP for Lyne.

Three years later, after the Coalition took power in Canberra, he went to work for the Coalition's public relations operation in Canberra. Later that year his connections with Vaile were leveraged into National Party preselection for the safe state seat of Port Macquarie, which sits within Vaile's federal seat of Lyne. Oakeshott was just 26.

Six years later, in 2002, he split with the Nationals to become an independent, a decision vindicated when he thumped the National Party's candidate in the 2003 election. Just as he had first entered Parliament via a byelection in 1996, he entered Federal Parliament via a byelection in 2008 when Vaile departed early after the Coalition lost government. Oakeshott rode a voter backlash to an easy victory.

Last month, he was re-elected with a commanding majority. But Lyne also delivered an emphatic anti-Labor vote. In the House vote, the combined primary votes of the ALP and the Greens was just 17.2 per cent. This crushing anti-Labor vote was replicated in the Senate vote in Lyne, where the Coalition won 45.75 per cent of the primary vote to Labor's 30.3 per cent. The conservative parties' combined Senate vote was 53.7 per cent, to the Labor/Greens's 38.5 per cent. The anti-Labor/Greens vote in Lyne was the second biggest in the country.

When Oakeshott negotiated with the major parties after the deadlocked election as one of the three rural independents holding the balance of power, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, proposed a permanent $1 billion-a-year increase in regional infrastructure spending. It was an offer both much larger and with less contingencies than Labor's counter-offer.

From all this, Oakeshott conjured for himself a mandate to create a Labor-Greens government. It is exactly what his electorate had just rejected. Oakeshott then stage-managed his vote as the climactic vote, delivering a speech presenting himself, like Jimmy Stewart in the classic, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, as the loveable cleanskin who took on the machine and won. But Oakeshott was actually delivering power to the ultimate machinists.

That was six days ago. It seems longer. It must seem so to Oakeshott, who has discovered that the media world beyond the adoring Port Macquarie News is a very different place, a place where Oakeshott has become Potshott.

He has spent nearly 20 years working towards this moment, his time in the national sun. But with the glow comes the heat.


Victorian public health system "dire"

MORE than 1000 Victorian patients a day are unhappy with their treatment in the state's hospitals, the system's latest annual report card shows. The last Your Hospitals report card ahead of the November state election shows more than 250,000 emergency department patients were not treated on time in the past year - an increase on four years ago. Almost 90,000 Victorians were left on trolleys in emergency departments for more than eight hours.

The state's top hospitals failed to meet five out of nine key performance targets - worse than last year's performance. The worst-performing hospitals were in Melbourne's western suburbs, with Sunshine Hospital rated the least popular. Almost half of patients were not admitted to a hospital bed within the required period.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said this was a "fail" for the Brumby Government, with almost 25 per cent of patients "dissatisfied" with their hospital treatment.

The Australian Medical Association warns the Victorian health system is going backwards and patients are waiting longer for access to basic medical care because of an acute shortage of beds to meet Victoria's growing population.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews admitted improvements were needed across parts of the system. "We want to provide better outcomes," he said. "More money will mean more patients get treated quickly. We always need to look for ways to improve and to do better."

THE median waiting time for orthopaedic surgery is 76 days.

Rye pensioner Alison Watson, who was left on an emergency bed in the corridors of Frankston Hospital for two days, said the system was a shambles. Despite being told in March she urgently needed an operation, Frankston Hospital has cancelled her hip replacement surgery three times in the past four months.

"I'm in pain 24 hours a day," Ms Watson said. "And to have three dates ripped away from me is also hurting my mental health. The health system is not working."

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley warns there are dire problems at hospitals in the western suburbs and Dandenong. "We have seen a steady increase in the number of Victorians being let down by our public hospitals," he said.


Useless police again

The neighbour of a woman bashed to death in her Adelaide Hills home by a mystery intruder believes she called the police for help 16 hours before her body was found.

Retired nurse Pirjo Kemppainen moved from Finland 15 years ago for a quiet life in the village of Callington, near Mt Barker near Adelaide. Now she is dead, the victim of an apparently motiveless murder that has shocked the community.

Her killer or killers remained on the loose last night, and police and State Emergency Service volunteers will today continue scouring the area for clues. It is not known if a weapon was used in the murder.

A neighbour told The Advertiser he believed 63-year-old Ms Kemppainen, a retired nurse who lived alone, had called police at about 12.30am Saturday after hearing noises in her yard. Her battered body was found by her brother at 5pm.

When asked if the murder victim had made a call for help, Major Crime Detective Acting Superintendent Denise Gray said she would not comment.

Forensic investigators yesterday removed a ramp leading to Ms Kemppainen's back door, which had been smashed above the handle. Investigators paid particular attention to a section of wire fence at the front of her property, which was damaged and bent. The fence runs adjacent to a public walkway that follows the Bremer River and is frequently used as a shortcut for locals walking home from the Dog 'n' Ute Callington Hotel.

Distraught relatives told The Advertiser Ms Kemppainen was a defenceless woman who could have lain injured for hours before dying. "We found out late this morning that she'd been brutally bashed by somebody," relative Kylie Kemppainen said. "I don't know how long she was left there, whether they bashed her to death or whether they just left her to die on her own."



Three articles below

NSW High School students think their education is irrelevant

HSC students in New South Wales have slammed the English curriculum, saying it isn't relevant to their lives and should no longer be compulsory. They want the course to give more emphasis to grammar and spelling and help prepare them for their working life.

Pupils who sat last year's HSC complained to the Board of Studies about the advanced English test and also the maths exams, saying they were too difficult.

About one in six students surveyed after last year's HSC said the exams were not a fair test and 18 per cent believed there were too many assessment tasks. An exit poll of 3300 students found the number who believed the HSC exams were a fair test fell three percentage points on 2008 to 69 per cent.

This year's HSC candidates said teachers were thoroughly preparing them for the exams but even the highest level English courses could be made more relevant to their future working lives.

Daniel Taha, of Delany College at Granville in Sydney's west, who will sit the exam this year, said he had difficulty in understanding the relevance of some texts to life. "There isn't an emphasis on grammar," Daniel, 17, said. "There's a big focus on content and so many students can end up losing the fundamentals.

"My teachers are really good at revising those fundamentals and also seeing that we are using vocabulary relevant to the advanced course." His classmate Marian Prasad, 17, also questioned the relevance of some material in English Advanced, and said it was more beneficial to students intending to study literature at tertiary level. "I would like to see more on communication so that we can be articulate in the workplace," she said.

The poll results reveal students' feelings about the strengths and weaknesses of the HSC as about 70,000 prepare to sit their final school exams next month.

Complaints were received about the Studies of Religion paper which had to be stopped for an hour at one school over concerns it contained questions not based on the syllabus. Two-thirds of the students who sat the exam later said it had not been a fair test.

Some students at a Sydney school began crying over an unexpected question they believed had not been covered during their course of study. Officials ordered a break of an hour while the students composed themselves. After the exam, 100 complaints were made to the Board of Studies.

A report prepared by the board after the exit survey said about 480 students made "generally positive" comments about their HSC experience, while 160 were negative. Less than half of the candidates said the Mathematics paper was a fair test.


Mass exodus of experienced teachers in South Australia

And probably similar elsewhere. Schools today are a much less pleasant working environment than they once were

NEARLY a third of the state's public school teachers aged 45-plus will retire within five years, raising concerns schools will face grave staff shortages, particularly in country areas.

The University of Adelaide's Career Intentions Survey of more than 3000 public teachers aged 45 and over, found high schools would be hardest hit. Nearly 38 per cent of secondary teachers who responded to the survey said they planned to leave by 2015. The teachers union said serious staff shortages in rural areas already existed and that extensive recruitment programs needed to be put in place to keep teaching graduates from leaving the state.

The 2010 annual report by the Teachers Registration Board found there are 15,948 registered teachers aged 45-60, however, not all may be in teaching positions. The national average retirement age of teachers is 58.

Australian Education Union SA branch vice president David Smith said the large number of retiring teachers would add to the severe relief teacher shortages in regional areas such as Port Augusta and in subject specialist roles such as maths, science and technology.

Mr Smith cited the changes to the South Australian Certificate of Education and the national curriculum as a contributor to older educators wanting to leave the workforce early.

An AEU survey last week showed 84 per cent of educators believed the new SACE reforms would cause "excessive workloads". The report by the university's Australian Institute of Social Research also found:

MORE than half of the teachers aged over 55 intend to retire within five years.

RETIREMENT of preschool teachers and junior primary teachers is expected to peak in ten years.

TWO-THIRDS indicated an interest in casual employment after retirement.

There are 311 full time teaching students who started full-time studies this year at the University of Adelaide, 2807 full-time teaching students at UniSA and 612 at Flinders.

Education Minister Jay Weatherill said the department's teacher recruitment strategy, which was announced last month, was aimed at attracting enthusiastic young people into the profession.


A great Australian asset: East Asians

Australia gives them the opportunity to realize their potential.

The claim below that the students concerned do well because they are "middle class" may have some truth but not much. The Vietnamese in particular are the children of desperate "boat people" refugees from Communist terror

The best performing school in the state, James Ruse Agricultural High School, is also the selective school with the most students from a migrant background. New figures obtained under freedom of information laws show that 95.2 per cent of students list a language background other than English in their entry application. Only 41 students from an English-speaking background are studying at the school - an average of seven in each year.

Children of migrants fill almost 80 per cent of the places offered at the state's top 10 selective high schools, which are all ranked in the top 20 HSC performers. On average only 20 per cent (or 320 students each year) are from an English-speaking background.

The dominant cultural group is Chinese, with the most applicants and the highest success rate in the entry test. Last year, 2361 applicants were from a Chinese background and 1242 were successful.

The second most represented group was Vietnamese followed by Korean. In total, 3912 students were awarded a selective school place last year, with 5516 applicants from a non-English speaking background - 42 per cent (1828) of whom were successful.

The co-director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University, Bob Birrell, said the successful students largely represented middle- to upper-middle-class families from Asia who put a heavy emphasis on education and professional achievement.

He said selective schools were not providing assistance to the vast majority of families. "In NSW we are entrenching advantage within one particular ethnic group. If the NSW government was serious about equal opportunity, it would put some geographical boundaries to ensure better access to [top] schools."

A specialist in schools systems from the University of Melbourne, Richard Teese, said that the pooling of high achievers in selective and private school systems had raised the performance bar beyond the reach of students in mainstream schools. "When you pool resources like that you multiply their impact and you give the students who have access to that distinctive advantages over everybody else," Professor Teese said.

"You are setting up a situation in which you [create] extremes of advantage and extremes of disadvantage. If you took those students out of those hot-house environments they would still do well. But by combining their resources you multiply their advantage. It is a zero-sum game: some win, but others must lose."


13 September, 2010

New government might be more stable than it looks

Despite the initial onslaught from angered Coalition members that the government - propped up by a Green and three independents - was illegitimate, defied commonsense and was even corrupt, a key point has been ignored.

The new government is a coalition of self-interest - and never bet against self-interest. For it to collapse, one of Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott or the Greens' Adam Bandt will have to abandon it and presumably force another election.

This, one would assume, would produce a return to normal with a majority government. The four minor players would have dealt themselves back into irrelevancy.

This point has not been lost inside Labor. After all the shooting stopped last week, there was relief Bob Katter was not part of the equation. Of all the independents, he was the most unpredictable and would have been the hardest to accommodate.

The other four have their differences, but all agree in principle to a carbon tax and a profits-based tax on mining, the two most contentious policy issues on the horizon for the next three years. Katter opposes both these measures.

Nor is the point lost on the minor players. The opposition and other detractors are hoping for the Greens to blow the show up with their "extreme" policy agenda. Yet the Greens leader, Bob Brown, and his deputy, Christine Milne, are proving a lot more savvy than they have been given credit for.

When they signed the deal with Labor the week before last, it was deliberately devoid of any contentious policy ideas. Even Abbott said he would have accommodated 99 per cent of its demands.

Milne said afterwards that the Greens and Labor alone do not constitute a majority in the lower house. Everything the Greens suggest has to bear that in mind.

Last week, Brown admitted he did not push for a ministry because it would have been fuel for a Greens-Labor axis-of-evil scare campaign to exert pressure on the independents yet to make up their minds. At the same press conference, journalists tried to get Brown to say he would push for death duties, which are official Greens policy. Given neither the government nor the opposition would ever countenance such a proposal, Brown said "the answer is no".

The new arrangement, yet to be tested, has the potential to be a slow, plodding beast, but whether it collapses rests with the players, none off whom have an interest in allowing that to happen. Abbott should bear that in mind as he mulls his frontbench options this week.


Amazing: Kevin Rudd to run East Timor immigration "solution"

JULIA Gillard will make Kevin Rudd deliver her asylum seeker solution just months after cutting him down because his own border protection policies had failed.

The Prime Minister yesterday insisted she would call the shots on foreign policy and her new minister would have to work closely with her on international diplomacy.

Mr Rudd was appointed Foreign Minister on Saturday and the Prime Minister said one of his tasks would be to help implement her plan for a processing centre for asylum seekers in East Timor.

"It will be part of Kevin Rudd's job, of course, working with the new Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, to further the Government's policy of having a regional framework and a regional processing centre," she told the ABC.

Ms Gillard cited border protection as one of the problem areas when she toppled Mr Rudd in June, saying the Government had "lost its way" under his leadership.

Hours before he was deposed, Mr Rudd warned Labor against "lurching to the right on the issue of asylum seekers". However, the Prime Minister said Mr Rudd backed her new tack, which would involve setting up an offshore processing centre in East Timor.

"I think Kevin Rudd, like me, understands that it is not in the interests of asylum seekers to risk their lives at sea and get on a boat," she said. "It's not in the interests of this nation to have unauthorised arrivals by sea. We don't want to see people pay people smugglers."

The man he deposed as prime minister in 2007 said Mr Rudd deserved time to settle in the job. Speaking from New York, where he attended a ceremony marking the anniversary of September 11, Mr Howard said: "We'll wait and see how he goes. I always judge people on their performance, and it's too early to say."

Mr Rudd took to Twitter to thank supporters for their good wishes and posted that he was: "Really looking forward to role as Foreign Minister. Lots of work to do."

Ms Gillard said Mr Rudd, a former diplomat and Labor's former opposition foreign affairs spokesman, would not run the portfolio on his own and it would be run by the Government "as a team". "We will work as a team," she said. "There will be involvement by the Cabinet. "Ultimately, of course, I'm the leader."

Labor's former foreign affairs minister, Stephen Smith,stood aside to make way for Mr Rudd.

Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has claimed the rolled PM would be ineffective because of his strained relationship with Ms Gillard, who ousted him in July.


Australia's coal industry is safe, insists new Climate Change Minister Greg Combet

Putting a miners' representative in charge of the environment is amusing -- and very telling

THE nation's new Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, has vowed to bring "common sense" to the climate change debate, warning that he will fight for coal industry jobs as he pursues a price on carbon.

The former union leader has predicted the coal industry "absolutely" has a future as he pursues his three key policy reform objectives: pursuing renewable energy; energy efficiency; and the development of a carbon price for Australia.

Insisting the Climate Change portfolio was an economic reform challenge, he said: "You don't take the back of the axe to the fundamentals of the Australian economy."

Julia Gillard yesterday moved to stamp her authority on her new government after elevating her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, to the senior portfolio of Foreign Affairs and shifting Stephen Smith to Defence. With 42 ministers and parliamentary secretaries, the front bench and junior ministry now outnumber Labor's own back bench.

Among the biggest winners were senator Penny Wong, who was shifted from Climate Change to the important Finance portfolio, and Peter Garrett, who takes up the Schools portfolio, despite the insulation scheme debacle happening on his watch as environment minister. Mr Combet's new role puts him in cabinet for the first time.

As part of its deal to secure government, Labor signed a formal alliance with the Greens, whose policies include the eventual phasing out of the coal industry, Australia's biggest export earner. But in an interview with The Australian, Mr Combet said his background as a former coal engineer, union official and MP with coal workers in his NSW electorate meant he did not believe his job was to shut down the coal industry. "I don't agree with that. That's not part of my job at all," he said.

"I am acutely aware of the challenges that this policy presents. But people jump to these absolute positions, and I just don't think that's appropriate. "I've got a responsibility to support those people's jobs. The coal industry is a very vibrant industry with a strong future. What you've got to do is look to how we can achieve in the longer term things like carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power stations."

Greens leader Bob Brown has described Australia as being like a heroin addict "feeding the habit" of the world's reliance on coal. The party's stated policy is to oppose development of any new coalmines or the expansion of existing coalmines and to phase out all existing coal subsidies. It wants to work towards stopping the development and granting of export licences for all new coalmines.

But in a statement last night, Greens senator Christine Milne, who has the party's portfolio responsibility for climate change, said she did not intend to rehash the policy differences with Labor as she sought to build "trust" with the new Gillard government.

"I have put in a call to Greg Combet to congratulate him and begin the exciting conversation," she said.

"In the meantime, I hope we can all respect the delicate process of building trust between people coming from different policy positions so we can achieve the best outcomes possible for the climate."

Mr Combet said his job as minister was to build a stronger, deeper consensus on climate change issues, including election campaign policies to develop efficiency standards.

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister vowed to ban new coal-fired power stations that use "dirty" technology and require that any power station built can be retro-fitted with developing clean-coal technology.

But yesterday, Mr Combet said he was not in the business of applying the adjective "dirty" to coal.


Child killer Derek Percy paid $20,000 a year while in jail

Another bureaucracy careless with the people's money

DERANGED child killer Derek Percy has continued to be paid up to $20,000 a year in taxpayer-funded benefits despite federal authorities promising to end the rort years ago. For the past 41 years, Percy – an accused serial killer known as "The Spook" – has been given payments, contributed to by taxpayers and administered by government, because he was in the Royal Australian Navy at the time of his arrest and was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Percy, who turns 62 next Wednesday and is Victoria's longest serving prisoner, served less than 20 months in the navy. But he is believed to have since amassed a small fortune estimated between $220,000 and $300,000 courtesy of money from the federal agency ComSuper. He has invested his government super – ranging from $5200 a year to now up to $20,000 – into cash deposits, gold investments and even a precious stamp collection.

But pressure is mounting for the funds to be stopped and stripped from the sadistic killer. Former Victoria Police inspector Tim Attrill is among those demanding the cash cease and assets and accounts accrued by Percy be seized.

Percy, who was jailed in 1969 for the horrific sex killing of Victorian schoolgirl Yvonne Tuohy, is suspected of involvement in eight other child abductions and murders. They include the Beaumont children in South Australia and Simon Brook's slaying in Glebe, Sydney.

He was an RAN member at the time of the Tuohy killing but because he was not convicted on the basis of being found insane, he was medically discharged from the armed forces in 1970 with payments of 60 per cent of his wage, which is indexed each year.

David Southwell, a veteran who served alongside Percy, said the killer would be now receiving 60 per cent of a recruit's current wage of $34,000 – meaning about $20,000. But Mr Southwell said Percy's claimed mental disorder existed before his enlistment in the navy and therefore Percy was not entitled to the medical benefits. "It should be cancelled immediately – there are plenty of other veterans who have to fight tooth and nail to get anything at all", Mr Southwell said.

In April 2007, then-Veterans Affairs minister Bruce Billson promised to investigate the payments to Percy. "This example troubles me greatly ... I am also seeking advice whether there is grounds for recovering what's been paid out," Mr Billson said at the time. But the Coalition government lost power later that year and the money has continued to flow.

ComSuper refused to comment on what it was paying Percy. "In regards to your inquiry regarding Mr Percy, ComSuper cannot comment on individual member's details," spokeswoman Danni Woods said.

Percy's navy service record "blue card", now held by the National Archives, also appears to have been altered to state his service continued from 25/11/1967 to 24/11/1976 – listing his engagement as nine years.

This is despite clear reference on the same personnel record that Percy was in the navy for just two years before being charged with the 1969 Tuohy murder and he remained in jail from that year on.

In a bizarre parallel, Former inspector Attrill also served alongside Percy in the navy in the electrical mechanics section on HMAS Queenborough and was brought into the police's cold case unit to help continuing investigations into Percy in the mid-2000s.

During his navy days, Mr Attrill remembers Percy as odd, extremely detached and fixated on carrying knives in his scabbard – an obsession he believes was reflected in later knife mutilation killings linked to Percy. "Back then I would describe him as cold, aloof and withdrawn, on reflection years later I would consider him asexual and emotionless," Mr Attrill said.

Mr Attrill said for Percy to receive the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme payments, the precursor to ComSuper, he would need to have suffered a mental or physical injury because of his military service.

"On the pension issue – Percy is highly suspected of the Wanda Beach murders and the murder of Allen Redston in 1966, prior to joining the navy," Mr Attrill said. "The investigation into him, conducted by the Victoria Police cold case unit revealed incidents of child molestation and severe and alarming character traits from adolescence.

"Percy did not suddenly become affected by some experience whilst in the navy, (but) in fact entered the service with all the sadistic and murderous leanings which would later come to light. "An argument could be used to prove, on the balance of probability, that he in fact had a pre-existing condition which thus should absolve the DFRDB from pension liability."


Absurd submarine plans could be scuttled

They haven't even got the last lot working yet. Only one out of six is at present seaworthy

THE new defence minister will come under pressure to scrap Australia's most expensive defence project - the plan to build 12 new submarines at a potential cost of $36 billion.

Defence sources have told the Herald that the change in the leadership of the Labor Party and the new government's reliance on the Greens and independents have given some people within Defence hope that the controversial submarine plan could be sunk and replaced with a more modest version.

The sources say there is likely to be a stringent review of the most recent defence white paper - in which the submarine plan was announced - and a new white paper could be drawn up ahead of schedule.

The plan to build 12 submarines is widely considered to have been the baby of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, to the extent that some with the Defence community refer to them as "Rudd's subs".

There were initial suggestions that Mr Rudd might be given the defence portfolio in the imminent reshuffle, but he is now almost certain to be the next foreign minister, which would remove one potential obstacle to the ditching of the submarine plan.

"One of the big issues for whoever ends up as defence minister in the Gillard government is going to be whether to write a new defence white paper, and if so, how soon. The 2009 white paper did leave a lot of big questions unanswered, and it did commit a lot of funds to some very big capabilities without adequate strategic argument," said Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University.

The independent MP Andrew Wilkie, a former army lieutenant-colonel and intelligence analyst who gave his support to Labor to form government, said he would need to study the case for the submarines in detail before commenting on whether he believed they were affordable. But he said he fully supported a review of the white paper.

"There does need to be a fresh look at the white paper; there are clearly question marks over the document. For example, we can't even crew the submarines we've got, so it is arguable that we can double the fleet from the current six Collins class submarines."

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said his party did not have a concrete position on the submarines, but is keen to see large projects reviewed as soon as a new defence minister was appointed.

"There are clearly differing opinions as to whether those projects are the best way to spend the defence dollar. It's a matter of real public interest," Senator Brown said. "I think this will be a matter for the whole of Parliament to discuss, including the opposition."

Sources say there is a growing belief within the defence force - including the navy - that the money could be better spent.

The 2009 white paper was heavily criticised for focusing on large defence projects - particularly ships and submarines - but without an accompanying clear explanation of why they were needed and how they would be paid for.

"Nowhere in this white paper are we told how particular numbers of submarines, surface ships or fighter aircraft have been determined," the defence expert Paul Dibb said after the paper's release. "This leaves us with a highly unsatisfactory picture about why we need to have what some are touting as the largest expansion of the Australian Defence Force since World War II."


12 September, 2010

Big fall in migrant arrivals - 32 per cent fall in the past year

This is a misleading report. The fall is off an initial high level. The numbers are still around twice what they were under Howard

AUSTRALIA is heading towards recording its biggest drop in immigration numbers in 90 years. Although official data will not be published until next month by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, analysis of long-term entrant figures - an advance indicator of official migration levels - show a 32 per cent fall in the past year.

Demographic experts Macroplan Australia said the number of long-term and permanent entrants - including permanent settlers, students and temporary workers - fell by 111,000 people, from 341,000 to 230,000 in the 12 months to July 31.

"The fall is the greatest since just after the First World War, when arrivals were boosted to record numbers of returning soldiers," said Robert Hall of Macroplan. "The following year, numbers obviously subsided back to normal levels." That aside, the decline in the 12 months is the largest since 1901.

"If there is only a small change in overseas arrivals then you should not take much notice, but if there is a big difference drop then you would expect that to filter through to our official migration figures," said Neil Scott, assistant director at the ABS.

Immigration was a hot issue in the federal election, with the Coalition promising to cut net migration to 170,000 each year, a figure Labor said would be achieved anyway through a natural decline from the high numbers recorded before the GFC.

The Intergenerational Report, produced by the Treasury, has assumed average annual migration of 180,000 from 2012 onwards, but Labor has been careful not to enshrine this figure as a target.

Macroplan said for net migration to fall below 200,000, the government would have to introduce a variety of new restrictions on migration quotas and visa restrictions.

It says the fall in arrivals in the past year was due to a combination of factors including the GFC, government policy reducing the number of visas available, and reports of racist violence against Indian students.

Robert Hall said a drastic cut in immigration would be disastrous. "Over the past 20 years our economic growth has been 3.4 per cent a year, but if migration falls to the Government's target of 180,000 a year, it would fall to 2.7 per cent - meaning a big drop in our standard of living," he said.


Visa win for HIV refugee

Why is Australia rewarding fraud and lawbreaking?

AN HIV-positive African woman who masqueraded as someone else to enter Australia on a refugee visa has been allowed to stay in the country. A Family Court judge has expressed concern that treatment for the woman, given the name of Ms Freye in court documents, would probably cost taxpayers $250,000.

Despite police being told she had falsely claimed to be the wife of a male refugee already in Australia, the department had not revoked her visa, the Family Court in Brisbane heard. Ms Freye had also won custody of the other refugee's children, while their mother remains in Africa.

Details of the woman's entry were made public by Family Court Justice Virginia Bell in a custody decision delivered in Brisbane on August 20.

The male refugee, called Mr Goombe in the court decision, came to Australia in 2005 with three of his five children, as well as Ms Freye's daughter. Mr Goombe claimed he sent money to his wife for care of his two other children in an African refugee camp and applied for humanitarian visas for them.

In 2008 Mr Goombe was told his wife and children had arrived in Australia, but said he was shocked to meet Ms Freye instead of his wife. He told police that she had fraudulently posed as his wife, but they took no action, the court heard.

Ms Freye claimed she was welcomed into Mr Goombe's home, but after he made untoward advances she left, although she returned each day while he was at work to look after the children.

In his decision over who would have custody of the children, Justice Bell expressed concern about the circumstances surrounding Ms Freye's entry. "May I say that the thing that concerns me is, notwithstanding that Ms Freye came into Australia by way of masquerade, she was HIV positive at the time of the application for a visa," Justice Bell said.

"It was indicated to the Immigration Department that in fact this woman would, in all probability, cost the taxpayers of Australia some $250,000 because of the necessity of treatments. "To me this is quite staggering . . . that the Immigration Department allowed this woman to proceed.

"I have been informed that there is little likelihood of her visa being withdrawn, notwithstanding the fact the Immigration Department is now aware that she was not the person she was purported to be and was aware that in fact she was suffering from AIDS."

An Immigration spokesman said Australian law did not prevent a visa being granted to a person with HIV. [That's not the point]


The DLP is back!

The old nemesis of the ALP

IT WAS 90 seconds before emotion got the better of John Madigan. In a factory kitchen in northern Melbourne on Friday, his children Jack and Lucy were startled when, mid-speech, their father broke down, overwhelmed by his improbable victory.

The Ballarat blacksmith, the Democratic Labor Party candidate in the Senate race, had called a news conference to announce he was set to become Victoria's most unlikely new senator - the winner in a tight, three-way contest between fellow conservatives and anti-abortionists Family First senator Steve Fielding and Liberal senator Julian McGauran.

Twice Madigan, 44, broke down during his speech, and little wonder. Here was a father-of-two whose hands are stained by the black of his trade. A man who, in a weatherboard shed in Hepburn Springs, sweats over a forge and bends pieces of hot metal to his will. Now a space waits for him on the Senate's red leather in Canberra.

Despite few witnessing this speech - The Sunday Age was the only media outlet to make the trip to the copper manufacturer in the Campbellfield industrial estate - it was yet another bizarre moment in a remarkable election. If, as expected, Madigan's win is officially confirmed this week, he will be the first DLP senator elected in 40 years.

Like Fielding, Madigan will be a socially conservative presence in the Senate, but a much less relevant one. From next July, the Greens will hold the balance of power and legislation will not depend on Madigan or independent Nick Xenophon.

But for many of its opponents, the DLP is the party that simply will not die. With a socially conservative, pro-worker, anti-abortion, anti-communist agenda, the party split from Labor in the 1950s and seemed to peter out after the 1974 election, when its balance-of-power senators were wiped out.

The party staged a Lazarus-like revival in Victoria's 2006 election when, out of the blue, Peter Kavanagh was elected to the upper house. An ugly leadership battle ensued, resulting in party officials making a complaint to police about former secretary John Mulholland and the disappearance of potentially tens of thousands of dollars from party coffers.

Now, again, the party has defied electoral odds, pushing out McGauran and Fielding for the sixth Victorian Senate spot with only 2.3 per cent of the primary vote. It increased its primary vote to 74,639, about 2400 votes fewer than the Australian Sex Party. Madigan barely campaigned - he was blacksmithing. The budget was tiny, press coverage almost zero. And yet, with 94 per cent of the vote counted, he is 7200 votes ahead of Fielding, whose party got 2.6 per cent of the vote, and 23,000 ahead of McGauran at the point where one or other is eliminated.

How did he do it?

First, there was the decline of the Liberal vote in Victoria, which one party source described to The Sunday Age as "a collapse, quite frankly". The Coalition vote was 34 per cent for the Senate, down from 39.4 per cent in 2007. This meant the Coalition had nowhere near enough votes for three Senate quotas in its own right. The third spot was open for business (the other three went two to Labor, one to the Greens).

The DLP was then able to use its preference deals from the micro parties to cobble together enough votes - 14.3 per cent - for a quota. Here Madigan was helped by preferences from One Nation, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democratic Party. The latter is the real surprise: the LDP disagrees with the DLP's views on gay marriage, stem cells and abortion, but its policy is to preference minor parties before major parties.

Madigan says he will approach each bill on its merits, act on his conscience and "equally represent all Victorians". He's not fond of the media spotlight and is unlikely to dress up in a giant beer bottle costume, like Fielding famously did in 2008.

Madigan - who says he is "unashamedly pro-life" but has no plans for specific private member's bills in the area of reproductive rights - comes across as authentic and earthy, a country bloke, but not blokey. On his fridge is a picture of the Pope and stacked around his house are books about former prime minister Ben Chifley, son of a blacksmith, long-serving Melbourne archbishop Daniel Mannix and the influential Catholic, anti-communist and DLP progenitor B.A. Santamaria. (Madigan, whose family has always been DLP voters, once belonged to Santamaria's youth group.)

Unlike his fellow Victorian senators, he is not of the political class. Questions about political ambition lead always to blacksmithing. In many ways, like his party, Madigan is a blast from the past. He's a nostalgic blacksmith, sentimental about Australia's diminished manufacturing industry and a man who yearns for some of the simple things of yesteryear. He names a few: higher levels of home ownership, economic stability, more family time, shops shutting at midday on Saturday. He believes in better tax arrangements so mothers have more choices to stay at home.

"I know we can't turn the clock back but I think we need to reassess what really matters to people," he says.


Australia now has a new government

KEVIN Rudd is back in Cabinet after Julia Gillard gave him the globetrotting job of Foreign Affairs Minister just 11 weeks after she ousted him as the Prime Minister.

Today Ms Gillard confirmed that Mr Rudd - a Mandarin speaking former diplomat who was Labor foreign affairs spokesman while in opposition - would take over from Stephen Smith who moves to defence.

Following his dumping as PM, Ms Gillard promised Mr Rudd a senior frontbench position with speculation covering foreign affairs plus some other possibilities. Early in his Prime Ministership Mr Rudd was criticised for spending too much time abroad and earned the nickname 'Kevin 747' but now that role will be part of his job description.

He used his first public appearance since his appointment to underline the importance of Australia's relationship with the United States.

Accompanied by US Ambassador Jeff Bleich, Mr Rudd faced the media on the shore of Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin, and observed that Saturday was the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Many diplomatic challenges and opportunities were ahead for Australia, its friends and partners, he said. "The cornerstone of Australia's foreign policy and security policy is our alliance with our great friends and partners in the United States," Mr Rudd told reporters.

The two nations were bonded by their resolve to defeat terrorism and were fighting side by side in the war in Afghanistan. "Let us on this day and the period ahead reflect carefully and solemnly reflect on those who have lost their lives, not just there but in terrorist attacks around the world," he said.

Mr Bleich said the US and Australia faced critical challenges. "It is great to have a government formed and the announcement of a cabinet so we can renew our effort on those important challenges," he said.

Mr Bleich said he and President Obama already had spoken to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, congratulating her on forming government. "We are confident we are going to continue our extraordinary relationship with Australia under her leadership," he said.

The US knew Mr Rudd "very well" having worked extraordinarily well with him when he was prime minister, he said. "He is a great friend and we are very happy to have the chance to work with him in this critical role," Mr Bleich said.

A group of passing school children clapped and cheered the former prime minister as he spoke to the media. "This was not organised by the department of foreign affairs," Mr Rudd quipped.

Earlier this week Ms Gillard promised: "I gave Kevin Rudd a commitment that he would be a senior member of my ministerial team, a cabinet minister, and he will be. "Kevin's status as a former party leader and his undoubted capacity meant he is deserving of a senior portfolio where the Government can best use his skills. "'His experience and intense interest in foreign affairs makes this the obvious choice."

Meanwhile fellow Queenslander Craig Emerson, the former small business, competition policy and consumer affairs minister will take over the trade portfolio from Simon Crean.

Ms Gillard has also rewarded the men who helped her oust Mr Rudd to become prime minister by giving them key jobs in her new ministry. Right-wing powerbroker Bill Shorten, who convinced Ms Gillard to challenge Mr Rudd, has been promoted to the outer ministry as assistant treasurer and minister for financial services and superannuation. Mr Shorten's NSW counterpart Mark Arbib has been given "greatly increased responsibilities" for indigenous employment and economic development, social housing and sport.

Two other factional leaders, Don Farrell and David Feeney - who both played prominent roles in ending Mr Rudd's Prime Ministership - have been promoted from the backbench to become parliamentary secretaries.


11 September, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is disgusted by the sham "independence" of Rob Oakeshott

A strict Christian background excuses pedophilia?

This is crazy. It's an insult to Christians. There are many millions of people from a strict Christian background and almost all develop normal relationships and marry. It's the individual who is at fault, not the religious background.

I was very religious in my teens and so was something of a late-starter with male/female relationships but it did me no harm and probably protected me from a lot of follies

A teenager who sexually abused four girls aged under six has been released without conviction because of his sexually repressive upbringing in a family of charismatic missionaries.

In an unusual judgment in the Northern Territory Supreme Court yesterday, judge Judith Kelly accepted psychiatric evidence that the lifestyle and religious attitudes of the parents had distorted the "normal psycho-social development" of the accused, who was 15 when the offences occurred.

Quoting a psychiatric report, Justice Kelly said: "The normal developmental sexual curiosity of an adolescent boy was artificially constrained by his parents and his church culture.

"In particular, there was a taboo against normal sexual experimentation with peers. "That has resulted in (the defendant) pushing to one side what is usually a much stronger taboo in relation to sexualised contact with much younger children. Whilst that might be described as psycho-pathological and a distortion of normal psychological development, it is not a psychiatric illness phenomenon and readily reversible should the external circumstances be changed."

Justice Kelly told the defendant to get an apprenticeship, start making friends with girls his own age and "just grow up like any other normal boy".

"You are not sick. You are not abnormal. You made a very bad mistake and did some very bad things," Justice Kelly said. "It appears you did not fully realise the effect your actions could have on the little girls. "I accept that you are very sorry. You need to put it behind you now and move on with your life."

Justice Kelly said it was sad the family of one victim were grieving because they believed their little girl's innocence had been "destroyed".

She rejected a prosecution submission that the defendant be sentenced under the adult Sentencing Act rather than the Youth Justice Act because at least one of the victims was subject to "stage-two grooming".

The offences occurred at various locations between September and December last year and involved the defendant placing his hands and fingers on the vaginas and bottoms of the victims. There was no evidence of penetration and the accused had told police: "I just wanted to find out what it felt like."

The psychiatric report urged the defendant's parents to be involved in joint counselling.


Nanny knows best: Right-to-die ad banned from Aussie TV

Why can't people be allowed to hear all sides of a political issue? This is gross censorship

An advertisement which calls for a government re-think on euthanasia cannot be shown on Australian television following a "last minute" backflip by a classification body.

Pro-euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke was informed of the revised position of CAD (Commercials Advice) this afternoon. Filming for the ad was completed earlier this week.

The ad, which was to be shown as part of a $60,000 advertising spend, was scheduled to air across several Australian cities in late-night TV slots from Sunday.

"This has really gutted our program and we're pretty annoyed," Dr Nitschke said. "It has happened at the last minute ... We only went ahead with the project after we received CAD approval. The ad agency wouldn't have even embarked on this without that approval."

Dr Nitschke said he was in talks with the Council of Civil Liberties in a bid to have the decision overturned. "This is an attempt to stifle the debate about this vexed issue," he said.

The ad was inspired by the ABC's spoof marketing program, The Gruen Transfer, which recently aired two fake advertisements making a fictional call for mandatory euthanasia.

Dr Nitschke employed one of the ad agencies that had contributed to the ABC program. He said the resulting serious ad was "urging political change" and was not "convincing people to commit suicide". "It shows a person saying I didn't choose to be terminally ill, all I want is choice," Dr Nitschke said. "It says 85 per cent of Australians want this choice, why isn't the government listening?"

In an email to Dr Nitschke, CAD said it had withdrawn its earlier approval on the grounds the advertisement did not comply with the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice relating to the "promotion or encouragement of suicide". "CAD has discussed the advertisement with the television networks and they are of the same view as CAD," the email said .


Fired for stating the obvious

The new "nobody must be upset" gospel

THE editor of a regional newspaper has been stood down after allegedly posting insensitive comments about the killing of a young policeman on his Facebook page. The publishers of the Glen Innes Examiner, a Fairfax-owned newspaper, released a statement today saying editor Matt Nicholls had been stood down following the incident.

Mr Nicholls is alleged to have written on his personal page that the killing of Constable Will Crews, who was born and bred in Glen Innes, would boost circulation of the paper. He is also alleged to have suggested the Glen Innes Examiner would "make the most" of the tragedy in which the 26-year-old officer was shot dead during a drug raid in southwestern Sydney on Wednesday evening.

The ninemsn website has reported that Mr Nicholls denied making the posts, but today the publisher of the Examiner announced he would be stood down as editor.

"The actions of Matt Nicholls, editor of Glen Innes Examiner newspaper, were totally unacceptable and we deeply regret any hurt caused to the family and friends of Constable Bill Crews and the Glen Innes community," Allan Browne, the CEO and publisher of Australian Regional Publishing, Fairfax Media, said in a statement today. "Mr Nicholls has been stood down from his position as editor, effective immediately."


Another incompetent teacher -- dangerously so

When you make classrooms such stressful environments that only dummies or desperates would take a teaching job, this is the sort of result you have to expect. The damage wrought by the Left-inspired destruction of discipline is immense

TASMANIAN taxpayers could be up for millions in compensation if any of the high school students involved in a dodgy science experiment contract a potentially lethal blood virus.

It comes as the State Government yesterday refused to confirm whether the Dover District High School teacher who took blood samples from 18 students using the same needle had a science degree. The Mercury reports a recent report by the Tasmanian Auditor-General found that just 51 per cent of a sample group of science teachers had a university science degree.

Five per cent of teachers taking science classes had no science knowledge and were simply teaching the subject because "there was a shortage of science staff" and 10 per cent were physical education teachers with a Human Movement degree which included some science-related content.

It has also been revealed that the blood experiment is not within the Tasmanian science curriculum.

The students and their families now have a nervous six-month wait as they are tested to ensure they have not contracted the blood-borne viruses hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.

During the experiment the teacher used the same needle to collect the samples from the 18 students to test blood pH levels, and dipped it each time in methylated spirits. Medical authorities say this would not have been sufficient to disinfect it.

Australian Lawyers Alliance director Greg Barns said the State Government could face a multi-million-dollar lawsuit if any of the students test positive to a blood-borne virus.

"The State Government stands to face a massive prosecution here and we are talking millions," said Mr Barns, also a Mercury columnist. "Essentially you are looking at the medical expenses of the child for the rest of their life, damage as a result of a loss of income for the rest of their life and the psychological damage that has been caused to them."


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them. A lot of entries recently.

10 September, 2010


In his latest offerings, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG sees Australia's new government as illegitimate and mourns the death of a NSW police officer shot by a drug dealer

Young kids bashed and mutilated by cruel stepdad for over a year while Victorian child protection authorities just yawned

TWO children horribly tortured by their stepdad want him jailed for 100 years so he can't terrorise other families. The youngsters, a boy and his sister aged 8 and 6 at the time of the prolonged beatings, were forced to do 100 push-ups a day while he kicked and stamped on them.

The boy was also genitally mutilated by the man and needed surgery after he was abused with a pair of pliers.

Despite almost 14 months of bashings, six trips to hospital and numerous reports by teachers to the Department of Human Services, the children were not rescued by authorities until X-rays found multiple fractures in both.

Bone scans at Monash Medical Centre in late 2008 found 29 injuries to the boy, including three fractured left ribs and two fractured right ribs, all less than three months old, and a broken leg up to a year old. Doctors found the girl also covered in bruises and with 44 injuries, including three fractured ribs and a broken metacarpal bone.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has spent the past two years in protective custody in prison.

Yesterday, at the County Court in Melbourne, the boy, now 10, said he continued to suffer nightmares. "I think he should go to jail for 50 years because he was very mean to me and I don't want to see him again," the boy wrote in a victim impact statement read to the court. "What he did to me scares me, and if he got out of jail he would hurt me again."

His sister, now 8, wrote: "We would like him to be in jail for 100 years. We don't want him to come out because he might do it to another family."

Prosecutor Chris Beale told the court the man had been in a relationship with their mum. "The accused took over disciplining the children and became increasingly violent, repeatedly smacking, punching and kicking them," he said.

"His disciplinary regime included forcing both children to do push-ups for long periods, sometimes over an hour, and kicking them while they struggled to comply."

The man also bashed their mother and when she was heavily pregnant to him, threatened to "cut my girl out of your stomach" when she said she wanted to leave him.

He pleaded guilty to 10 charges ranging from intentionally causing serious injury to threatening to inflict serious injury. He will be sentenced next month.


NSW public hospitals failing to treat critical cases on time

BIG regional hospitals are struggling to treat on time emergency department patients who need urgent attention, according to independent statistics that highlight a continuing bottleneck in the NSW health system.

The figures reveal a big variation across the state in how quickly patients in triage category 3 - whose condition is deemed "potentially life threatening" - are able to begin receiving medication or recommended treatment.

Government benchmarks say 75 per cent of such patients should start their treatment within 30 minutes of being assessed by the triage nurse.

But at Manning Base Hospital only 50 per cent were able to do so. At Calvary Mater in Newcastle the figure was 53 per cent, while at Lismore, Tamworth and Port Macquarie Base hospitals it was 56, 60 and 61 per cent, respectively.

The results are comparable with the state's largest hospital, Westmead (52 per cent) and Nepean (54 per cent), although other Sydney hospitals performed much better. The regional hospitals' category 3 performance was the worst in the state, where the average was 72 per cent.

Category 3, which accounts for nearly one-third of all emergency patients, was the only triage level in which the average performance statewide fell short of the official benchmark, which is recommended by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Even after an hour, several of the worst-affected hospitals had still not begun treatment. At Manning, Westmead and Nepean, more than a quarter of patients with potentially life-threatening conditions were still waiting for care after an hour - twice as long as the benchmark.

The statistics, which relate to the April to June quarter this year, are the first significant release by the NSW Bureau of Health Information, established as a statutory agency on the recommendation of Peter Garling, SC, whose special commission of inquiry in 2008 was scathing of the state health system.

Mr Garling said hospital performance measures should be collected regularly and fed back to senior doctors and nurses, with the data "directed to better patient safety and better care, and not just to process-driven information which does not improve the patient's lot".

The bureau needed to be independent of the Health Department, he said, to insulate it from political demands.

Emergency department performance is one of the most politically sensitive hospital measures, and the bureau's report expands by more than half the number of state hospitals on which the statistics are published, compared with NSW Health's own quarterly reporting.

Hospitals including Griffith, Bathurst, Belmont, Grafton, Kempsey, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury - all of which have about 5000 emergency patients a year - are reported on for the first time, revealing many of them are missing triage benchmarks.

In another previously unpublished statistic, the bureau has also shown how long it takes for emergency patients who are not admitted to hospital to be discharged or transferred to another centre.

In the least urgent triage category 5, nearly 80 per cent of patients were discharged or transferred within two hours. For category 3 patients with potentially life-threatening conditions, 80 per cent were discharged or transferred within six hours.

The bureau's chief executive, Diane Watson, said she had access to Health Department databases and did not have to request information. Additional information on elective surgery would be published in November.


Lazy Victoria police lose chance to prosecute drunken footballer

CHIEF Commissioner Simon Overland has been left struggling to explain Victoria Police's bungled investigations into Brendan Fevola's Brownlow antics.

The Victoria Police media department last night confirmed twice to the Herald Sun that it intended to charge Fevola over his behaviour last September.

But in an embarrassing backflip for the force, police today conceded they had left it too long to build a case. "Victoria Police have reviewed the situation regarding Brendan Fevola and the incident last September," police said in a statement. "We can confirm that Victoria Police will be taking no further action in relation to this matter."

An officer from the force’s Region One unit was meant to issue an infringement, but let it lapse. Inspector Richard Read said the delay made it unfair to penalise Fevola. Victoria Police admitted an officer would be "counselled".

"We believe that it would be unreasonable to take any further action on this matter so long after the events. We accept that the matter should have been dealt with in a much more timely manner, and the police member responsible will be counselled," a spokesman said.

"Brendan Fevola deserves to be treated in the same manner that we would treat any other member of the public, and we are clear that our decisions should not be influenced by his high profile status."

September 21 is the anniversary of the 2009 count, after which Fevola could not be charged under the statute of limitations. The likely charge was going to be being drunk in a public place.


Yearning for rites, ritual and group membership in the world of the individual

I have long argued (See particularly the subhead "Conservatives and emotion") that there is a human need for connectedness both with a group (which can be as broad as a nation) and with the past (which can be a family past or a national past). And conservatives easily satisfy that instinctive need with, for instance, concentration on the family and love of their country and its traditions.

Leftists, however, in their hatred of their own society, are largely cut off from such satisfactions -- hence their extremism and irrationality when they find something or someone whom they feel they can identify with -- from Adolf Hitler to Barack Obama, from Nazism to the many other forms of extreme Leftism (including Communism, Trotskyism etc.)

Interesting to see similar thinking below in a Westernized Australian Muslim. The examples of ritual and custom that he gives focus on Australia but similar American customs and rituals come easily to mind: Thanksgiving, 4th of July etc.

By Tanveer Ahmed

Life in our secular and material world often lacks ritual. From praying in a house of worship to participating in a family dinner, time-honoured rites have become less common. The demands of efficiency do not care for such intangible worth.

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting when Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset, is ending. It is believed the first verses of the Koran were revealed during this period, and its end is signalled by the sighting of the new moon.

My family is not religious, but it is a practice we like to perform. It binds us to our ancestral past and connects us to a cultural group. Almost all cultures have some tradition of fasting. Whether it is Catholics avoiding meat on Fridays, the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur, or Native American tribes fasting to stimulate ecstatic experiences: fasting is ubiquitous.

In modern times fasting has become more associated with political protest than religion. Gandhi is perhaps its most famous proponent, but more recently in Australia, asylum seekers have become the torch bearers. Tamils protesting at the maltreatment of their brethren in Sri Lanka are the latest examples.

As a psychiatrist, myths and their associated rituals often form the backdrop to many problems I see.

A growing group of my patients fall in the category of what is called borderline personality disorder, an illness where patients cannot calibrate their emotions and often engage in damaging behaviours like self-mutilation or food deprivation. They can suffer visions and a loss of boundaries. They usually present in their adolescence.

An American study in 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found the prevalence was much higher than was previously thought, at around 6 per cent.

Many of these damaging behaviours are similar to rites of passage in more traditional cultures, suggesting the disorder may be related to the failure of Western, liberal culture to provide context and myth for meaningful phases in development. Their symptoms may actually be attempts at self healing gone astray in a culture bereft of an integrative spiritual and ritualistic context.

Individual narratives have their parallels in societies and communities. Anthropologists have long had a chicken and egg argument about the relationship between myths and ritual.

Anzac Day is an example. There have been record turnouts in recent years to dawn services in venues such as Martin Place, especially among young people. A new generation of Australians have embraced the Anzac legend as their most powerful myth of nationhood, and with it has come the ritual of attending the dawn service. It has helped fill a need in a post-religious society that no longer delivers ancient certainties to young people in search of spiritual nourishment.

Our most recent election could also be construed as a grand ritual built on a myth. Modern democracies hinge on the idea of representation, of one person standing for a much larger group of people, making the decisions "they" might expect to make had they been consulted. This mysterious link between representative and represented is established and renewed in ritual form; through elections.

An anthropologist at Sydney University, Stephen Juan, argues the yearning for ritual and group membership has never been greater, especially in a society becoming more fragmented and atomised. He points to a host of trends such as rave parties, the growth in events like outdoor concerts and the rise of radical religious movements such as Hillsong or Islamic extremism as part of the same pattern.

Juan has observed that even consumer rituals such as buying presents or shopping for oneself are examples of rituals of the least nourishing kind. "When in doubt, we go and buy. It makes us feel empowered, that we are deserving of love, albeit for an instant."

But even consumer rituals can have value when used to create social bonds and nourish interpersonal relationships, a fact marketers have long exploited, often resulting in people putting consumption ahead of the social bonds the act of shopping is meant to strengthen. And yet consuming more only increases our yearning for those bonds.


9 September, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is deeply unimpressed by Australia's new government

Interesting offer: Conservatives may be able to legislate with Green and independent support

The Greens and the independents have offered Tony Abbott the opportunity to help govern from opposition, saying they would pass any policies with which they agreed, including paid parental leave, whether Labor liked it or not.

As the political establishment comes to grips with the concept of minority government, the Greens leader Bob Brown said the Parliament belonged to everybody, not just the government. "Please think about it," he said.

He was backed by the independent Tony Windsor, who suggested the Coalition tone down its venomous attacks on the government and independents. "There's good stuff that can come from anywhere and that's why the Liberals are silly to be running this sort of stuff," he told the Herald. "They can do things with us and the executive won't have the power to shut them down. The opposition can be part of the government, too."

The opposition childcare spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, was attracted to the idea of putting forward the Coalition's generous paid parental leave scheme which the Greens broadly favour. "Our lines of communication have always been open to anyone who wants to talk about helping to deliver our better policy," she said. The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was keen to explore the idea.

Senator Brown suggested weekly policy meetings with Mr Abbott, as he will have with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and mentioned possible policy deals on mental health, dental care and biosecurity.

The opportunity was offered as the Coalition abandoned Mr Abbott's pledge of a kinder and gentler polity and challenged the very legitimacy of the minority Labor government, saying it was unstable, unworkable and defied commonsense.

Ms Gillard governs with the bare majority of 76 seats, thanks to the support of the Greens MP, Adam Bandt, and the three independents, Mr Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott.

The independents have agreed only to guarantee stability of tenure by supporting the government against reckless no-confidence motions and to ensure supply.

Mr Abbott attacked Ms Gillard, saying she was as illegitimate as her government because she had been installed by factions and then by independents. "It is a government that's utterly without a mandate," he said.

The Liberal senator George Brandis implied corruption by saying the government had "as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team".


Toy guns will have to be licensed in Queensland under new firearms laws

ANY ITEM that looks like a gun will have to be licensed under several changes to the Weapons Act being considered by the Queensland State Government. Even guns made out of materials as unlikely as soap or plastic may have to be kept under lock and key if they could "reasonably be taken to be a weapon".

The draft act says an imitation is a "reasonable copy" of a weapon that is not capable of causing death or injury. "If it looks like a gun and feels like a gun, it will have to be licensed," said a government source. "We just want to know where they are." It is unclear how the draft affects toy guns.

Failure to license an imitation weapon will carry a maximum $4500 fine under the proposals and incorrect storage carries a penalty of $750.

The proposed changes will also impose restrictions on the ownership of laser pointers, tougher penalties for selling items such as crossbows, bullet proof vests and knuckledusters without the appropriate licence, and stricter rules on firearm storage. In certain circumstances, religion will be a lawful excuse for carrying a knife and police who take their service-issue firearms home will be exempted.

A discussion draft of the Act will be available on the Queensland Police website today and Police Minister Neil Roberts encouraged responses.

But firearm owners' groups have condemned the measures as cumbersome and misguided. Christopher Ray from the Law Abiding Firearms Owners said legitimate owners were being "regulated out of existence". "We just wanted some of the burden, some of the bureaucracy and some of the paperwork taken off our backs," Mr Ray said. "Instead, they're complicating it further for law-abiding people. If we make a single minor mistake we can lose our (gun) licence for five years."

He said LAFO was also opposed to police being given "free rein" to take their guns home and leave them on the bedside table.

Geoff Jones, state president of the Sporting Shooters Association, said the crackdown on imitation weapons risked making "otherwise law-abiding people into criminals".

Mr Roberts said a requirement for permanently deactivated public monuments such as weapons on display in RSL buildings to be registered or licensed had been removed from the draft act.


Nasty one for the Warmists: South Pacific sea levels stable

According to an instrumentality of the government of the State of Queensland

Actual sea level rise measured by Maritime Safety Queensland = 0.0003m per year. Projecting over a century that would be 3 centimetres - just over an inch.

MSQ is responsible for people's lives and so highly unlikely to fudge numbers to obtain research grants. The actual measured annual rate of sea level change (0.3 mm) is less than the error involved in measuring. It's well below actual peak rates of natural sea level rises and falls experienced in the last 18,000 years.

Such reporters of weather, climate and sea level on which people's lives depend show there are no human induced changes occurring globally in climate as screamed by alarmists seeking political or financial gain.

Excerpt from the report:
Tidal Reference Frame For Queensland

Because the sea level rise is very low, averaging 0.0003 metres per annum for the Australian continent (Mitchell, 2002), the 15 to 19 years of readings available from Queensland tidal stations is not sufficient to calculate a reasonable estimate of sea level change. Accordingly an adjustment of 0.0003 metres per annum is made to the mean sea level within the tidal reference frame.

The allowance is been calculated from the central date of the observation period at each station to the central date of the tidal datum epoch (31 December 2001).

In time, it is expected that there will a sufficiently long span of readings and that it will be possible to obtain a refined estimate of the sea level rise at individual stations. The sea level change observed at each place can be incorporated into future primary determinations in lieu of the Australia wide rise incorporated at present.


More Muslim violence against a young girl

A man who broke into a house to attack his sister for "slutting around" has pleaded guilty to charges in Darwin Magistrates Court. Ahmed Al-Tai, 21, was expected to contest the charges, but yesterday pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, property offences and breaching a domestic violence order.

Prosecutor Sergeant Brett Verity told the court Al-Tai flew to Darwin from Broome about 3pm on June 18 after his parents told him his 17-year-old sister had run away from home. He went straight to the house the girl was staying at, smashed a window and glass door to get inside, punched her, stomped on her, kicked her and dragged her out by her hair - while their mother watched.

Sgt Verity said Al-Tai said during the attack: "You want to run around and slut around? I'm back. Where do you think you're going to go now?".

Their mother drove Al-Tai to the hospital, and then took the girl home to wash, telling her to make up a story to tell doctors before she took her to the hospital. When the girl arrived at Royal Darwin Hospital, she told medical staff she had been assaulted, and police were called.

The girl needed surgery to repair a broken tooth, and had a swollen face and a number of bruises.

Al-Tai spent about 25 days in custody after his arrest. Chief Magistrate Hilary Hannam indicated she would need a pre-sentence report and more evidence before sentencing. "It's a very serious set of facts, (committed) on two suspended sentences," she said.

Al-Tai's lawyer Gus Bernadi said the offence was "unique". "I know the offences are serious, but it came out of a particularly unique set of background circumstances," he said. [It's not the least bit unique. It is common Muslim behaviour]

Ms Hannam adjourned the matter until November. Al-Tai's bail was continued.


8 September, 2010

Australian conservative voters betrayed

The three country independents should have looked to their own seats to decide which way to jump – the voters indicated their preferences clearly. Here are the results from the AEC website on Tuesday morning.

In New England, the Nationals got 20,337 first preference votes against Labor’s 6,472. In Lyne, the Nationals got 25,994 first preference votes against Labor’s 9898. And in Kennedy the LNP got 17,309 first preference votes against Labor’s 13,659. In all three cases the preference distribution shows that the Nationals and LNP ran second.

In all three cases the voters of those electorates have CLEARLY spoken but Windsor and Oakeshott chose to ignore that and install a Labor government. I can't imagine that their voters will be happy with them -- JR

Kevvy is back!

As if they haven't had enough bungling from him already! They must be brain-dead

DUMPED prime minister Kevin Rudd will be welcomed back into the senior ranks of the Gillard Government within days. Less than three months after she toppled him, Julia Gillard held out an olive branch and invited Mr Rudd into her Cabinet. "I gave Kevin Rudd a commitment that he would be a senior member of my ministerial team, a Cabinet minister, and he will be," she said.

Mr Rudd has been mooted for the Foreign Affairs job and has also expressed interest in health and indigenous policy.

Labor's caucus will meet in Canberra tomorrow and Ms Gillard said she expected her new ministerial line-up to be sworn in at Government House early next week.

The Prime Minister signalled she would follow in Mr Rudd's footsteps and choose her own ministry, rather than let the factions divide the spoils. "Obviously as Labor Party leader, (the Cabinet) is my prerogative," she said. "But I intend to work with (Deputy Prime Minister) Wayne Swan and with my leadership team with (Senate leaders) Chris Evans and Stephen Conroy to have the discussions to form the new ministerial team."

Ms Gillard has room to move with new appointments following the resignation of defence minister John Faulkner and the retirement of finance minister Lindsay Tanner. Maxine McKew's loss in the Sydney seat of Bennelong also opens the door for Ms Gillard to appoint a new parliamentary secretary.

The future of the so-called "faceless men" who helped Ms Gillard secure the top job will be her most contentious issue. Some sources said parliamentary secretary Bill Shorten and junior minister Mark Arbib would be promoted. Others claimed they would be kept on the outer to calm the factions. Former ACTU leader Greg Combet is a contender for a promotion, along with South Australian MP and parliamentary secretary Mark Butler.

Labor is still on the brink of a brutal internal war over its election performance. Victorian powerbrokers Stephen Conroy and David Feeney are believed to have drafted a secret motion that they plan to put to the party's national executive to oust ALP national secretary Karl Bitar.

Factional heavyweights Anthony Albanese and John Faulkner are also believed to be courting numbers for a reform group to launch a full-scale review of the party and override any attempts by Mr Bitar to establish a "soft review" of the Labor Party's performance.


Julia Gillard's second chance

As corrupt as one would expect

JULIA Gillard has negotiated her way to victory in the August 21 election by agreeing to funnel $10 billion into rural and regional Australia, to lock in backing from two independent MPs.

But the Prime Minister's second term has come with a heavy political cost, as Labor is faced with funding the deal by stripping money from its city electorates.

Under deals finalised yesterday, Ms Gillard will hold a tax reform summit by next July and has offered NSW independent MP Rob Oakeshott a seat in cabinet.

The independents' announcement that they would support Labor ended a fortnight of uncertainty since voters stripped Labor of 16 seats in an election that produced the nation's first hung parliament since World War II.

Ms Gillard said she had heard the clear message from voters about Labor's first term in government as she dedicated herself to greater co-operation, the elimination of needless "partisan bickering" and a new emphasis on rural and regional services, including guaranteed shares of funding under major programs.

"Labor is prepared to govern," Ms Gillard said after clinching the backing of Mr Oakeshott and fellow independent NSW MP Tony Windsor. "Labor is prepared to deliver stable, effective and secure government for the next three years."

Tony Abbott conceded defeat soon after, declaring he was extremely disappointed not to have won the election but lauding the strength of Australia's democratic processes. Pledging he would not take a spoiler role in the knife-edge parliament, the Opposition Leader nonetheless promised ferocious scrutiny to keep the new government accountable.

Mr Abbott, whose election campaign performance exceeded the expectations of his party, his opponents and many pundits, said: "My job is not to become the best Opposition Leader never to become prime minister."

The weeks since August 21 have been dominated by tense negotiations as five independent and minor-party members of the House of Representatives found themselves thrust into the role of determining the election outcome.

Yesterday dawned with Labor commanding 74 of the house's 150 votes, two short of the number needed to form a government, with the Coalition on 73. Three MPs, Mr Oakeshott, Mr Windsor and Bob Katter, were left to declare their intentions.

The Coalition moved level just after lunch when Mr Katter revealed he would back the Coalition because he favoured its policies in 20 areas of concern, including its pledge to sink Labor's proposed mineral resources rent tax and a guarantee not to introduce a carbon tax.

About 90 minutes later, with Parliament House frozen in anticipation, Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott said they would support Labor, ending the deadlock and giving Ms Gillard the 76 votes needed to make an appointment to visit Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

Mr Oakeshott said he had wrestled with a "wicked dilemma" and named Labor promises on spending on education and the regions as his key motivators. The member for the NSW coastal seat of Lyne said he would consider Ms Gillard's offer of a ministry, but stressed it was not a condition of his support.

Mr Windsor said he was captivated by Labor's promise of the National Broadband Network, including the promise that wholesale prices for access would be the same across the nation.

Insisting voters wanted stability and not a new election, Mr Windsor said a Coalition minority government would be more likely than Labor to seek excuses for a fresh poll. Asked why, Mr Windsor said: "Because I think they'd be more likely to win." He said Labor was "more likely to be here for a longer period of time" if it did not see the chance of victory in a fresh election....

According to documents released last night, the funding deals involve $763m of new spending, all of which the government has offset in budget estimates.

Asked whether hospital infrastructure needs in cities would be ignored in favour of regional hospitals, Ms Gillard said her promises had to be considered within the context of all government spending.

She said the government had already delivered billions of dollars of new health capital to cities, was boosting its share of hospital funding and was building GP superclinics. "I ask Australians in capital cities to understand that what is in this agreement builds on a huge suite of changes to get our health care system ready for the 21st century," she said.


Recipe for uncertain government

The independents backed Labor because they did not want to face another election: Pure self-interest

JULIA Gillard has won the tightest election in Australian history by the smallest margin: she is a minority Prime Minister with a 76-74 floor majority surviving on an alliance with the Greens and three out of four independents.

This is a recipe for weak and uncertain government where Gillard has a majority in neither house. The historic irony is that two independents from conservative regional seats have delivered Labor's victory.

This decision will leave a legacy of bad political blood. It will be fanned because the rural independents, unable to agree, split 2:1 yesterday for Labor and argued their obligation was to prevent another election during the next three years, ultimately an unacceptable and unjustifiable stand of dubious political integrity.

Rob Oakeshott, who has left open the option of joining Gillard's executive and becoming part of the Labor government to which he gave the kiss of political life, will be targeted by the conservative side.

The result guarantees a new flow of funds to regional Australia and will ignite a political war between the pro-Labor rural independents and the Nationals. The Abbott-led Coalition campaign against Labor is already manifest: that Gillard's minority government is without legitimacy.

After a 17-day delay Gillard has saved her prime ministership and perhaps saved her career. The relief in the Labor Party will be palpable. Having lost her majority, Gillard is salvaged by two independents, Tony Windsor and Oakeshott and she promptly visited the Governor-General late yesterday.

Within the Labor Party Gillard will enjoy enhanced authority; it is her skill, discipline and will-to-power that has kept Labor in office and saved the party and herself from a historic humiliation.

Gillard's capacity to manage this diabolical situation should not be underrated.

Abbott could not have come closer to office; he won more seats than Labor and he won more of the primary vote. But Abbott lost out in the "second election" competing for the votes of the independents, thus falling short of a miracle victory. Abbott was gracious and measured in his comments last night, saying it was time to avoid "partisan rancour".

But there is no reason to doubt his election night belief that Labor lost its legitimacy to govern. Abbott said last night the only test for Gillard's survival now was that of "good government" and the timing of the next election depended on her performance. He sensibly said he would not lightly move "no confidence".

Gillard has a survival floor majority that depends on just one vote. A single by-election or major scandal could bring her undone. Windsor and Oakeshott have not given an unqualified promise on confidence.

The raw numbers mean Gillard may govern for three years. But there are no commitments on her legislative program or her policy. Oakeshott says Gillard can claim no mandate; the independents deny the concept.

Securing contested legislation will become a nightmare. The political logic of this result will undermine pro-market reform and promote government intervention and special fixes.

Gillard has won a new opportunity to renovate Labor in office but is burdened by a minority government dependent on the Greens' Adam Bandt, along with Windsor, Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie. In the Senate, the Greens hold the balance of power. This is a recipe for a combative and possibly bitter parliament.

The sheer unpredictability was captured in Oakeshott's line that "it's going to be beautiful in its ugliness". Quite.

"In remarkable times there is opportunity," Gillard declared last night. She has promised "stable, effective and secure" government. Gillard's mood was relief. It was her decision to authorise the June coup against Kevin Rudd and she carried that responsibility.

At their 3pm media conference that delivered Gillard office, Windsor and Oakeshott made clear they backed Labor on two grounds: stability and policy. Windsor was down-to-earth, nominating broadband and climate change as the policies that tipped him to Labor. Oakeshott was agonising, sounding like a guilty man and trying to insist it was a "line ball" choice. It was unconvincing.

The policies he nominated as decisive were broadband, climate change and regional education.

But the Windsor-Oakeshott argument on stability is contentious in the extreme. Indeed, it will become a moral and political gift for Abbott.

They backed Gillard, they said, because the best chance for a three-year term was under Labor. Windsor even said Abbott would be tempted to an election some time because he'd be "more likely to win". Oakeshott declined that view but both independents made clear their vote for Gillard was based on a determination to get a three-year parliament; that is, the stability argument.

Yet in this situation there is nothing special, ethical or superior about a three-year parliament. What, pray, is wrong about another election at some stage? Why shouldn't the people get the chance to decide the issue that the independents arrogantly assume is their right to decide for the next three years? How ineffective does the parliament have to become before the people get the right to elect a new parliament?

These comments smack of the independents putting their own interests first. The assumption in the Gillard-Greens-independent position that the parliament must last three years is inconsistent with the Constitution (sections 28 and 57) with its repudiation of a fixed-term parliament and its enshrining the notion of a parliament that endures subject to its workability. This rule is more vital than ever in the present situation.

Understand what happened yesterday. The independents decided to back Labor and to avoid letting the people revisit this contest for another three years.


7 September, 2010

Health Fascism in Victorian schools

There is nothing wrong with exercise and kids run around naturally if allowed -- which they often are not in schools today -- but trying to dictate to parents and take over the parental role sounds a bit too much like the Hitler Youth to me

VICTORIAN primary school students are standing up in class for half an hour a day in a radical plan to beat childhood obesity. And they're having "activity breaks" to get them moving between classes.

Students are also set homework tasks such as going for a walk with mum and dad, and are being urged to reduce their time in front of the TV.

The pilot plan, involving 30 grade 3 classes from state schools, gives some students tokens that will restrict their TV viewing. If they go beyond their allocated time, the TV automatically turns off.

The Transform-Us! program, involving 750 students aged eight and nine, started four weeks ago and is being run by the Education Department and Deakin University.

Behavioural scientist Professor Jo Salmon from the university said the goal was not just to get kids moving more at school, but at home as well. This means parents are given information about healthy living such as the location of local walking trails and sports tracks, and encouragement to help restrict TV and computer use at home. "It's not about being a TV Nazi, but resetting and changing some habits such as kids watching whatever is on TV rather than actively choosing programs they want to watch," Prof Salmon said.

Children are given four 30-minute TV tokens each day and if they attempt to watch more, the TV turns off using smart card technology.

It comes as a Victorian Parliament committee is investigating the role schools can play in helping children lead healthier lives.

Prof Salmon said the school-based program, involving standing-up lessons, "was not about kids running amok in class, but getting them moving instead of sitting during the day". "We're not taking away the three Rs and making kids do more PE. We are modifying academic lessons to get them moving more," she said. "Sitting all day long isn't normal for kids. "If you stand rather than sit, there's evidence your brain works better and evidence that kids have better short-term recall of lessons."

Prof Salmon said teachers had been "very supportive and enthusiastic" but the response from parents had been "varied".

Gail McHardy, executive officer of Parents Victoria, said schools needed a balance between activity and academic study. "The focus always seems to be on sedentary kids, but a lot of kids are very active, and sometimes parents worry their kids do too much activity, not too little," she said. "We have to be realistic about what teachers can achieve."

Angela Conway, policy consultant from Pro-family Perspectives, said she liked the idea of kids standing in some classes. But she warned that schools should not encroach too much on family time. "It's good to educate and encourage, but schools should not prescribe what families do in private," she said.


A good example of the benefits of international trade

Russia has had a bad wheat season but Australia is having a bumper crop so the world will still easily be fed. Both Russia and Australia are usually major wheat exporters

AWB says drought in Russia and weather damage in Europe has helped lift interest for Australian wheat, which is likely to be a bumper crop. AWB general manager of commodities Mitch Morison said wheat buyers were looking to Australian producers to make up for lost volume in global trade and supply higher quality needs.

Mr Morison said winter crop harvest had commenced in central Queensland, and production prospects across the nation had received a boost from recent rain. "Notwithstanding the unfortunate people suffering from localised flooding in some areas, it's a great start to the spring growth period and the timing couldn't have been much better from the markets perspective," Mr Morison said.

"The market is aware that weather damage in northern Europe has reduced the supply of higher quality milling wheat in that region and drought has cut crops in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to the point that exports through the Black Sea will be very limited. "This means there is very strong interest for Australian wheat, both to make up for the lost volume in the global trade and supply higher quality needs."

He said there was keen world interest for the Australian product: "The interest is helping to generate better physical prices for Australian wheat on top of the general improvement in world prices," Mr Morison said in a statement. "So we are in a strong position talking to customers about shipments both in bulk and containers."

AWB on Tuesday raised its forecast wheat pool returns for the 2010-11 season for the third straight month, with various grades of wheat increased between $9 and $22.


Bungled DNA testing at Victorian government laboratory

Two people convicted of rape, one of drug trafficking, and one of armed robbery could be freed after a review of DNA evidence in their cases. One of the four has been in jail for rape for four years. And just last week, a woman was acquitted on appeal of a drugs charge after the DNA case against her fell away.

Hundreds of cases involving DNA are being reviewed after a more conservative approach was adopted towards analysing DNA evidence.

Police Association secretary Greg Davies today said it was unclear whether current investigations would be affected. But he said such a result would be “unfortunate in the extreme’’

"Obviously we will have to wait and see,’’ Mr Davies said. "But if it did impact adversely on ongoing matters that would be very unfortunate and cause a lot of distress to a lot of victims not to mention police officers that have worked hard to bring matters to the courts. "If some sort of irregularity was to derail those investigations or court proceedings it would be unfortunate in the extreme."

Kelly Hazell Quill Lawyers director Justin Quill said anyone acquitted as a result of the review would likely have problems suing. But any payout could be significant. "If these people are found to have been wrongly convicted, then they might have a case against the state,"Mr Quill said. "Although they would have to show not just that there was a wrong result, but that there was something wrong with the system. "That might not be that easy.

"So while you might have sympathy for them, that doesn't necessarily translate into a legal right to compensation. "If they were successful though, any damages award would likely be substantial."

Late last year, it was found that statistical analysis of DNA evidence had not kept pace with technology. This led Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to ban police forensic scientists from giving evidence for a month, while a review of procedures took place. Since then, forensic evidence in 370 of 430 cases still before the courts has been reviewed.

In five, the statistical strength of the DNA evidence was reduced. One of those was the case of Florina Alecu. She was given a 21-month suspended jail term after being convicted of cultivating cannabis in a water tank beneath a shed at a hobby farm in Litchfield, in the Mallee, in 2006. She was linked to DNA on a gardening glove found nearby.

The jury at her 2008 trial was told the likelihood of the DNA being from someone chosen at random, rather than her, was one in 10,000. Forensic scientists rated this evidence as "very strong". But under the new methodology, that statistical likelihood fell to just one in nine.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled the new DNA report "largely (if not wholly) obliterates" what was "an important strand in the cable that was the circumstantial case against her". The prosecution conceded there should be a retrial. But as her suspended sentence had almost expired, the court directed an acquittal instead. Her de facto husband, Jim Theoharethes, is serving at least two of four years' jail over the case.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, is believed to have been advised last week that new DNA reports in the four other current cases, where the DNA likelihood had been reduced, would be provided by month's end.

Charges in at least one other case have been dropped after the new DNA statistical analysis left it too weak to proceed.

At the DPP's invitation last year, nine closed cases, where lawyers regarded the DNA evidence as potentially doubtful, were also submitted for review. A reassessment of the evidence in the first five, including a murder and a rape, has cleared those convictions.

A police spokeswoman told the Herald Sun that work was continuing on a national standard in DNA interpretation and the force was "rolling out new procedures that will enable it to interpret low-level DNA profiles with even more confidence than (now)". "It should be noted that in a vast majority of cases Victoria Police will not proceed if DNA is the sole source of evidence," she said.

Farah Jama was awarded $550,000 compensation this year after serving 16 months' jail for a rape he didn't commit. A DNA sample had been contaminated. A revised analysis reduced the statistical likelihood of the DNA belonging to someone else from one in 800 billion to one in 150 million.

Retired judge Frank Vincent, who conducted a government inquiry into the case, said in his report that he was "troubled by such an extraordinary variation".


Patients put at risk when disgraced surgeon allowed to work unsupervised

Yet another unsatisfactory third-world doctor in a government hospital

PATIENTS have potentially been put in danger after a disgraced surgeon worked in emergency unsupervised, due to systemic failures by two NSW hospitals.

Despite knowing of serious complaints against Melvin Muralidharan, including allegedly indecently assaulting a patient, St George Hospital sent him to Shoalhaven Hospital in April 2007 and failed to inform it that he must be directly supervised "to protect the public". For four weeks, Mr Muralidharan worked alone in emergency and after hours, was sometimes in control of the surgical division and supervised junior medical staff.

The head of surgery at Shoalhaven, Martin Jones, has urged the Health Department to review all of the Indian-trained doctor's patient files because of serious concerns about his competency.

St George Hospital also breached the surgical trainee's registration conditions for nine weeks while he worked in its trauma department from August 2006 by allowing him to work without obtaining necessary medical board approval that required strict monitoring.

Mr Muralidharan was deregistered in March.

"[He] ... placed members of the public at potential risk of danger when he was working alone and unsupervised at Shoalhaven for a period of almost four weeks," the NSW Medical Tribunal said then.

While at Shoalhaven, he left while on duty at least once and could not be contacted, leaving his pager behind and abandoning his responsibility to supervise junior staff, it found.

NSW District Court documents released to the Herald show that Associate Professor Jones made a formal complaint three years ago to the health watchdog about the actions of the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service.

Within three days of Mr Muralidharan's arrival at Shoalhaven, Professor Jones was concerned about his prolonged absences, his "inability to assess surgical patients", "inappropriate diagnoses and an amazing speed to attempt to operate on patients", he wrote to the Health Care Complaints Commission in August 2007.

"[Having] no one is better than one Mr M ... I am concerned that because there is a perceived need for greater numbers of doctors esp surgeons ... that this process and this practitioner may be the tip of an iceberg. This man has put my patients at danger and St George were complicit in that action," he said. It was unforgivable, he said.

Shoalhaven failed even to obtain a copy of Mr Muralidharan's registration.

The present director-general of the Health Department, Debora Picone, was responsible for both hospitals as the chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service at the time. Ms Picone did not comment. The huge failure occurred despite a clampdown in 2005 and 2006 on background checks after the debacle surrounding Graeme Reeves. He was employed at two hospitals five years after he was banned from practising as an obstetrician. He is due to stand trial this year on serious criminal charges.

Complaints against Mr Muralidharan date to an alleged indecent assault in May 2005 of a female patient at Maitland Hospital, which suspended then sacked him in August 2005. Police investigated but no charges were laid. While he was suspended, he was caught moonlighting in the emergency department at Hornsby Hospital, which was unaware of his job at Maitland. He also lied to Queensland registration authorities in October 2005 about his complaints history.

The medical board imposed the strictest supervision conditions on him in November 2005 after an urgent hearing into his clinical competency and ethical behaviour.

The South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service denied it had breached the conditions and said he was supervised at St George and Shoalhaven hospitals. But a spokeswoman apologised for "the confusion" and later sent a revised statement saying: "St George Hospital did not contact the medical board to confirm the conditions of Dr Muralidharan's supervision" and that "St George Hospital staff should have informed Shoalhaven Hospital of Dr Muralidharan's conditions of registration".

A Health Department spokeswoman said none of Mr Muralidharan's patient files had been reviewed "as no patient complaints had been received".


6 September, 2010

Aptitude and academic excellence new must-haves for would-be teachers

Another theory-driven government brainwave. It won't work because the teachers themselves have been taught badly and because it is mainly dummies who go into teaching these days. Who in their right mind would want to spend the day in front of the undisciplined rabble that many Australian classrooms have become?

Before anything else is achieved you have to make classrooms a place where smart people would like to work -- and to do that you have to restore effective discipline. But restoring effective discipline is the big non-no in the politically correct world of teaching.

If the policy below is implemented without other changes, it will just lead to a teacher shortage

ASPIRING teachers will have to meet tough entry standards in English and maths. They will also have to demonstrate an aptitude for the profession under a national overhaul of teacher education to start next year.

A consultation paper on a national accreditation system for education degrees, released by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, stipulates that school leavers will have to score in the top 30 per cent in English and maths to study primary teaching and the top 30 per cent in English to become high school teachers.

The proposed model also increases the amount of disciplinary study included in education degrees, requiring high school teachers to major in one subject for at least three years and preferably a minor study for at least two years in a second subject.

The plan was commissioned at a meeting of the nation's education ministers in April, which specified that accreditation standards include prerequisites in English and maths, as well as requiring universities to train prospective teachers in special education, teaching indigenous students, classroom and behaviour management, assessment and the use of data.

Accreditation standards, which vary from state to state, are used to set the minimum employment standards for teachers entering the profession. The national system would align university courses with the professional standards for graduate teachers, which AITSL is in the process of finalising.

The model proposed by AITSL stipulates a minimum four-year undergraduate degree and replaces the 12-month Diploma of Education with a two-year graduate course.

The undergraduate qualifications comprise either a three-year degree in the required discipline followed by a postgraduate education qualification; a four-year integrated degree of the disciplinary and professional qualification; or a four-year double degree in a discipline and teaching.

The entry requirements in English and maths are set for school leavers but the model allows alternative entry paths for mature-age and other students who fail to meet the prerequisites, requiring the university to demonstrate that students had met an equivalent standard by the completion of the course. Primary school teachers would have to complete tertiary study in all the learning areas of the curriculum, and middle-school teachers would have to complete at least two years of study in two disciplines.

The courses would also have to train teaching students in how to teach those subjects.

Graduates wishing to become teachers must hold a specific discipline qualification, such as an arts or science degree, and "demonstrate an aptitude and commitment to teaching together with a capacity to successfully complete the program".

Undergraduate teaching programs must include at least 80 days -and graduate programs at least 60 days -- of supervised teaching practice, with universities required to detail the relationship with the schools, the nature and length of the placement, supervisory and support arrangements, and assessment criteria.


ABC backs down over Warming claims

ABC Audience and consumer affairs provide the following reply in regard to a complaint about its report "Melting ice making Everest climbs dangerous".
As previously advised, the ABC sourced the report it published as 'Melting ice making Everest climbs dangerous' from the BBC as part of an established agency arrangement. When your complaint was received, Audience and Consumer Affairs considered whether a significant error had been made which warranted correction. We noted that table 10.2 of the Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 did appear to show temperatures rising faster at Mount Everest than in the rest of South Asia. We do not claim that this was the source relied upon by the BBC in their original story.

We have noted the material you have provided questioning the veracity of a statement in the report. Since we have not been able to verify a source for the references to climate, and in view of the brevity and overall focus of the item, we have removed these references from the story and added an Editor's Note to this effect.

The editorial note reads "Editor's note (September 1, 2010): "A reference to studies of climate in the Himalayas has been removed from this story because the ABC was not able to verify its source."

Without a credible, verifiable source this story amounted to unsubstantiated rumour, and now without the climate aspect it is hardly newsworthy and probably should have been left in the editor's bin.

If only ABC News had spent a small amount of time checking its sources before getting carried away with unsubstantiated claims of climate alarm, ABC's audience would not have been mislead.

We have yet to receive a response from the BBC.

More HERE (See the original for links)

Habitual criminals continue to clog court system

Habitual criminals should be locked up for good. Society deserves protection from them

WA'S 10 worst adult "petty" criminals have committed a staggering 519 offences in just three years - and half of them did not spend a day in jail. Department of Attorney- General figures from 2007 to 2009 show that our clogged courts are being drained by the same serial offenders, at huge cost to taxpayers.

The repeat adult offences vary widely and include stealing, disorderly behaviour, trespass, street drinking, drug possession, breaching bail, carrying controlled weapons, common assault, burglary and failing to comply with police officers. Two court regulars were convicted of 98 offences, but only one received a jail term.

The figures reveal a similar trend for juveniles. The 20 most prolific offenders, aged 16 and 17, were responsible for a combined 905 offences in the same period.

Attorney-General Christian Porter told The Sunday Times he believed the habitual re-offending wasn't a result of punishments handed down by courts. "It is difficult for the criminal justice system to deal effectively with such offenders because each individual offence is minor, but the cumulative impact is serious," he said. "These are offenders who have been given multiple opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and failed to take those opportunities."

The State Government is proposing to name and shame repeat offenders in an internet "rogues' gallery".

Mr Porter said introduction of the Prohibited Behaviour Orders Bill would send a message to anti-social recidivists that the public was tired of their behaviour. Under the legislation, courts would have discretion to publish offenders' details on a government website, including their name, photo, their suburb and the terms of the order. Serious anti-social offenders would be banned from doing things, being in places or associating with people related to their crimes.

The orders would cover alcohol-fuelled violence, rock attacks, hooning, arson and misbehaviour on public transport and would be in addition to any criminal penalty. Breaches would incur fines of up to $10,000 and include the prospect of detention or jail.

"We know that in the UK courts treated breaches of similar orders as a serious matter, with terms of imprisonment occurring in roughly half of all breaches," Mr Porter said. "Should this occur it would be a victory for community safety."

Mr Porter said previous state Labor administrations had failed to give courts further options in dealing "with this hardcore group of repeat offenders". He said the Opposition "has no plan except to oppose".

Opposition Leader Eric Ripper confirmed Labor would not support the Bill and would "take him (Mr Porter) apart on the detail". "If those offenders are so prolific, they would have been before the courts on many occasions and there are plenty of existing mechanisms in the law already to enable them to be dealt with," Mr Ripper said. "What (Mr Porter) is doing is justifying PBOs on these offenders' records, when these offenders can be dealt with by existing mechanisms."

Mr Ripper suggested that PBOs had failed in Britain and any order published on the internet could be with people for life.

Breakdown of crimes

* Ten adult criminals committed 519 offences in just three years.

*Only 18 terms of imprisonment out of 519 crimes

*Five committed a total 209 offences without one going to jail

*Only one jail term after 49 offences for a one-man crimewave

*Ten most prolific 16-year-olds committed 510 offences - 121 were convicted for theft and 41 for aggravated burglary. Community based orders were handed out to 141 of them, 132 were not punished at all and 88 received conditional release orders.

* Stealing and disorderly behaviour in public accounted for 106 of the 395 offences in the three-year period for the 10 worst 17-year-olds. Five were jailed and 43 were given detention while 114 were handed community based orders.


Inept Federal health bureaucracy gumming up the works

THE state's top health bureaucrat has warned that Queenslanders could be put at risk if the registering of medical professionals is not fast-tracked. Queensland Health's director-general, Mick Reid, has attacked the newly created Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and said urgent action needed to be taken to speed up the registration process.

"It is critically important that we have the best streamline processes in place because public safety could be compromised as a result of the delays," he said. "Queensland has the greatest growth rate of health professional groups than any other state, we're the ones who are impacted most by the delays in processing and inappropriate bureaucratic red tape."

The agency came into operation on July 1 this year and has been riddled with problems surrounding the registration of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Hundreds of applicants are understood to have been caught up in delays with the registration process. The agency changed its criteria for international applicants who applied for registration seven weeks after it began operation.

Mr Reid said it was a priority that registration changes were made that would enable a more efficient process for applicants. "There's certainly been delays in the processing of applicants for new registrations and the renewals of registration and that's particularly in medicine and nursing," he said. "They have to go get their act together."

The Nursery and Midwifery Board – one of the 10 boards regulated by the agency – has come under fire for denying nurses registration until English-speaking applicants could prove they were competent in their native language.

Mr Reid has already sent a letter to the Nursing and Midwifery Board's chairwoman, Anne Copeland, demanding an urgent examination of the requirements of applicants.

New Zealand-born nurse Joanne Hening was left in limbo for more than two months after she was denied her nursing registration until she was able to prove that she was competent in her native tongue. But within hours of speaking to The Courier-Mail her registration was approved by the agency.

Health Minister Paul Lucas has also attacked the agency's handling of registrations and said he would be discussing it at the next national health ministers' conference. "No matter who is the incoming health minister, this has to be a priority because it can undermine the very considerable benefits of national registration," he said.


5 September, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG fears that the rural independents are going to side with the Labor party

An interest in high culture is not a significant class divide in Australia

That pompous old Marxist pontificator, Theodor Adorno, would not have understood Australia at all

By German sociologist Jens Schroeder

Whereas in Europe, high culture often served as a means for social distinction and a political economy of power, Australians were happy to consume it like ‘a good meal.’ This was a country where – thanks to a high standard of living and the consequent egalitarianism of manners – tastes where traditionally shared. Borders of taste did not easily translate into borders of class.

This fact offended European sensibilities. Even in the United States, an elite managed to erect a monopoly of high culture that other groups recognised and to which they oriented themselves. The theatre and concert halls became places for the celebration of something sacred, a form of culture beyond any doubt. But they also stopped being the popular entertainment they used to be. Europeans were leased, the old order was in place again.

However, in Australia this order never managed to assert itself to a similar degree. Sure there was culture, but it faced a society of ‘common men.’

When the ABC introduced subscriptions to classical concerts, numbers rose astronomically. Yet, Australia’s egalitarian ethos made sure that these means of taste did not translate into means of power. A working man like Ben Chifley could become Prime Minister and freely admit that he could not understand or appreciate any classical music. In fact, he had a strong suspicion that a great many people who expressed their devotion to it were hardly honest!

On the other hand, a huge part of the Australia population recognised itself in mass culture. This was a form of culture that stood in homology with the country’s self-perception: It was embraced as a genuinely democratic and – thus specifically Australian – cultural practice. Little wonder, then, that Australians for decades could claim the highest cinema visits per capita.

The irony of this situation is that a leftist German thinker like Adorno, the theorist of the great divide between mass culture and art par excellence and orthodox Marxist, would have hated Australia. It was – and still is – a place that enthusiastically embraced every product the manipulative ‘culture industry’ had to offer.

At the same time, it was the most democratic nation he ever would have set foot on. It had a very different history than Germany, its ‘foundational dynamics’ were almost an inverse mirror image of the illiberal Kulturnation. This was an environment that countered political extremisms. And this was a society that did not automatically translate European cultural capital into a claim for social leadership, something that ironically would have led to Adorno’s misrecognition of its democratic traditions. In his view, capitalism’s diversions – in contrast to works like Schoenberg’s atonality – always equated to deformed personalities and complete sinfulness in which moral authority was all but impossible.

In a way, this already happened during his stay in the United States; yet, as described above, anything that he might have remotely liked about America had an even harder time to assert itself Down Under. The result would have been, again, an unfair European judgment of Australia.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Sept. 3. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Decision to kick a convicted sexual predator out of Australia is overturned by a bleeding heart tribunal

Because it might cause him "hardship"! Isn't that exactly what he has earned?

A DECISION to kick a convicted sexual predator out of Australia has been overturned because the pervert loves footy and his hero is Peter Brock.

As thousands of innocent would-be migrants are sent packing each year, the rapist and paedophile is now free to walk the streets of Melbourne despite Immigration Minister Chris Evans' decision to deport him.

The man has just been released from prison and is on the registered sex offenders' list for the rest of his life. He served a 7 1/2-year sentence for the rape of his partner and attempted incest on his step-daughter, then 12, which a judge described as "revolting".

But a tribunal decided the man was "virtually an Australian person", though he was not a citizen, and that it would be unfair to deport him to his homeland of Malta.

The decision has sparked outrage and the minister is considering his options, including an appeal to the Federal Court.

The registered sex offender, who cannot be named for legal reasons and is known as DNCW, fought the decision to deport him in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which reviews ministerial decisions.

The tribunal's senior member, John Handley, said even though the offences committed by the man were "repulsive" it would cause him "hardship" if he was deported.

He said the man had lived in Australia since he was four, with the exception of a few years when his family returned to Malta, and he had no memory of his homeland. "(He) is virtually an Australian person. He supports an Australian Rules football team. He also enjoys tennis, volleyball, badminton and soccer. He enjoys motorbike and motor car racing and his hero was Peter Brock," Mr Handley said.

Even though DNCW described the man's relationship with his partner in 2003 as "pretty good", he raped her.

He then twice tried to have incestuous sex with his 12-year-old step-daughter. Mr Handley said: "The attempted incest offences, by their description alone, are revolting. "The man described himself as a father figure (to the girl). Despite her protests, he violated her on two occasions.

"(The partner who was raped) was devastated and inconsolable whilst giving evidence. I do not know of any more disgraceful or depraved conduct by a man upon a woman."

The man also had a string of prior convictions including theft, unlawful assault, breach of an intervention order, burglary and cultivating a narcotic plant, he said.

The man had no close relatives in Malta, barely spoke the language, was not eligible for social security in Malta and would "suffer considerable hardship", he said.

An Australian resident of 14 years who was deported to Sri Lanka forcing his elderly mother, who is a citizen, to return with him, is outraged. Edward Joseph, who was caring for his 93-year-old mother, Irene, in Box Hill until his deportation in July, was refused a protection visa even though he claimed persecution as a Tamil.

"Australia is allowing a convicted rapist to remain in the country," he said. "If justice is what the Australian Government has given this rapist, please give my mother and I the same justice. "We are not rapists but, rather, ordinary people who have been made to suffer as a result of poor administrative decision-making of the Department of Immigration."

The tribunal has reviewed 270 of these cases of which it has overturned more than a third of the minister's refusals.

Justice advocate Steve Medcraft said the tribunal should "stick to backyard disputes" because, despite its senior members earning about $200,000 a year, they had no background in criminal law.


This must be the drought that the Warmists warned us about

AN emergency alert system created after the Black Saturday bushfires was used for the first time today to warn Victorians of floods. Residents in the state's northeast have been sent text and telephone messages detailing dangers presnt in the area as water continue to rise.

Victoria Police deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe says flooding so far is most widespread in the state's northeast where both the Kiewa and King rivers are on the rise.

Extra police have been deployed to support emergency services and the army is being asked to carry out flood damage assessments on Sunday.

About 100 residents in the central Victorian town of Creswick have been relocated to the Town Hall due to flash flooding, while 30 people from the Riverside Caravan Park in nearby Clunes were also moved to higher ground.

At Badger Creek, east of Melbourne, a house was unroofed and the occupants have also been relocated. Relief centres are being set up at Creswick, Euroa and Bright.

Bureau of Meteorology severe weather meteorologist Claire Yeo said the heaviest rainfall has been recorded at Mount Hotham with 152mm. Flash flood warnings remain in place for all western, central and northern districts, Ms Yeo said.

Elsewhere in the state, major roads are closed, houses and hospitals have been evacuated and emergency crews are preparing for the worst.


A health department that is impervious to evidence

But a court might force them to face the facts

A SYDNEY woman will launch a class action against NSW Health after autopsy results showed her husband had been riddled with a disease the Health Department says does not exist in Australia.

Karl McManus, 44, died in July after being bitten by a tick while filming the television show Home and Away in Sydney. The autopsy indicated he had bacteria from Lyme disease in his liver, heart, kidney and lungs.

Samples from his organs, which were tested at the Sydney laboratory Australian Biologics, will be sent to the University of Sydney and to laboratories in the United States for more testing. "If there is duplication of results, the government cannot dispute [that Lyme exists in Australia]," his wife, Mualla Akinci, said.

Mr McManus, from Turramurra, was diagnosed with multifocal neuropathy after testing negative at an Australian laboratory for Lyme disease, but tests carried out in the US and Germany returned positive results. NSW Health maintains that the organisms which cause Lyme disease - three species of the genus Borrelia - are not carried here by wildlife, livestock or their parasites.

It says that anyone suffering from the illness must have caught it overseas, but Ms Akinci is adamant Mr McManus was bitten by a Lyme-infested tick in Waratah Park, home of the TV show Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo.

Ms Akinci has the support of two sufferers, and hopes more people will join the class action.

She also plans to sue Hornsby Hospital where her husband was treated before his death, and will appeal a decision by the Health Care Complaints Commission not to investigate his treatment while at the hospital.


4 September, 2010

The prostitutes of Parliament Drive

Paul Sheehan

The night I took Bob Katter to dinner at the Royal Hotel in Paddington was, I believe, the first time he had been to the gentrified inner urban bubble that is historic Paddington. He wore his large beige cattleman's hat. He ordered a steak. (I have never witnessed Katter not have steak for dinner.) At the end of the meal, carrying his hat, he disappeared into the kitchen to thank the staff. I would love to have seen their expressions.

It is widely reported that Katter is mad. He is mad, but there is method to his madness, and he is mad only by the sensibilities of inner urban Australia. In his own element, Katter is the Prime Minister of the Gulf country. He is what all politicians would like to be, unassailable and unmistakable.

Nine days ago he was re-elected to federal Parliament for his seventh term. He won almost twice the vote of his nearest opponent, the Liberal National Party of Queensland candidate. He had more than four times the vote of the Labor candidate. Before entering federal Parliament, he spent 18 years in the Queensland Parliament. He has a smart, elegant wife, Susie, and four daughters, all of whom are university graduates. He has a self-made son who runs his own successful business in Mount Isa. Katter is no hayseed.

It is also widely reported that Katter, along with his fellow regional renegades Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, is an independent. However, as the past week unfolded, and this trio emerged as the people who will decide the ultimate outcome of the federal election, the more they talked about the importance of parliamentary democracy, the more they painted themselves into a moral corner. The more they extolled the virtues of their independence, the less independent they became. This may sound counter-intuitive, but let's compare their rhetoric with their reality. Look at the numbers.

Across regional Australia, a brace of electorates profoundly rejected Labor and the Greens at this election. When you add the combined votes of the ALP and the Greens, the four seats where these parties polled the lowest combined totals were: New England (11.4 per cent), Lyne (17.2 per cent), Kennedy (24.7 per cent) and O'Connor (25.7 per cent).

And who are the four MPS who hold these seats? None other than Tony Windsor (New England), Bob Oakeshott (Lyne), Bob Katter (Kennedy) and Tony Crook (O'Connor), who was elected as a West Australian National but says he considers himself separate from the Liberal-National coalition. I'm not even going to consider that Crook will help deliver power to the Labor machine that has strip-mined his state's resources boom to funnel money into its eastern urban base.

Then there is the Senate vote. It further confirms these four seats as the worst for Labor and the Greens. In Western Australia and Queensland as a whole, Labor's primary Senate vote sank to 29.75 per cent, reflecting the animus in these states towards the proposed extra tax on mining companies.

Now we get to the critical point. The independence of these independents only exists in the context of electorates where Labor is not a viable alternative and the Greens are regarded as dangerous and alien. Their voters were thus able to choose former National Party renegades because they promised to be even more parochial for rural voters than the Nationals themselves.

These men have been given no mandate whatsoever to form a government with the party their electorates so comprehensively dismissed. The only reason the Gillard Labor government is still even a caretaker government is because of its alliance with the Greens. Even with Green preferences, Labor lost a thumping 18 seats, offset by two gains. It was saved from disaster by Green preferences. The only Green elected to the House of Representatives, Adam Bandt, has already said he could not even countenance an alliance with the Coalition. He will only support a Labor government. This merely confirms the de facto alliance between Labor and the Greens.

Labor has topped out at 72 votes. Even with the support of the one Green and the one former Green, it still can't form a government without the representatives from the most implacably anti-Labor and anti-Green electorates in the nation.

This is rich, given that the average Labor vote in the electorates of Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott was a pathetic 13.9 per cent.

The idea that this trio can set aside this resounding anti-Labor sentiment in their electorates and install and sustain a Labor government for the next three years undermines their expressed concern for the democratic process. Their voters expect them to drive a hard bargain for their votes, but not put the Labor machine back into power. If they do, their days of preening political purity will be over.

These men are never going to be easy company for the Coalition, especially the Nationals, but their ultimate mission is to reflect the will of their electorates. So if either Katter, Windsor or Oakeshott throw their fate in with the Labor-Green alliance, they may as well buy themselves some fishnet stockings, follow-me-home stilettos and micro-miniskirts because, for many bushies, they will have become streetwalkers, the prostitutes of Parliament Drive.


Another big blunder in government ratings of websites

Such nincompoops are far too incompetent to be trusted with censoring the internet. A major and mainstream Australian news site rated as "adult"!

An audit of politicians' internet use that claimed the scalp of a state minister ranked as the most visited "adult website".

NSW Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay resigned this week after results of the audit were revealed. The audit supposedly showed whether MPs had been visiting adult links such as gambling and pornography sites.

However Legislative Council president Amanda Fazio yesterday revealed the audit had incorrectly classified news sites as adult because they contained links to or advertisements for adult dating sites. Both and were classified as adult sites in the audit.

"The definition of what has been classed as an adult site is something we're reviewing," she said. "What surprised us... the biggest (site) of what is classed as an adult site being hit by the parliament is the site. "Because there are adult matchmaking links or ads on their site, every time someone accesses and they go from one article to another, that's counted as an individual hit on an adult site."

The bungle is one of the most embarrassing examples to date of the problems that can occur when governments and organisations try to regulate internet use.

The revelation could also absolve some MPs tangled in the web porn scandal at NSW parliamentary offices that erupted this week. Christian Democratic MP Fred Nile, for example, has defended his office's viewing of certain "adult websites", saying they were merely for "research purposes".

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said every politician had been tainted by the scandal and asked for the matter to be settled quickly. His office had questioned a Nationals MP whose name emerged as part of the audit into online activity, including gambling websites.

But the nature of the audit has thrown up even more questions.

Earlier this week Ms Fazio and Legislative Assembly Speaker Richard Torbay said internal audits covered site categories but they did not commission any reports on MPs' internet use. Ms Fazio said she did not know how the internet use patterns of MPs were gathered. editor David Higgins said the auditing error showed governments could not be trusted to censor the internet. " is one of Australia's most visited news websites featuring award-winning journalism from the country's most respected newspapers," he said.

"The fact that a government agency has classed us as an adult site only demonstrates the deep flaws in government-mandated internet filtering of the type put forward by the Gillard Government."

"If governments can't get it right within their own IT departments how could we possibly trust a nationwide mandatory web filtering system based on a secret list of banned websites put together by politicians?”


Publicity causes backflip by the Labor Party's industrial piranhas

The workplace watchdog has backed away from legal action against a business owner who feared the company was facing a $700,000 wage bill.

The federal government's Fair Work Ombudsman had told the design company Pop Art Australia that it had been underpaying its workforce. Colin Robertson, the company's managing director, maintained his firm had previously been told by government employees on eight occasions over five years that it was correctly paying its employees under the manufacturing industry award.

But acting on a complaint from a former employee, Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors visited Mr Robertson's factory in suburban Cheltenham in March, later telling him he should have been paying the workers the higher rates that apply under the storage services award.

Mr Robertson was told his company had committed award breaches and the former employee should receive $25,380 in backpay. The Ombudsman might also commence legal action to recover outstanding amounts owed to affected employees, totalling as much as $700,000, as well as litigation against the company.

After The Australian reported on the case in July, the Ombudsman conducted a further review and yesterday confirmed it had decided to withdraw the contravention notice. "The Fair Work Ombudsman remains of the view that its original finding was accurate on the basis of the information gathered at the time," a spokesman said.

"However, a further site visit to Pop Art and consideration of additional evidence provided by the employer has allowed greater clarity about the nature of the Pop Art business and the diverse range of products it manufactures from many different components."

The spokesman said three industrial instruments could apply to Pop Art employees but, on balance, it was the manufacturing and not the storage award that provided the best fit for the work performed. Fair Work inspectors will meet with Pop Art on Monday to discuss previous and ongoing compliance with the manufacturing award.

Mr Robertson declined to comment yesterday. But lawyer Grace Collier, employed as a consultant by Pop Art, asked, "What if Colin had just coughed up the $700,000 instead of fighting the issue? "How many other businesses have paid money when they perhaps shouldn't have? Anecdotal evidence indicates that a vast amount of inspectors are ex-union officials.

"How do we know that these people are not using their powers to simply choose the most expensive award, like it appears happened with Pop Art, to get the best result for complainants? "All this comes back to the injustice of the situation," she said. "If the Ombudsman can form an opinion to prosecute, why can they not form an opinion to tell employers what their obligations are?"


NSW Labor government hides health data

A DAY after the state government pledged to be open and transparent about the performance of the health system, leaked documents show hospitals in Sydney's west have fallen far short of recommended treatment times during winter.

The Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, launched a new website, Your Health Service, on Thursday, saying it would give people "the most current information, hospital by hospital", to help them find the healthcare they needed.

However, the website is already six months out of date. Information about waiting times in emergency departments, for elective surgery and to be admitted to a ward based on the January to March period.

The performance of hospitals during winter, a peak period for flu and gastroenteritis, will not be publicly available until well into spring.

The opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said: "By the time April figures are released by Carmel Tebbutt they will already be five months old, hardly timely access to vital performance information."

Mrs Skinner accused Ms Tebbutt of hiding the most recent data, which was leaked to the Liberals by a frontline clinician, and given to the Herald yesterday.

"Carmel Tebbutt claims to have increased transparency, but these leaked documents show she is hiding monthly reports that detail how our hospitals are performing, and frontline health workers are sick of her secrecy."

The report, by NSW Health's Demand and Performance Evaluation Branch, shows Westmead and Blacktown, two of the largest hospitals in Sydney's west, failed to see many patients and find them a bed within benchmark times in July.

Fewer than 38 per cent of patients bought into Westmead's emergency department by ambulance were seen by a triage nurse within 30 minutes, far short of the recommended 90 per cent. About 46 per cent of patients in triage category three were treated within 30 minutes; the target is 75 per cent. Fifty-five per cent of patients were not admitted to a ward within eight hours; the benchmark is 30 per cent.

At Blacktown Hospital the internal report shows off-stretcher times and admissions to wards were 15 per cent lower in the last week of July than the March quarter average.

The official figures for April to July will not be publicly available until later this month.

Ms Tebbutt said the website would also list the number of people who contracted infections in each hospital, yet only last year's figures are listed. "As new performance data is released by the Independent Bureau of Health Information it will be uploaded to the website, to ensure patients continue to have access to up-date-information," Ms Tebbutt said.


3 September, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is unimpressed by the constant drip of scandal and corruption coming from the NSW government

In Centrelink hell

One woman's experience of claiming a government welfare payment from a vast bureaucracy

I’ve landed in Centrelink hell. I’ve been told of this place. It’s full of bureaucratic bungling, time wasting, money wasting, red tape and double ups. It has lived up to its reputation. Here’s my ten steps to Centrelink hell.

1) Hours after Amelie’s birth we were provided with a new parent kit that included forms for Family Assistance. I stupidly took the time to fill out the form and take it to the Family Assistance office – which when you have a newborn and a toddler is not an easy thing to do.

2) About two weeks later I received a letter saying we needed to provide more information. But there was no indication of what that information may be. So I called the Family Assistance office and they told me I had to fill out the form online for the 2009/2010 financial year because Amelie was born on 29 June.

3) Two hours later after filling in the exact same answers online as I had provided on the paper form the computer told me that I needed to show Family Assistance copies of the kids’ birth certificates.

4) So back to the Family Assistance office I go, the same woman takes the certificates and photocopies them and I think – why didn’t you tell me that I needed these when I came in to hand in the form in the first place? And why doesn’t the form itself say that you need to provide birth certificates?

5) Another week later another letter arrives. It says we need to complete our tax returns before our claim can be assessed. Again, why not tell me this when I am doing the claim in the first place?

6) I call Family Assistance and they tell me not to worry, our claim for the baby bonus is complete and should be processed soon. They just need our tax return for the Family Tax benefit. But we don’t even qualify for the FTB, and that should be obvious from the answers on our form.

7) Another week later I call to find out the status of our claim. The man tells me that there is no problem with our claim, they don’t need any more information and it should have been processed, but he will ask the processing team to call me to explain why there has been a delay.

8) The processing team call 24 hours later. She tells me that she has our paper form, but not an online claim. She says we need to go back online and complete the claim for the financial year 2010/2011 – all the same information a third time. The staff member who told me to tick the last financial year was wrong and she is very sorry. She tells me that the original paper form handed out in hospitals is irrelevant because “we are moving away from the paper form to online services”. What about people who don’t have access to a computer? Why waste so much of taxpayers money printing forms and delivering them to hospitals? Why waste my time filling it out?

9) So I log back on to online services and I am completing the same information for a third time – passport number, exact dates for any trip I have taken overseas in the last three years, income, address, bank account details. They have all this information sitting in their computer and yet I have to fill it all in again.

10) I’m still waiting to see any money and wondering if the cash is worth the headache.

It’s lucky that I don’t desperately need the money – is a wonderful employer who provides some paid maternity leave. I can’t imagine how some couples can survive if they were relying on these payments. It’s late, it’s ridiculously difficult to claim due to red tape and incompetence and it’s taking up far too much of my time dealing with Family Assistance when I should be enjoying time with my wonderful children.

The people who need to deal with Centrelink and Family Assistance are not the kind of people who have a lot of time or patience. They are new parents, carers, grieving widows, the sick and the disabled. These people don’t need the kind of stress that Centrelink brings. I’m sure it is just as stressful for the people who work within the system as for those that need to use it.

Here’s a tip for the politicians trying to broker a deal so someone can form government – push them to reform not just parliament, but the bureaucratic monster that those pollies have managed to create. Do an audit not just of the promises, but of the system that is already in place and use the savings to go towards better health and education services.


Online public broadcaster walks only on left side of the street

ANYONE trying to make sense of the recent election campaign would be advised to stay well clear of the articles on the ABC's opinion websites, The Drum and Unleashed.

With these sites established as an addition to the ABC's online news service late last year, the campaign was the first big test to see whether online opinion at the national broadcaster could, as ABC chairman Maurice Newman once dared hope, "walk both sides of the street".

But while Tony Abbott's 2010 campaign will be remembered as the most successful by a first-term opposition in 79 years - and, conversely, Julia Gillard's the least successful by a government - all of this seems to have eluded the chosen opinion holders at the ABC. I monitored both sites throughout the campaign. Here's the tally. Negative comments: Gillard, 327; Abbott, 353. Positive comments: Gillard, 197; Abbott, 65. In short, while Gillard and Abbott received roughly the same amount of criticism, Gillard was praised three times more often.

From the first week, articles published at these websites informed us that "Changing leaders has done no damage to Labor's chances at all because Tony Abbott is unelectable and his party is a rabble"; that cabinet meetings involving Abbott would be a "freak show" and the leader a "shameless political operator".

Marieke Hardy told us it was likely he would be "stupid enough to go strolling about the streets wearing nothing but his swimmers and a vaguely predatory leer". Bob Ellis chimed in to say Abbott should be asked about causing the premature death of asbestos-related diseases campaigner Bernie Banton.

Abbott started slowly in campaigning, but it seemed unlikely the tenor of the negative comments - running against him by about five to one at ABC online - could be easily justified.

Week two was the week of the leaks. Abbott performed well in the debate and by the weekend some polls put him in a winning position. This, you might think, would be reflected at the online opinion sites of our national broadcaster. In fact, in the week when it was revealed Gillard might not have been entirely truthful about her support for parental leave, her positive mentions doubled. Amazingly, the ABC published an item praising Gillard's announcement of a citizens assembly on climate change, somehow uncovering the only person other than Gillard known to think that "Boganhagen" would be a good idea.

Positive comment for Abbott came in otherwise negative stories: "It should be clear by now that the trend is towards the Coalition. That's despite anything they've done." But for every grudging bit of praise, Abbott was attacked many times over: "To be fair to Tony, he is a genuinely strange-looking man" and "Personally I'm of the firm belief that [Abbott's] personality is born of the loins of Satan, but it's still a personality regardless."

With the entry of Mark Latham and the advent of "Real Julia", Labor's campaign rapidly turned to farce, but we were told Gillard was "shrewd, tough and intelligent and with a modest manner". One writer followed her on the campaign trail, saying there was a "real buzz around her". Whether there was a buzz around Abbott we are yet to find out; none of them followed him on the hustings. Another concluded that the insulation scheme, which led to four deaths and wasted billions of dollars, "actually achieved some very successful outcomes in terms of retro-fitting Australian homes".

In the week of the Rooty Hill debate the ABC appeared to abandon any pretence of providing balanced opinion on its websites. Gillard and her campaign were praised 93 times - more than Abbott during the entire campaign, while he was showered with criticism. There was not a single online opinion article where a conservative substantially criticised Gillard or praised Abbott that week and at least 17 articles on the other side of the ledger.

Interestingly, the ineptitude of Labor's campaign seemed to have an inverse relationship to the rapturous reception at ABC's online opinion.

During this period, as an experiment, I submitted some comments: "To be fair to Julia, she is a genuinely strange-looking woman" and "She took a married man from his children and is likely to treat her country no better." These comments, created by substituting Gillard's name for Abbott and making small alterations to sentences that contributors had already published, were rejected by the moderators.

Unsurprisingly, an analysis of ABC online's election campaign coverage shows an enormous bias to the Left with an over-representation of policies held by the Greens.

I like to think that the work of the commentariat - or, as Kim Beazley Sr famously put it, the dregs of the middle class - contributed to Gillard's disastrous campaign, seducing her into believing that Abbott was unelectable. These assumptions came crashing down at Rooty Hill where, away from ABC land, the Prime Minister finally came face to face with people whose opinions really mattered.


Corrupt Muslim academic still on staff in Western Australian university

It's amazing what you can get away with if you are a Muslim. We read below that "The university has just become aware of the situation" and "The University acted very quickly to protect the victims and has taken a number of steps towards improving its systems for the detection, reporting and management of misconduct”. Which is it?

Amateurish last-minute spin in response to unexpected publicity is what it says to me, with the truth be damned. Excerpts only below. The full article has even more self-contradictions. Honesty seems to be the first victim of dealing with Muslims

A CURTIN University academic whom the Corruption and Crime Commission found to be pressuring students for sexual favours in return for higher marks is still working at Murdoch University.

PerthNow this morning found that Dr Nasrul Ali, the academic named in a Corruption and Crime Commission report tabled in Parliament today, is a finance lecturer at Murdoch's business school.

The report says that while he was employed at Curtin last year, Dr Ali pressured three young, female overseas students for sexual favours in exchange for higher marks.

A Murdoch staffer this morning confirmed that Dr Ali was working at the school, but said that the accusations were merely the opinion of the CCC, which had accepted the allegations of the women, but had not called for further action.

But the official position of Murdoch was released to PerthNow in a statement by senior deputy vice-chancellor Gary Martin who later said: "The university has just become aware of the situation. "The member of staff concerned is currently on leave while we consider the outcomes of the Commission's investigation."

The events happened last year while Dr Ali was employed as a sessional academic in the Curtin Business School where he worked as a tutor, lecturer and unit coordinator. Three of the students were from China and one from Malaysia.

The report found that while there was no sexual contact between Dr Ali and the students, he targeted young, vulnerable, full fee-paying overseas female students. The students were being financially supported by their families, needed to pass their units or risk of losing their student visas.

The report said Dr Ali asked three of the female students, aged 24, 22 and 20, to think of something to convince him to change their marks. Evidence supported the students’ belief that he was asking them for sex, the CCC concluded.

Dr Ali refused to increase the mark of the fourth female student from a fail of 45 to a pass of 50 because he was angry she did not contact him when she was in Malaysia at the same time as he was there. He also marked down a paper from a group of three students that included the fourth female student from 73 out of 100 to 50 because he was annoyed with her.

Curtin's Vice-Chancellor Professor Jeanette Hacket today said the university was committed to implementing the recommendations of the CCC report. Professor Hacket said she had been deeply shocked by the allegations.

“I am extremely disappointed that the educational experience of these students has been so negatively impacted,” she said. “Our integrity has been called into question, and I acknowledge that the trust placed in us by our students and the broader community has been breached by this staff member.

“As Vice-Chancellor, I am determined to address the recommendations made by the Commission, so we can be confident our students are receiving the highest standards of professional and pastoral care.”

Professor Hacket said misconduct was contrary to the University’s Code of Conduct, Guiding Ethical Principles and values, and would not be tolerated. “The University has already done significant work to improve internal policies and processes in relation to the assessment of students since learning of these incidents,” she said.

"I hope people will remember that the University employs over 4000 staff, including many award winning scholars and researchers, who genuinely believe in the transformational power of education and dedicate their professional lives to helping others,” she said.

Commissioner Len Roberts-Smith QC said: “The University acted very quickly to protect the victims and has taken a number of steps towards improving its systems for the detection, reporting and management of misconduct” . The Commission was initially notified of the allegation by Curtin University and Dr Ali was the only staff member about whom an opinion of misconduct was made.


Stupidity in the Federal health bureaucracy goes on

But publicity seems to have forced a backdown at last

A NEW Zealand woman has been told she cannot register as a nurse in Australia until she can prove she is competent in English. Joanne Hening, 50, moved from New Zealand five years ago and this year fulfilled her lifelong dream to become a qualified nurse.

However, despite completing her diploma in nursing at King's International College on the Gold Coast in June, she has been unable to work as an enrolled nurse until she is able to show she can meet English requirements.

"It's very stressful and very frustrating," Mrs Hening said. "As a brand new nurse I'm unable to do my nursing because of this registration problem. I just want to work to do the role that I studied to do."

She is one of dozens of nurses in Queensland caught up in a bureaucratic bungle that has swamped the newly created Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Despite Mrs Hening speaking English her entire life, AHPRA have told her she must pass an English language test because she did not complete both her high school education and nursing training in Australia.

Mrs Hening spent $350 enrolling in an English language test which she is due to sit this month. She is working at a Cairns day surgery as an assistant nurse until she receives her registration that will enable her to perform her full duties.

An AHPRA spokeswoman last week said consistent criteria would be finalised for overseas applicants. The AHPRA website last posted information about international applicants on August 18.

Nursing and Midwifery Board spokeswoman Nicole Newton has defended the handling of registrations. "Processing applications is a priority but the Board's role is to protect the public," Ms Newton said.

She said an international applicant who had completed their high school education overseas at a school where English was the first language, would not have to sit the exam. Ms Newton said it was still yet to be determined whether nurses who had gone ahead and paid to sit an English exam would be able to get a refund. She said AHPRA is making contact with each international applicant to reassess their registration.


The NSW Ambulance Service again

Coroner slams Ambulance Service over killer paramedic

A mentally ill paramedic who killed his mother before killing himself had been "a bomb waiting to explode", said a coroner who has criticised the NSW Ambulance Service for ignoring warnings about his mental state. Trent Speering, 40, had been facing dismissal from the service when he shot dead his mother, Monica Speering, 72, and himself at her Baulkham Hills home in June 2008.

From 2000, colleagues began to make complaints against Mr Speering about his temper, irrationality, harassment and bullying. Several suggested he be psychiatrically assessed. But the ambulance service dealt with Mr Speering's case as a disciplinary issue.

In handing down her findings at the Coroner's Court in Glebe today, the State Coroner, Mary Jerram, said Ambulance Service management had ignored the opinions of its own staff that Mr Speering needed help. "Unfortunately help was not forthcoming," Ms Jerram said. "It may not have been successful, but it surely should have been attempted."

"Trent Speering was a bomb waiting to explode, and while the Ambulance Service management did not light the fuse, they did little to stamp out the flame."

The court heard Mr Speering sent "horrifying" and abusive letters to colleagues, family and the media, some of which outlined his intention to kill his mother. "There were moments when it seemed amazing that the court was not dealing with an even worse situation, such as a mass killing of ambulance personnel by Trent Speering," Ms Jerram said. "He obviously thought about it, threatened it and had the capacity to do it."

She recommended the service introduce training to their management personnel on their powers to refer staff for psychiatric assessment. She also recommended the service introduce clear policies to ensure reports by staff about the mental health of other employees be properly documented and acted upon.


2 September, 2010

Shockwave sent through mining heartland after ALP-Greens alliance

LABOR'S alliance with the Greens has sent a shockwave through Australia's mining heartland. From the coalfields of the NSW Illawarra to Queensland's Bowen Basin, the pact has sparked fears among workers and bosses that the industry will come under attack through the introduction of an emissions trading scheme and possible changes to Labor's mining tax.

Senior mining executives warned that the Labor-Greens alliance had the potential to reignite the advertising war with the government because of perceptions in the industry that the Greens' policies were anti-mining.

Queensland miner Ross Robinson has a warning for Labor: "Go too green and give up any hope of winning back the Queensland seats lost at the election." A 30-year veteran of the industry, the machine operator says it is the new taxes - the carbon "tax" and the resources rent tax - that have his colleagues talking, despite their political leanings.

"It's quite often talked about," he said. "A big majority of the miners are dead against it. Labor lost Dawson and Flynn and they're both mining areas - it says a lot."

Down in the Illawarra, on the NSW south coast, coalminers Rod Boeck and Wilf O'Donnell need no reminding of the importance of the mining sector to the nation's economy, let alone the livelihood of thousands of local workers. "Mining is the backbone of the Illawarra region," Mr O'Donnell said."It provides three jobs off the mine site for every one job on the mine site." The men work at the NRE No 1 Colliery, which is owned and operated by Gujarat NRE Coking Coal Limited.

The Illawarra is rusted-on, blue-collar Labor territory, where coal mines are in easy reach of the export hub of Port Kembla.

In the two local federal seats of Cunningham and Throsby, the ALP MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones hold commanding leads, with more than 60 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote. And the prospect of a Gillard government siding with the Greens - the very party that could sink the mining sector with its push for an increased mining tax and a high price on carbon - is unlikely to be easily digested.

The mining industry is nervous about the Greens having influence over policymaking, given the party wants to stop any expansion of the coal industry, phase out coal power in favour of renewables, shut down uranium mining and reintroduce the RSPT.

Mr Robinson, a conservative voter from Blackwater, 840km northwest of Brisbane, said Labor would inevitably want taxes that would hurt the industry. "To get the Greens' support on passing legislation one way or another, they're going to be wanting concessions (from Labor) leaning towards their idealistic policies," he said.

Mr Robinson said a carbon tax would hurt the resources industry and move companies, and jobs, offshore. "I think that will be quite detrimental to the mining industry, if not in the immediate future, then further down the line," he said. "I don't think it's good for anybody. "I can't see any good coming of it. They're taxing everything, even the water - now they're taxing the air. It's not going to make any difference."

Mining is a key industry in the north Queensland region, where 8 per cent of workers in the surrounding electorate of Flynn and more than 5 per cent of workers in the neighbouring seat of Dawson are directly employed in the resources sector.

Both electorates fell to the Coalition at the August 21 election, among seven electorates won from Labor across Queensland, plus two seats held by the Liberal National Party despite having become notionally Labor.

In the mining-dominated town of nearby Nebo, Les Carlton runs a workshop that services machinery for the surrounding mines. He said an environment tax was a good idea in theory but the money generated would be spirited away with no accountability. "It will be another tax that has to be paid and no one will see any benefit," Mr Carlton said. "Everyday Joe Blow is not going to find out where that money goes. "I'm not saying it won't work (but) there needs to be accountability so that people can see that the money is being used."


Telcos lob a grenade at the Labor party's broadband policy

At 3 billion versus 43 billion, you would think all sides would welcome the new plan but the Labor party doesn't care about cost. Getting their way is all that matters to them

An alliance of telcos has lobbed a last-minute grenade into talks around who will form the next government by proposing a new broadband plan that appears more aligned with the Coalition's policy than Labor's national broadband network.

The Alliance for Affordable Broadband - comprising telcos including Allegro Networks, PIPE Networks, BigAir, Vocus Communications, AAPT, Polyfone and EFTEL - proposes government-subsidised fibre backhaul but recommends connecting the country with a fourth-generation (4G) national wireless broadband network.

Whereas Labor's government-funded plan will connect 93 per cent of homes with fibre-optic cables, the alternative plan, similar to the Coalition's, will connect homes via a new wireless broadband network. The 4G network would connect 98 per cent of Australians and offer speeds of up to 100Mbps.

The release of the broadband manifesto coincides with meetings between the key independents and members of the government and NBN Co. The independents will decide who will form the next government and broadband is shaping up as a key factor in negotiations.

"We believe the argument for a national fibre-only NBN solution has failed to convince," the alliance of telcos said in a statement released yesterday. "A well-informed independent member of Parliament might wisely favour an NBN version 3 public-private model on a mix of technology, with deliverables within a term, over a more costly and more risky eight-plus years NBN 2.0 rollout."

Asked why they didn't release the plan before the election, alliance member Jason Ashton, chief executive of Big Air, said the delay was due to the fact that the Coalition released its broadband policy late in the election cycle.

The Coalition seized on the alternative broadband plan as evidence that Labor's $43 billion broadband plan was a "white elephant" that was technically and economically deficient.

Labor's plan will give speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, whereas the alliance believes 100Mbps is good enough. "We see the greatest priority is giving broadband to those who don't have any, not faster broadband to those that have," the alliance said.

More here

Opposing same-sex adoption is not bigoted

By Peter Kell (Peter Kell is chief executive of Anglicare Sydney)

The optimal family arrangement is for a biological mother and biological father raising their children in a committed long-term relationship. Where this is not possible, the next best arrangement should replicate as closely as possible the primary arrangement of biological mother and father.

This would lead us to err on the side of supporting adoption by heterosexual over same-sex couples to replicate those optimal conditions, in which the unique physical and emotional traits of each parent provide appropriate role modelling and nurturing for the child in a complimentary way.

Under the NSW Adoption Act, the best interests of the child are paramount. The act conforms to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, the onus is on those supporting an amendment to the Adoption Act to demonstrate the ability by same-sex couples to provide equivalent optimal care.

This is not quite as easy as it might at first seem. The research cited on both sides of the same-sex argument to support their claims was at best inconclusive and at worst methodologically flawed.

Last year, an inquiry by the Legislative Council into adoption by same-sex couples considered a range of evidence about parenting by mothers and fathers and by same-sex couples.

A submission by Anglicare Sydney noted that research on same-sex carers had been affected by both methodological flaws and ideological debates. Anglicare Sydney concluded that, in the best interests of children, the state should err on the side of caution on adoption - even more so in areas where research, at best, appears ambiguous. And the members of the committee were far from unanimous about the research evidence.

The position we took in the inquiry drew on 45 years of direct experience in the provision of adoption services in NSW. Anglicare Sydney works every day with birth families, with children who have been put up for adoption (including many children with special needs) and with people seeking to adopt a child.

One thing we have sought to pursue is an optimal outcome for the child. It is a child's right to have the best possible family environment.

It is important to consider that the proposed amendment as it stands does not distinguish between "known" and "unknown" adoptions. This is a vital distinction when considering the best interests of a child.

All the examples of same-sex parenting cited by those in favour of the amendment refer to known adoptions, where a child is already part of a family unit in which the parenting role is undertaken by a same-sex couple.

There may be instances where it might be in the best interests of a child already in a relationship with a carer for adoption to occur with the consent, as required, of the child's biological parents.

However, the amendment also applies where a child or infant is unknown to the prospective adoptive parents. In this instance, the best interests of children would be served by seeking to provide them with the optimal care offered by both a mother and a father.

In unknown adoptions, birth parents select potential adoptive parents from profiles presented to them. They usually prefer a mother and a father over single adoptive parents. When the Adoption Act in Tasmania was amended, it maintained this important distinction, allowing for known same-sex adoption, but not for unknown adoptions.

Anglicare Sydney is not seeking to perpetuate and condone discrimination against gay people. The Adoption Act makes it clear that adoption is a service for the child, not the adoptive parents, and that no one has the right to adopt.

We believe that the proposed amendment is not a proper application of the law against homosexual discrimination.

Discrimination issues should have no bearing on reasons to promote same-sex adoption. The only relevant consideration ought to be whether same-sex adoption is in the best interests of the child.

Amending the Adoption Act ought not to be a vehicle for sending a message to people about removing prejudice against same-sex relationships and encouraging the general acceptance of same-sex relationships.


Dysfunctional, corrupt and rotten, the end is finally nigh for the NSW Labor party

AN INQUIRY into the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, a corruption finding against a NSW Maritime lawyer and, to top it off, the resignation of a cabinet minister who admitted accessing adult and gambling websites on his parliamentary computer.

Even by the standards of the eternally scandal-ridden Labor government, yesterday was a bad day for public administration in NSW.

But, of course, it doesn't end there. The Director of Public Prosecutions is considering whether to bring charges against a former Labor MP and parliamentary secretary, Karyn Paluzzano, over rorting her public expenses and lying to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about it.

Next week, the commission will launch public hearings into two separate cases involving employees of the Sydney Water corporation.

And on and on it goes. The resignation of four ministers this year. This is the state of NSW, just seven months out from an election.

The government is drowning in the polls. Only a week ago Kristina Keneally warned her troops to find some discipline before the election in March. Paul McLeay, it appears, was their response.

But what is wrong goes much wider than the behaviour of the Keneally government's MPs. The fact is that around Parliament, in the pubs and at the football, people are referring to the government as corrupt. Not in the sense of any particular minister or public servant, mind you. They are disparaging the whole system, from top to bottom, as riddled with self interest, opportunism and rorting of the public purse.

Former independent state MP John Hatton who announced yesterday he would stand as a independent candidate for the Legislative Council, uses the word with conviction. "We live in a corrupt state," his media release stated.

To a fair-minded person, it is a statement that should be treated with some scepticism.

Then again, Hatton should know, as he is credited with forcing the royal commission into the NSW Police Service. "Open, accountable government, a level playing field for all business, freedom of information, ethical, impartial decision making in key areas simply does not exist in NSW," Hatton declared. He has come out of retirement to tackle his old enemy. It's as if he can smell it.


Mass breakout from Australian immigration detention centre

This is good news. Pictures of illegals rioting and protesting about being locked up were a major factor in stopping the flow under the Howard government. Potential illegals decided that they didn't like the look of where they would end up so stopped coming. One hopes that TV images of the latest protest went around the world -- as they did last time

More than 80 asylum-seekers broke out of an Australian immigration detention centre on Wednesday after days of riots and staged a seven-hour protest outside, police said.

The detainees escaped from the centre in the far northern city of Darwin at about 6:30 am, a spokeswoman told AFP. Media reports said the protesters were Afghans and unfurled a banner saying, "We need protection not detention".

Police said the protest ended when 76 were taken into custody at the Darwin watchhouse and another five, including two suffering from heat exhaustion, were taken to a nearby hospital where they remained under immigration custody. "They peacefully came into our custody," Assistant Police Commissioner Rob Kendrick told reporters.

The mass break-out comes after more than 100 alleged people-smugglers torched mattresses and staged a protest on the roof of the detention centre in two days of disturbances on Sunday and Monday.

The centre for 450 people is housing 151 Indonesians accused of people-smuggling, with the remainder asylum seekers or people who have overstayed visas.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said all the men who escaped Wednesday were asylum seekers. "Many of them have actually had their initial claim for asylum refused, and there is a protest activity," Senator Evans told reporters. "I stress these are asylum seekers, they are not criminals, and they are seeking support... for their claims for asylum."

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers while their claims are processed, and generally processes the immigrants at remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

But increased numbers of poor immigrants -- more than 4,000 this year, mainly poor Asians fleeing conflict and economic hardship -- have forced the reopening of isolated centres on the country's mainland.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the protest was symptomatic of the overcrowding in centres. "This is a pressure cooker situation," he said.


1 September, 2010

Katter rubbishes climate change experts

Dismissing economists as not expert about climate change is perfectly reasonable. Katter comes from a National Party background so is basically very conservative. Given the "hung" nature of Australia's present parliament, Katter's vote will be crucial throughout the life of the parliament concerned

"Independent MP Bob Katter, who says he is a "hair's breadth" away from making a decision on who to support to form government, has dismissed as "lightweight" the positions held by internationally-recognised climate change experts Sir Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut.

While his fellow independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, held briefings yesterday with the climate experts, Mr Katter pointedly refused the invitation. "I think their (Garnaut and Stern) positions are fairly lightweight," Mr Katter said.

Mr Katter said while he was close to making up his own mind, he would wait until Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott determined their positions before revealing his hand. "I'm not likely to be making a decision outside of the decision of my colleagues," Mr Katter, the member for the Queensland seat of Kennedy, told ABC Radio.

With the best will in the world there should be a decision by the trio of independents by the end of the week or early next, Mr Katter said.

Numerous conversations with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey have filled Mr Katter's week.

Mr Katter said he wanted to keep Australia's agricultural industry alive. While the average Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development subsidy tariff level was 49 per cent, for Australian agriculturalists it was six per cent and falling, he said. "Do you really think that you're going to have any agriculture in this country in light of that competitive advantage that they enjoy?"


'Holiday camp' prison now closed down

A QUEENSLAND prison facility has been shut down amid claims it was more like a "holiday camp" with inmates enjoying easy access to drugs and going on unsupervised day trips.

Queensland Corrective Services decommissioned the Innisfail prison work camp, south of Cairns, on Monday after a former inmate said life inside was "better than on the dole".

He claimed prisoners were allowed unsupervised outings to Innisfail, and had easy access to drugs, pornography, mobile phones and visits from their girlfriends.

The former inmate said he was amazed by the comfortable conditions inside the facility, including air conditioning, flat screen TVs, DVDs and access to pay TV. "I couldn't believe it was happening, it was an absolute holiday camp," he told The Cairns Post.

"You've got people convicted of violent crimes like murder and grievous bodily harm yet they're allowed to roam unsupervised every Wednesday and Monday."

Corrective services chief Kelvin Anderson said the work camp was closed as soon as the allegations came to light. The eight prisoners living at the facility were relocated to the Lotus Glen Prison, near Mareeba, on Monday night. "The allegations are very serious and we are treating it in that way," he said. "As soon as we became aware of these allegations action was taken very quickly."

Mr Anderson said the dog squad had gone through the facility after the prisoners were removed but did not find any drugs.

He said the chief inspector of prisoners would carry out an investigation but no staff had been stood down at this stage. Guards who had worked at the camp had also been moved to Lotus Glen, he said.


Doctor scarcity costs state $86m as expensive locums flown in to fill the gaps

QUEENSLAND Health spent more than $1.5 million a week on "fly-in, fly-out" doctors and other fill-in medical practitioners last financial year. In 2009-10, the State Government spent $86.5 million on locum doctors – those who fill in temporarily – some of them flying in from as far away as New Zealand, figures obtained by The Courier-Mail show.

The base rate for agency locum doctors is up to $1800 a day – more than double the rate of permanent doctors. Air fares are paid on top of that.

Doctors working in the bush say locums are becoming more prevalent as recruitment of permanent doctors becomes more difficult, partly because of delays in registering overseas-trained doctors [And banning perfectly good doctors on the basis of technicalities]. "Most locums are supplied by an agency and work in remote or regional communities to provide cover for full-time doctors taking leave or during recruitment of full-time staff," a Queensland Health spokeswoman said.

"Queensland Health avoids the use of locum medical practitioners wherever possible, but our primary obligation is to ensure every Queenslander has access to health services."

The issue of locum doctors was highlighted during an inquest last week into the death of a four-year-old girl in the Doomadgee Hospital on July 23 last year. Doomadgee was staffed by a locum doctor, Zulfikar Ali Hudda, who was on a two-week contract, at the time of the little girl's death, to relieve the resident doctor, Nzinga Bila.

Dr Hudda had never worked at Doomadgee previously, although he had experience of Aboriginal communities. The executive director of medical services for the Mount Isa district, Greg Coffey, told the inquest Dr Bila had been the indigenous community's lone medical officer for six years.

He said doctors such as Dr Bila generally worked 200 days a year, and locums were employed for the rest of the year. "The work of a rural doctor is generally three weeks on, working 24 hours, seven days a week, then one week off," Dr Coffey said in an inquest statement.

Although a "root cause analysis" into the little girl's death had recommended "2.5 doctors" be employed at Doomadgee, he said this had not been possible.


Australia's Liberal party really are liberals

Unlike the so-called "liberals" of the USA

MALCOLM Fraser wants the Liberal Party to return to "liberal values". But what are they? Has any ideological label been more contested, coveted and contorted than the term liberal? Its Latin root, liberalis, meaning "of freedom", is also the root of liberty; so how is it that lovers of liberty find themselves identifying enemies of liberty by calling them liberals?

Well, perhaps this morphological incongruity will soon be put right because after its orbit across the political spectrum, the term liberal may be headed home to where it belongs.

The Oxford English Dictionary presents quotations dated from 1375 to demonstrate how various spellings of the word were used to describe sciences, arts, education and behaviour. The earliest quotation to suggest a political ideology is dated 1692; its author, appropriately enough, is John Locke: "Let them find by experience, that the most liberal has always most plenty." But it wasn't until the 19th century that the term was used to denote a mature political ideology of freedom. OED defines this conception of liberal as follows: "Favourable to constitutional changes and legal or administrative reforms tending in the direction of freedom or democracy. Hence used as the designation of the party holding such opinions, in England or other states; opposed to Conservative."

Conservatives of the 19th century favoured economic controls such as import tariffs to protect the landed gentry from downward pressure on grain prices. Liberals of that time favoured liberty, which meant free trade and free enterprise; that is, capitalism. And as Locke had predicted, unprecedented liberty produced unprecedented plenty.

Liberalism was such a powerful ideal, and its economic effects so propitious, that opposition was sidelined. But from the sidelines opponents craved a return to the old order, where everyone knew what to do, because their rulers told them. By the end of the 19th century liberalism's opponents had decided that if it couldn't be beaten, maybe it could be infiltrated and redirected.

Early in the new century the Fabians set about redirecting liberalism. In 1932 H. G. Wells advised the Young Liberals at Oxford to draw inspiration from the National Socialists of Italy and become "liberal fascists". Mussolini knew better. His doctrine put it this way: "If liberalism signifies the individual, then fascism signifies the state."

After World War II an even more bizarre strategy to sabotage liberalism evolved. The spin doctors managed to wrap defeated socialism with capitalism in one web, and triumphant socialism with liberalism in another. Capitalism, the child, was abducted and branded fascism. Liberalism, the mother, was made the wet nurse of Soviet-inspired socialism.

By the 1960s liberals were considered anti-capitalist and capitalists were considered fascists. This was a complete reversal of the original meaning of liberalism. Whereas 19th-century liberals made the individual sovereign over his own life and the state his protector, 20th-century liberals restored the pre-Enlightenment order: the individual's interests subordinated to society's interests, as judged by those in power, which meant the regulation of commerce and the redistribution of wealth, from those who produced it to those who didn't.

When the 19th-century conception of liberalism was revisited it had to be identified as classical liberalism to distinguish it from contemporary liberalism, which was sometimes called social liberalism. In matters such as religious or sexual preferences it retained its original meaning: freedom. But in economic matters, on which all freedoms depend, liberalism had come to mean the opposite.

In short, whereas classical liberalism signified capitalism, social liberalism signified socialism (or the mix advocated by John Maynard Keynes). Then the Soviet Union imploded. By the 1990s the term capitalism could be used in polite society again.

Because of its handful of dogged philosophic and economic defenders, and the philosophic and economic bankruptcy of their opponents, the absurdity of equating capitalism with national socialism and of claiming that socialism was more beneficent than capitalism came to be more widely understood.

And now a reunion of liberalism with its abducted child, capitalism, may be coming to pass. In the US they drifted apart, but here in Australia mother and child kept in touch, and they have recently been brought together by some unlikely sponsors.

In his ridiculous condemnation of capitalism published in the February 2009 Monthly magazine, Kevin Rudd blamed the global financial crisis on 30 years of "neo-liberalism - that particular brand of free-market fundamentalism, extreme capitalism and excessive greed which became the economic orthodoxy of our time".

Thus he publicly, albeit pejoratively, brought capitalism and liberalism together with the neo prefix thrown in.

More recently a more acute observer, Noel Pearson, dispensed with the neo. In the May 22-23 edition of The Weekend Australian he referred to Milton Friedman as: "the leading liberal economist and nemesis of the Left" whose arguments were "in terms of freedom as well as economics".

Then, at the launch of the Liberals' election campaign, Tony Abbott stated: "As a liberal, I support lower taxes, smaller government and greater freedom." He didn't mean as a Liberal Party member, he meant as a liberal, and he didn't feel the need to qualify the term with any prefix.

Abbott has a long, long way to go to deserve the moniker liberal, but if he uses it to denote defence of liberty, of the freedom to think, speak, aspire, act and keep the property so produced, he uses it legitimately. Welcome home, prodigal liberal.


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.